Open Plan Offices Aren’t Just the ‘Dumbest Management Fad of All Time.’ Research Shows They Also Make People Sick

It’s official: open plan offices are now the dumbest management fad ever is a title company Fellow Jeffrey James’ viral post from 2018. James is clearly not a fan of open workspaces.

While it was once assumed that open-plan offices enhance collaboration and collaboration (and make monitoring whether employees are “busy” much easier), a 2018 Harvard study found that when employees moved from a traditional office to an open office, their personal interactions did not increase. . Their face-to-face interactions are real decreased.

As the researchers wrote:

The face-to-face interaction volume decreased significantly (about 70 percent) in both cases, with an increase associated with electronic interaction.

In short, rather than incentivizing increasingly direct face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appears to result in a natural human response to socially withdraw from office colleagues and interact instead via email and instant messaging.

How much more do you want? People who switched from single to open-plan offices spent 73 percent less time having in-person conversations. They spent 67 percent of the time using email. They spent 75 percent of the time using instant messaging.

Bottom line? Force people to be physically closer, and in response they tend to isolate themselves more by increasing their use of electronic collaboration tools.

Then there’s this: a study published in The Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health Shows that the Significant increase in sick days for employees With the increased “openness” of office space.

Compared to “cellular” offices (ie one person):

  • The sick absence rate in two-person offices was 50 percent higher
  • The sick absence rate of 3 to 6 individuals was 36 . higher
  • Open-plan offices (defined as 6 or more people) have a 62 percent higher sick absence rate

(That was Before epidemic.)

Certainly, some business owners do not use open-plan office space as a way to increase collaboration; Reductions in open plan office setup help keep costs down by reducing the total space required.

But as James explains in this article, these savings are outweighed by the resulting loss of productivity. Besides reducing employee well-being by 32 percent, one study showed that open offices reduce employee productivity by 15 percent. Another shows that open office workers lose just under 20 percent of their 8 hours a day due to the resulting distractions.

As James points out, “If employees are going to use email and messaging to communicate with co-workers, they are also likely to be working from home, which costs the company nothing.”

So if you’re thinking of scrapping an open-plan workspace, stop thinking and get to work. Establishment of individual offices. Or let more people work from home. Do that, and your employees should collaborate more, not less. They should be more productive, not less.

And they will be less likely to get sick.

Which, in and of itself, should be reason enough.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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