Once seen as the catalyst for collaborative and productive working, open plan office spaces are typically seen as the best way to layout an office. But when looking at the results of the UK Workplace Survey 2016, it appears open plan offices can have negative effects on employees.
The UK Has A Well Established Open Plan Office Culture
Decades of instilling open plan design into workplaces across the land has meant that such layouts are now de-factor office design. Over 8 million UK employees work in open plan environments and open plan offices are still heralded as being at the forefront of design – but this isn’t a good habit for us to have. This is all despite studies telling us the negatives for several years, like this one to come out of Sweden in 2014. They make workers feel as though they have no privacy, are too noisy and even (as pointed out in the aforementioned study) increase the rate of sick-leave absences.
Perhaps all of these reasons aren’t enough to budge business owners into redesigning their office layouts, in order to offer more secluded working spaces, because they are all employee-centric. Now, a study by Gensler, has found that open plan offices impact worker productivity – so maybe this will make management and directors take note because it will ultimately impact the bottom line.
It’s worth noting that despite being in a period of economic recovery following the 2008 crash, 2016 figures from the Office of National Statistics show that UK GDP per worker is lower than all other G7 nations except Japan.
This means at best, businesses aren’t maximising their potential and Gensler’s study lays the blame at our favoured type of office design.
The Findings Of The UK Workplace Survey 2016 by Gensler
As you may expect, those working in senior positions are afforded a private working space 89% of the time – but, in contrast, those at lower than senior leadership level a mere 23%. The study finds that this has a detrimental effect on performance and experience of employees at work.
Gensler state that open plan offices fail to support workers as well as those which offer alternative private and semi-private working spaces. Also, they negatively impact job satisfaction, performance and at-work relationships between staff. All of which blunt productivity.
The key to the problem is being able to offer a variety of working space types: open plan, private, semi-private, collaborative and solo space, both formal and informal environments. Giving staff these choices boosts all of the aforementioned attributes which take a hit when staff are desk-bound in an open plan space.
But the vast majority of staff do not have choice when it comes to where they can work:
There is a correlation between workers who rate their organisation highly on innovation and being able to have flexibility and choice in where to work at different times throughout the day.
Over 1,100 workers were surveyed on a variety of aspects of UK office culture. What is worth noting is the finding that even if staff choose to work in the same work space, they are happier than if they do not have a choice (4.1/5 compared to 3.7/5). This suggests that any management’s fear of their staff disappearing to work unobserved and in seclusion if such space is offered, is ill founded.
If you are curious, here are the average “effectiveness” ratings, according to the survey, of the different type of office workspaces:
Private Office – 4.2/5
Shared Office – 4.0/5
Medium Panel Desk – 3.8/5
High Panel Desk – 3.7/5
No Panel Desk – 3.6/5
Low Panel Desk – 3.5/5
3+ Per Room – 3.5/5
What Can Be Done To Improve?
Clearly, offering choice to staff is important. It is clear that one size fits all doesn’t suit all staff. Just like how students learn in different ways, which is established as the norm, adults work in different ways depending on mood, task, time of day and surrounding environment.
It’s wrong that we expect staff to be tied to one type of workspace at all times without variation – but that is what 70% of offices appear to be doing. You can start to change this by looking into a refurbishment.
The workspace needs to be able to match the job’s needs – not just the employee’s hierarchy within the business.
In short, it is outdated and increasingly ineffective to only offer private working space to senior management and only for everyone else during collaborative meetings. Likewise, to make non-senior staff work exclusively in an open-plan office is ineffective and can harm the business overall.
Is Your Office In Line With Modern Working Needs?
If you aren’t offering your staff flexibility in choice of working space, you may be harming their productivity and effectiveness – which harms your business. It might even be time to start thinking about an office refurbishment.
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