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It may look cool when you have some venture capitalist poobahs come through, but that open office floor plan is killing your soul and your company’s productivity.
A brand new study confirms what most of us already intuitively knew, humans find each other mostly annoying and bothersome and perform better in at least moderate isolation.
When offices converted to an open floor plan with fewer physical barriers to interaction, workers actually had 70 percent fewer face-to-face encounters, the study concluded. Correspondingly, electronic interaction through email and messaging services increased.
The lack of any privacy motivates people to create their own bubbles of seclusion. While many companies have torn down office walls in the name of teamwork, “what they often get is an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can (e.g. by wearing large headphones) while appearing to be as busy as possible,” the study’s authors conclude.
The study was conducted at two anonymous Fortune 500 companies with data recorded on employee habits both before and after the transition to an open-office design. According to the study, the companies themselves also reported a decrease in worker productivity by their own internal metrics after the switch.
This isn’t to say that every worker should get their own opaque office. There are benefits from so-called “collective intelligence.” Research suggests that there are diminishing returns after a group reaches a certain size, but there are benefits from moderate, finite groups, which can produce higher levels of collective intelligence and “maximize decision accuracy in complex, realistic environments.”