Serenity now! Studies question trend toward open offices

National
Friday, November 22, 2013
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Open offices, like the Toronto office of Bruce Mau Design, have come under fire in several recent studies. (Courtesy SparkCBC via Flickr)

Open offices, like the Toronto office of Bruce Mau Design, have come under fire in several recent studies. (Courtesy SparkCBC via Flickr)

The open office trend is rooted in some good ideas: encourage communication by breaking down barriers; give workers more space to breathe without confining cubicles. But a wave of new research is questioning the efficacy of the open strategy.

A lack of acoustical privacy is chief among frustrated workers’ concerns—perhaps an anxiety related to the eavesdropping implicit in an open office where workers may have to field phone calls and one-on-one meetings.

Fast Company cites a new study from the University of Sydney that found open-plan offices may come out on the losing side of the “privacy-communication trade-off.”

The Guardian suggests the strategy’s more “a cheap way of cramming more people into less space” than an effective way to encourage productivity. They cite a study in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology that found employees in private settings actually rated “ease of interaction” as better than did their open office counterparts.

In our regular Design at Work column, we’ve covered a lot of office spaces. That means we’ve also seen a lot of open floor plans: a high-tech office building in Chicago’s West Loop, Seattle’s Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Groupon’s “out-there” Chicago headquarters, to name a few. We’ll be on the lookout for a shift, but for now it seems the open office may still be on the rise.

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