Open plan offices can make you MISERABLE: Seeing colleagues all day leads to distraction and irritation, say scientists
Researchers from CTF, Service Research Centre at Karlstad University in Sweden have found that open plan offices are counter-productive and bad for staff morale (stock).
Do you agree?
I know that I do not like open plan office and they make me miserable.
It all depends on the measuring stick being used.
If the only thing being measured is how many staff can be crammed in per square metre, then open plan offices are wonderful things. The same logic applies if the same thing is being measured by proxy, such as minimising headline costs for housing a staff of a given size.
Similarly, if you are the sort of manager who gets a kick from being able to sit at one end of the office and be master of all you survey, you are just going to love open-plan!
If an organisation believes that "backsides on seats" is what matters (rather than whether or not the corresponding craniums are actively engaged in the affairs of the business), again, an office layout which enables someone to spot "empty seats" and advance a culture of fear is going to win friends amongst the management hierarchy.
However, if a business is attempting to maximise output from a given workforce whilst keeping costs as low as possible, it is better to give each workgroup their own room with a door they can close, and walls they can cover with pictures and other information. This is because team working typically requires that a team is sometimes noisy, and at other times needs absolute quiet for intense concentration. Clearly, an open-plan office fails to meet this need - just imagine Team 1 trying to work quietly whilst Team 2 are having an animated discussion about the best way to do something.
The fundamental fallacy here is that far too many businesses equate "everyone being frantically busy" with business efficiency and maximal output. Unfortunately, such thinking is woefully mistaken. Improved efficiency actually comes about from measuring and then working to minimise the length of time between the business deciding to do a thing, and the consequential arrival of hard currency in exchange for that product or service.
DongFeng5 has summarised the open-plan office dilemma well already, but from a personal experience, I hate them!
I never worked in an open plan office until I started my current job, which I have continued to struggle and adapt to. Head count has increased substantially as well, to the point the office is out of room and we are crammed in like battery hens. The noise, varying activities and general hustle and bustle is a nightmare to contend with. I do wonder if this is related to my increase in shutdowns as they have become more frequent as head count has increased.
I also have to say from a personal experience that I hate open plan offices.
I also continue to struggle.
The noise, varying activities and general hustle and bustle is a nightmare to contend with.
For me personally, I detest open plan offices.
I worked in one place that not only had everyone working in the same open-plan area, but the 'staff room' was also incorporated into the very same open office! Thus, on your much-coveted break times, you'd still be able to see and hear everything that was going on. Likewise, you could be on the phone to a client, and a colleague would be putting the dishwasher or microwave on right next to you.
For me, this was an absolute and constant onslaught to my Neurodivergent senses. Whether I was trying to speak to a customer and getting the strong waft of cooking pasties, or trying to relax on my lunchbreak but getting colleagues shouting at me for advice across the office, it was all too much. I've never been claustrophobic, but there was a sense of suffocating - as there was nowhere to retreat from the stiflingly-hot air, the bright fluorescent lights, or the constant ambient noise level etc. I found it utterly draining and overwhelming.
It got to the point whereby I had to quit, even though I had no back-up plan.
Your office environment may well be contributing to your triggers.
I have worked in "cubes", open plan, and also team-centric rooms with doors. The latter is by far the best, and open plan by far the worst.
You may well find that your colleagues (be they NT or ND) are similarly frustrated by their physical environment.
Does your office have a culture of "workers taking matters into their own hands"? Typically you only need one or two peeved individuals to act as "thought leaders" for the wider office to embark on improving their surroundings.
Poorly placed air conditioning vents have their airflow redirected with home-made deflectors made from cardboard.
Distractions in your peripheral vision can be eliminated by bringing in and strategically placing a pot plant or stuffed toy.
Audible distractions are best dealt with via a set of closed-back headphones that enclose the entire ear.
Unwanted visitors can be managed by the introduction of a semaphore or token system. People that do finally get to your desk can then be made to talk to the stuffed toy before you will assist them with their problems...
All this and more is entirely possible, depending upon how oppressive the underlying culture in your office really is.
What I'm about to say is my experience of open plan work places and spaces, and not to do with the article.
I think that open plan workplaces can actually be really useful in some situations. For example, if you're working in a large team, then having open plan work spaces can be really helpful as a hub for the team to work together.
However, I do find open plan workplaces can be really distracting because of the background noise. Also, if you aren't feeling in a good mood, it isn't always the best idea to feel imprisoned with your team when you know you will snap at one of them for no reason soon.
I think it has its uses, but that's just from my experience!x
Much love <3
RSxo said:For example, if you're working in a large team, then having open plan work spaces can be really helpful as a hub for the team to work together.
Could you quantify the rough size of team you have in mind? What do you mean by "large"?
Teams of more than 20 at times, but usually between 10 and 20 people. From my experience, that's a large team for the work that I do!
Another open plan office hater here!
One thing that some managers of open plan arrangements seem to like to do is shuffle people/teams around every few months, so everyone has to get used to new positions in the office (never an easy thing for autistic people at the best of times).
Many years ago, the section I worked on moved halfway across the floor very close to the entrance doors and main gangway into the office. My new position meant that there was a constant flow of people to the side of me and behind me throughout the day. My job needed high levels of concentration (checking other workers output), but I found it really hard to keep concentration due to the flow of people so close to me.
In the end, I went to the section manager and explained the problem, and to their credit they were very sympathetic, and arranged for me to swap places with another worker who didn't mind the switch of positions. This was a long time before I was diagnosed with ASD, but I now know why this was such a problem for me at the time.
I'm not currently working, but as and when I do return, I think I will definitely have to ask for allowances to be made for this.
Perhaps that report from Sweden might make office planners think twice about open plan in future.
Thank you very much for the post.
I have exactly the same problem. I also found it really hard to keep concentration due to the flow of people so close to me.
It is good to know that I am not the only one who experiences this.
Hope this also helps to you. You are not alone, Telstar.