Is it time to re-think your office layout?

If you follow Planet on twitter you’ll know that we’ve been discussing the latest report on office space trends. This new report by the University of Sydney examines the “privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices” shows that contrary to popular belief open plan offices are decreasing productivity and making workers unhappy.

In the past 50 or so years the humble office layout has gone through many modifications, the largest by far was the ‘googlefication’ trend that started in the early to mid-2000s. The mega brand led the way in creating an open plan office sometimes filled with kooky designs. The latest strand of this trend has been ‘hot-desking’ where no employee has a fixed work station, rather they can choose where they sit each morning. This should allow a greater deal of flexibility for the individual, for example they can choose whether to work in a quiet corner or a social hub. In theory this should also encourage inter-departmental teamwork, you can choose who you sit with based on what projects the individual is currently working on.

However does this system, or indeed the standard open plan office really work? This latest report on office spaces shows that this nonchalant attitude to work stations is actually decreasing productivity. The findings are that although the open plan has advantages such as easier communication with colleagues they don’t outweigh the disadvantages such as lack of privacy and distraction from noise pollution, with 30% of workers in partitionless offices unhappy with the level of noise at their workplace. Other factors range from worse temperature control to irritation at workspace cleanliness.

However the overall most received complaint was lack of space. While providing larger desks may seem like the obvious solution the authors of the report suggest that when workers complain about lack of space they really just need some breathing room.

“…our results categorically contradict the industry-accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants’ overall work environmental satisfaction. This study showed that occupants’ satisfaction on the interaction issue was actually higher for occupants of private offices with very low dissatisfaction rate (APD < 5%). Moreover, the increment of overall workspace satisfaction due to the positive impact of ease of interaction in open-plan office layouts failed to offset the decrements by negative impacts of noise and privacy. “ How do you feel about open plan offices and the new hot-desking trend? Do you crave for a cubical or office of your own? Tweet us @PlanetPartition

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