Open space office kills productivity by 66%

While going through this article on noise pollution, I came across this:

If you can hear someone talking while you’re reading or writing, your productivity dips by up to 66%.  Open floor-plan offices distract workers without them even noticing it. In a classic study published in the British Journal of Psychology in 1998, researchers found that employers were highly distracted when they could hear conversation around them, and less able to perform their duties. Another classic study found that noise in the office also correlated to increased stress hormone levels and a lower willingness to engage with others. According to Sound Agency case study, when sound masking technology was used in an office, there was a 46% improvement in employees’ ability to concentrate and their short term memory accuracy increased 10 percent.

Most of the time through my working years I’ve spent at open space offices.  And here are the things I have to say about them:

  • I tend to hate them.  There were companies and teams and offices where it worked well and made sense, but those were exceptions. Most of open space offices are there for one and one reason only – cost reduction.  And that feels!
  • Noise pollution is a factor.  Some people cope with it better (naturally or via headphones with music or white noise), but I am not one of them.  I find it nearly impossible to concentrate when there are other people around.   Even if they don’t talk, they still move, and make noises.
  • Open space offices do help to improve collaboration, team building even sometimes.  Again, not something that works everywhere, but I’ve seen it more than once.  When the team members are not too far away from each other, and all of them work on the same sort of things, and once the chemistry of the group gets going, open space can be quite handy.
  • If the company doesn’t notice a 66% productivity reduction in an employee, it can probably afford it.  Chances are, it will probably have no idea how to handle the guy at the top of his performance.  It’s almost funny, but I’ve seen it happen before.

I don’t have a silver bullet solution to the problem yet, but I do like the recent trend of companies that care about people’s productivity, offering a combination of offices – open spaces, closed offices, meeting rooms, playrooms, etc.  That’s probably not ideal either, but having the choice is nice, I guess.  Now, if only there was a cheaper alternative…


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