Open-plan office layouts save businesses money, but they can create a noisy and disruptive work environment.
London, UK -- (ReleaseWire) -- 12/12/2018 -- Open-plan office layouts have quickly become the norm today. In the US, over 70% of new offices are now open-plan. It's probably a similar figure in the UK.
Why are open-plan offices so popular these days? It's primarily about costs. Given the exorbitant office rents in London and other metro areas, businesses need to find a way to fit in more employees per square foot than before. That's where you simply can't beat open-plan office layouts (especially in conjunction with hot-desking – this is where employees share desks as often someone is on holiday, in bed with the flu, or working from home).
However, the most cited reason for switching to an open-plan layout is that it promotes communication and collaboration among employees. But there are numerous studies indicating that the exact opposite occurs. A study quoted by the BBC states that open-plan offices decrease employee productivity by 15%. Another recent Harvard study showed that when two businesses moved to an open plan layout, email and messaging communications actually increased by 67% while face-to-face interactions decreased by 73%.
The key contributor to this negative effects is the constant noise level and distraction in open offices. Employees find it hard to concentrate and when they want to make a phone call they often have to move to the hallway or a staircase. MEAVO, a UK based manufacturer of office phone booths, conducted an online survey in the UK to understand more about how employees feel about this.
Asking workers in open-plan offices, 55% of respondents wished they had more privacy in the office. Only 40% of those surveyed indicated that they always find a quiet place to make a phone call while the remaining 60% often have to wander around until they find a private spot. How much time do UK employees waste doing so? On average, it's a whooping 19 minutes per week for affected employees.
How else could you express this time loss? If a hypothetical business has 100 employees and 60% of them waste 19 minutes a week searching for a private place to make calls then it would translate into a loss of 1,140 minutes a week – almost half an FTE.
The survey revealed another interesting stat. What if office hallways and staircases are too noisy to make a phone call? There's always the loo. Surprisingly, 26% of people working in open-plan offices have ever taken a call in a washroom.
While open-plan offices help address the issue of expensive rents, office managers and business leaders need to provide the necessary framework to reduce the negative impact on employee productivity. For example, by:
- Allowing employees to work from home more often
- Setting up soundproof office booths or creating single person meeting pods
- Introducing hot-desking while removing a few desks in order to make room for office phone booths (should space be an issue)
- Adding noise absorbing materials to walls, ceilings and floors
Given the uncertainty Brexit brings, businesses will have to stick with open-plan offices if they want to keep costs down. However, with the right policies and office furniture, any business can mitigate the negative side-effects such busy work environments create.
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