The open office is an innovation that has come a long way, but it has also revealed some problems and still has a long way to go.
With the huge success of companies like Google and Facebook, their business models are being copied by more and more companies. The most well-known one is the "open office", a concept that emerged in the 1950s.
Compared to traditional offices, the flexible space of an open office reduces barriers to work and communication and is beneficial to company growth. But as time goes by, people are also beginning to raise objections.
Typically, open-plan offices can accommodate hundreds or thousands of people, which can reduce the distance between employees by not having partition walls.
Professor Thomas Zagenczyk Thomas from Clemson University and his colleagues have found that open offices can maximize communication between different departments, and better use of resources and capabilities. And then it can improve the economic efficiency of the entire company.
At the same time, open-plan offices can reduce costs. According to CoreNet Global, the average office space for employees worldwide dropped from 20.9 square meters to 16.4 square meters between 2010 and 2013.
A survey conducted by Eric Wood, an analyst with Google's human resources department also shows that several of the largest U.S. companies could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year by using open office designs.
For employees, an open office may increase the opportunity to get up to walk and exercise. A study by the University of Arizona also showed that people who work in open-plan offices walk about 20% more than those in traditional offices and about 32% more than those who work in private offices.
However, more and more research in recent years has questioned the benefits of an open office. It seems that in an open environment, people's communication does not achieve the desired facilitation effect, but somehow decreases.
People are more willing to communicate online instead.
Professor Bernstein found that noise is the main factor that affects the productivity of employees in open offices, including the sound of typing, conversations between other colleagues, and the sound of footsteps. It has a particularly serious impact on complex tasks, especially those requiring a high level of concentration. The error rate rises with the increase in noise. Noise also will reduce human labor productivity.
Noise can also bring a huge amount of mental stress. People will produce more adrenaline. Employees are also more likely to feel tired.
The open office is easy for people to talk to and is also easy to eavesdrop on. It sacrifices employee privacy, which is one of the most important indicators of productivity and job satisfaction. In an almost completely open environment, people's every move seems to be under the scrutiny of others. And people should have to pay attention to others’ words and actions and watch out for prying their eyes on the screen while working, which naturally reduces work efficiency.
Employees automatically find ways to protect their privacy, such as pretending to be busy at all times and avoiding contact with others, which precisely reduces the willingness to communicate and interact.
People don’t have their own personalized space which also weakens employees' sense of belonging and loyalty to the company.
Companies should find some way to improve the above problems. Try to provide employees with suitable supporting spaces and flexible and private personal spaces, like open-plan office furniture and office pods based on the open office. Set some innovation centers, quiet areas, leisure areas, and focus studios.
At the same time, companies also should pay more attention to employees’ health. Preparing some ergonomic office furniture, like ergonomic chairs, standing desks, etc. in the office is necessary.
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