When the “Herald-Sun” from Sydney asked me what I thought about office open plan, it was a request too good to refuse. For years now, I have considered that office open plan that came in about 15 years ago (as I recall) was not in employees’ best interests, but was really about the company both cutting its bottom line (it’s cheaper with less internal infra-structure and we can herd more people into less space) together with an element of being able to “watch” everyone.
Why doesn’t open space work? We get distracted and are more easily interrupted (both visual and auditory) which affects productivity, and we also lack privacy, as well as the fact that we like to have our own space or territory, all of which ultimately affects morale. Doctor John Medina in his brilliant book, “Brain Rules” says quite clearly that our brains are not wired to do multi-tasking ie., paying attention to more than one thing at a time (I know that one radio commentator said to me today that woman are very good at multi-tasking, but for the record, Doctor Medina says that they actually have good working memories capable of paying attention to several inputs at one time.) For most of us though, we have difficulty focusing on more than one thing. That’s why we say when we’ve been interrupted and we need to get back to it, something like, “Now where was I?”
But here’s the kicker re open plan offices. Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50% more errors.
On top of that is the “Hot desk” where staff are not allocated a permanent spot to work and need to take whatever is available. All the issues with open plan are only accentuated with this notion. What on earth are managers thinking?
Still, it is trendy to have open plan offices. Let’s see how long it will take for the wheel to finally turn back to closed offices.