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  • Does the open work space really promote collaboration?  


  • What does the research say about this concept?
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November 8, 2018  


Connecting People Builds

Profit * Growth * Results

The latest trend we see in office space planning is the open office floorplan.  I have been in some open space designs that look beautiful with bright colors, effective white noise machines to mask the chatter, hi-tech equipment but little space for anything personal so leave your pics of Rover at home.  It seems to become the norm, the wide-open spaces, few walls or barriers, and large tables with several employees working at them—with no real separation of space.  Some say this type of open-plan office style aids in creating an environment of collaboration and contributes to establishing a strong workplace culture.  It is also argued that it builds workplace camaraderie and encourage the free flowing of ideas.  The open office plans also are favored by employers for economic reasons.

I have been at many open office spaces over the last year and have queried the staff – hearing mixed reviews for sure.

But what is the research showing about this concept?

Does it really promote collaboration? 

Despite what some sociological theories suggest, according to a new study done by Harvard researchers Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban at the global headquarters of OpenCo1—a Fortune 500 multinational company—employees spent 72 percent less time interacting with each other once transitioning to an open-plan office. This factor hinders workplace culture, rather than fostering it.  

Even though everyone on the floor could see everyone else all the time, virtual interaction replaced face-to-face interaction in the newly boundary less space—a counterproductive approach to collaboration. After the redesign, participating employees collectively sent 56 percent more emails to other participants over 15 days, received 20 percent more emails from other participants, and were cc'd on 41 percent more emails from other participants.

Participating employees at OpenCo1 reported that productivity, as defined by the metrics used by their internal performance management system, had declined after the redesign to eliminate spatial boundaries.

So, before you jump in head first into redesigning your work space into a more open concept take a long ponder.  Studies indicate that employees overwhelmingly prefer a level of privacy to do their best work so if going to an open concept leave a little space for Rover’s picture.  Also think long and hard on the kind of work that your employees are performing.  If the work is routine and repetitive, a tight, open workspace will most likely be effective.  If your staff is performing complex tasks, a fully open work space may not be effective.  The cost of lack of concentration is costlier than the cost of the additional square footage to give a little privacy and space.  Also, be sure to provide huddle areas and small meeting spaces to continue to promote collaboration and face-to face interaction. Lastly, don’t leave the decision to your space planner and Facilities.  Your managers know their employees best regarding what type of space is most conducive for the work they are expected to perform.  Don’t make this decision purely on square footage savings or what you’ve heard – you will wind up paying the price in employee productivity and satisfaction.  Don’t just follow the trend - Do your research for what makes sense for your environment.  It will pay off in the long run.

Margie Lieb

Chief Strategist & Owner

Great Views Travel

Connecting People Builds

Profit * Growth * Results

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