Before COVID-19, open-plan offices were on the rise. Facebook’s new headquarters in Menlo Park boasts the “world’s largest open floor plan”, for example.
The obsession with the open-plan office, which probably peaked about ten years ago, was based on what I’ve called “collaboration bias” – the under-examined assumption that social gatherings ad hoc are more valuable to business, creativity and productivity than uninterrupted “deep work”.
But a series of recent surveys have shed new light on the misguided disaster that is open space and the importance of private offices, wherever they are.
A research report titled “Remote and hybrid workfrom the Myers-Briggs company found that employees sitting in open-plan offices are the least happy, those with private offices the most. negatively affect employees and that a mismatch between the policy and the desired workplace results in higher employee turnover.)
Meanwhile, a recent survey by Robert Half revealed that more than a third of survey respondents (35%) said they do more at home (where they can work without being interrupted by their colleagues). But almost half (43%) of employees who work in an office say they perform better in a private office.
The disdain for open-plan offices is greater now than before the pandemic, according to a survey by Framery, which manufactures soundproof booths for offices. Some 41% say their ability to concentrate in an open-plan office has deteriorated significantly after the pandemic.
It seems that employees working from home (WFH) and office workers with private offices have three things in common:
- They have private offices.
- They are happier.
- They do more.
All of this new data makes me wonder: To what extent is the employee’s desire to work from home ultimately a desire to have a private office or at least a space where co-worker interruptions can be controlled?
After all, working from home isn’t for everyone.
While objectively this saves time, increases flexibility, builds autonomy, saves money and provides other measurable benefits, it also reduces social contact with workers. , limits the work tools available and reduces the availability of technical support.
You can measure the measurables, but the reality is the psychological rules about the appeal (or lack thereof) of remote work.
Some people like it. Some hate it. Many are somewhere in between.
In the midst of the Great Resignation, as companies struggle to hire and close the IT skills gap – and work hard to retain employees – it seems to me that tearing down open plan offices and building more of private office space is an overlooked tactic that companies could use to attract and keep their best employees.
Of course, different companies have different constraints (budgetary and otherwise), as well as different missions, work and management approaches, and other factors.
So there is no one-size-fits-all answer here.
But it seems the best policy for employee satisfaction and productivity is quite simple: anyone who can work remotely can choose where and when to work — in the office full-time, part-time, or never.
But those who choose to work in the office can expect to have their own private office.
This approach will not only make employees happier and more productive, but it will also likely increase the number of employees choosing to work in the office.
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