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Research regarding Open Plan Office Environments

In recent years, there have been a number of research projects undertaken to look at the impacts of an open plan office environment on staff. While there are perceived cost benefits of utilising shared desks and multiple seats in each working space, the findings indicate that productivity and morale are seriously affected. Let’s take a look at some of the main points.



Change in staff behaviour

A study by Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban found that when companies made the move to more open plan offices, workers had about 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions, while email and instant messaging use rose.

It turns out that if you take out physical walls, people will create norms that discourage communication, what Ethan Bernstein and Ben Waber call a “fourth wall.” As they wrote in Harvard Business Review, “If someone starts a conversation and a colleague shoots him a look of annoyance, he won’t do it again. Especially in open spaces, fourth-wall norms spread quickly.”

Change in staff morale

In 2011 psychologist Matthew Davis and others reviewed over 100 studies about office environments. A few years later Maria Konnikova reported on what she found in The New Yorker — that the open space plans “were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation.”

A study led by Elizabeth Sander found that open plan office noise increased negative mood by 25 percent and sweat response by 34 percent. 



Change in staff productivity

A 2020 study by Helena Jahncke and David Hallman found that employees in quieter one-person cell offices performed 14 percent better than employees in open plan offices on a cognitive task.

A study published in The Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health found that compared to people in one-person offices, people who work in two-person offices had 50 percent more days of sickness absence and people who work in open-plan offices had 62 percent more days of sickness absence.

Change in office layouts

Fortune reports that post-pandemic, many companies are increasing the number of conference rooms and decreasing the number of individually assigned desks.

If you’d like to discuss your office layout with one of our experienced staff, please don’t hesitate to call us on (+61) 02 9818 4200