Open plan offices: Are they spoiling your talent?

Collaboration is key

Recently staff welfare has become more and more questioned within forward thinking businesses. In times gone by, the paradigm of robotic workers providing the greatest efficiency possible for their employer was a business favorite. Open plan offices were designed as a place to “collaborate” or allow clear vision of everyone's desks to confirm that individuals were working in the way middle management required.

Money before people

My father, an office designer often chatted about his work. It was focused mainly in London, back in a time when open plan was the new craze. For people like my father, it was in fact, the newest headache. His paramount concern with his creations were the people who would work in the offices and how the structure impacted individuals well being.

Open plan offices mean a few things to him, ill employees aka “sick office syndrome”, incubated and re-circulated air through large spaces, noise and needing to shoe horn as many people into as smaller space as possible. In stark contrast to office designs that were chosen by his clients, my fathers personal office building was made up of individual rooms, each with windows that opened, closable blinds, a desk and chair customization to the person using them, space for them to hang their coats and a fully equipped kitchen with break out rooms so people did not eat at their desks. Despite sharing his know how and understanding about environment, customers very rarely wanted to put the employees well being over the cost of the office layout.

What do studies say?

Now in 2016 sick office syndrome is a widely known https://publichealth.arizona.edu/news/2013/germs-spread-fast-work%2C-stu..., Key findings from IPSOS research showed that we now know that open plan offices cause stress from noise resulting in depression for many individuals https://www.steelcase.com/insights/articles/privacy-crisis/.

The one thing that was meant to be encouraging collaboration has given way to “groupthink” deterring people from making their own decisions, based on a fear of being different to their colleagues, due to prolonged periods around so many individuals.

All of this seems so wrong in 2016, we have people living in outer space but yet the place where people spend the longest periods of their time is making them ill. Psychology today wrote about Hallmark and their people friendly work space back in 2013, with their conversation pits and forest of personal pods, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-introverts-corner/201307/the-in.... So if all of this information is known about the way in which environment affects health, why is there little movement to improve this?

Trust? Or Time?

Is this a question of trust? If employers trusted their staff to work remotely as opposed to being watched could it change things? Is it a case of middle ground, smaller more cellular offices allowing people the time to think and breathe. Or is it a case by case situation, whereby the employees are the users and the employers are providing a product, requiring deep research and user testing to ascertain whether the choices made are meeting peoples needs? With the advent of new remote working products such as Google Hangouts, Hip Chat, Slack, Sprint.ly and many more now has never been a better time to venture into new constructs around working lives.