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Open Plan Office Hinders Productivity

Alexandria Joy - Monday, November 04, 2013

Open plan offices with cubicle partitions were created in the 1950s to encourage communication and boost teamwork. It’s a trend that is still in fashion, but a recent study has revealed that this type of environment attracts higher levels of staff dissatisfaction.

The Downside Of Open Plan Working Outweighs The Benefits

Working in an open plan office has its benefits, especially if you love to take regular breaks to share hilarious tales of your life from the weekend. But it’s this type of distraction that could affect staff productivity and satisfaction levels.

The study, conducted by the University of Sydney, involved analysis of 42,764 survey samples collected in 303 office buildings across the globe. Noise and lack of privacy and space were the top gripes.

Professor Richard de Dear, Head of Architectural Design Science at the University of Sydney and a co-author of the research paper, said worker satisfaction was important because it was linked to productivity.

“The productivity benefits of teams working together have been used to sell the open plan office for decades. Yet, if you do these evaluations and actually talk to occupants of open plan offices, very few people think that they are productive spaces. You need places to concentrate.”

A Better Way Of Working

New to the 21st century, savvy companies are bucking the antiquated open plan trend to create an Activity-Based Work Culture.

When the Commonwealth Bank moved its headquarters in 2011, it used the opportunity to change the way their employees worked day to day.

The Bank’s Chief Financial Officer, David Craig explained: “Activity-based working recognises there is a spectrum of work styles and demands and that each day, people will have different activities to complete requiring varying levels of concentration or collaboration.”

In an activity-based working environment, employees aren’t necessarily stuck to the same desk. It recognises that sometimes they’ll need quiet time to focus. Sometimes they’ll need access to technology and sometimes they’ll need to brainstorm or share tasks with others.

At places like the CommBank’s headquarters, there are quiet, enclosed spaces, open spaces for collaboration, and areas for formal and informal meetings. Employees choose where to set up for the day, the morning or afternoon according to what type of work they need to do.

“Activity-based working delivers the working environment and tools for staff to choose different work styles to suit their work activities. It is about empowering them and engaging,” Craig said.

You can read more about the Commonwealth Bank’s workplace environment here.

Your Environment Affects Your Psychology

Your physical environment has a huge impact on your brand, your culture, and how your business is perceived (by employees and customers alike). At an individual level, it affects how people carry out their work, how they feel, and how well they perform.

Take a look around your workplace now. Does it scream efficiency and precision? Does it encourage creativity and innovation? Does it feel fun, cosy, or friendly? Does it have dedicated spaces to cater for different activities?

Every day the UQ Power team visit organisations from a range of industries and we see a lot of desks. We can usually tell straight away what the appearance of a desk says about the desk owner and the company culture of the organisation. See for yourself here - http://www.uqpower.com.au/_blog/desk-a-day


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Comments

Sue Painter commented on 07-Nov-2013 04:24 AM
I like the concept of flexible space that you speak of here. Although, I can see some employees deciding that they need the "closed private office quiet space" every single day. Human nature being what it is..... :-)
Anonymous commented on 07-Nov-2013 08:40 AM
You make a great point here Sue - but I think that is part of what I love about these flexible spaces is that they allow the individual to work within their own Uniqueness and genius zone
Mary Ellen Miller commented on 07-Nov-2013 01:58 PM
Hilarious Heidi! As someone who's worked in one of those "open plan" offices your description is so true. You forgot the toenail clipper sounds. Love the activity based concepts.
Anonymous commented on 08-Nov-2013 09:00 AM
Oh No! Mary Ellen - not toe nail clipper sounds - urgh!!
Mira commented on 10-Nov-2013 01:05 AM
Even when I worked in cubbyville I always appreciated at least a corner that could be mine so I could focus and avoid distraction.
Trudy Scott commented on 10-Nov-2013 04:25 AM
Interesting - I have not heard of Activity-Based Work Culture. It sounds similar to the set up we had at high-school!

I'm with Sue and wonder if those who don't enjoy the open plan set-up will gravitate to the private offices.

Trudy

Lisa Manyon commented on 11-Nov-2013 01:11 AM
Heidi,
This makes me even more grateful that my days in cubicle land are over. :)
Great article.
Write on!~
Lisa Manyon
Mitch Tublin commented on 12-Nov-2013 08:23 AM
Heidi,
One thing for certain is changing the work environment every so often is a great way to
see who is really getting ( productive ) work accomplished and who is not. The concept you describe has been winning rave reviews so far.
Tiffany deSilva commented on 16-Nov-2013 06:48 AM
I like the idea that workers get to choose a style that fits them and the activity at hand. It would be great if more schools would adopt this too. My kids school has everyone working at shared tables or desks pressed against each other. I would never be able to focus in that environment.

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