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The controversy of open-plan offices – are they killing your productivity?

Interestingly, where you sit in the office hierarchy appears to have a huge impact on how you feel about the open-plan model

Many modern office buildings have opted for an open-plan design; however, according to a new study, this layout could be detrimental to team productivity.

Open-plan offices first gained popularity in the 1950s as a result of the belief that physical openness in workplaces would encourage communication and collaboration between staff; however, according to the results of a new survey by Oxford Economics, more communication between employees may not be a good thing.

These thought-provoking findings are the result of a survey carried out by Edward Cone and Adrianna Gregory. The thought-leadership researchers found there was a great contrast in opinion between the 1,200 senior executives and non-manager employees with whom they spoke.

Most of the executives interviewed saw the value of open-plan offices in establishing connections between their staff; however, the study found that employees most value the ability to work without distractions, including from their fellow colleagues and a busy working environment.

A huge 85 per cent of the executives surveyed believed open-plan offices enhance communication between staff, with 81 per cent believing the layout improved productivity among the workforce; however, over half of the employees who took part in the research disagreed, stating background noise not only reduces their productivity but also their satisfaction. In addition, 41 per cent felt they were not given the tools to help them to cope with distractions.

Cone revealed that the majority of employees valued quiet time and the ability to work productively over the original idea of openness behind the open-plan office.

Addressing the disparity between the answers at management level and those of employees, Cone suggested the working experiences of both parties were very different. While executives often have their own office and access to the best technology and resources, their staff feel that they are unable to concentrate in the hustle and bustle of a modern-day office environment.

Another concern revealed by the research is the pressure staff feel to be constantly available to their bosses, even when the working day is over. Cone and Gregory again attribute this to the open-plan office. In their opinion, the constant connectivity encouraged by the layout can easily be carried into everyday life, leading almost half of the employees interviewed to admit that they feel they are expected to be reachable even when they are out of the office.

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