An open and shut case?

For many years it has been seen as good practice to tear down the walls between employees to facilitate team work and effective communication.

Interesting then that new research suggests open plan work spaces actually result in a more distracted and irritated workforce than individual desks or pods.

A survey of more than 300 office workers from Karlstad University’s Service Research Center found that the higher the number of co-workers sharing a workplace, the less satisfied they became. Workers in open-plan offices reported finding it increasingly difficult to have good dialogues with their colleagues, and their wellbeing was shown to decrease because of this.

“The results show a negative relationship between the number of co-workers sharing an office and employees’ job satisfaction,” says lead researcher Dr Tobias Otterbring.

“This association was mediated by ease of interaction with co-workers and subjective wellbeing, with employees working in small and medium-sized open-plan offices reporting lower levels of both aspects than employees who work either alone in cellular offices, or with up to two colleagues in shared offices.”

Although many open-plan spaces are introduced as a means of cost-saving and this can be financially effective in the short term, it is rarely enough to offset the costs associated with decreased job satisfaction among employees, the study adds.

“Decision-makers should consider the impact of a given office type on employees rather than focusing solely on cost-effective office layout, flexibility and productivity,” Otterbring says.

So, next time you are redesigning an office space, you might want to think twice about the assumptions you make.

David Cawthorne, Cedar Human Resources

If you need advice please e-mail David at
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