Open-Plan Offices Favoured, but at what Costs?

Posted on 29 April, 2011 by MOVEHUT

Open-plan offices may be the most popular form of commercial office space, but are they the healthiest?  With more and more businessesfavouring an open-plan layout what hidden risks should we watch out for? Movehut investigates.

Employers expect their staff to meet them half way by giving them freedom to walk around the office and communicate with other members of staff, but they expect staff to return to their desks and get on with the work in question.  But a study has found that an open-plan office layout can reduce a workers happiness levels by 32 per cent and reduce their productivity by 15 per cent. With the lack of privacy and increased conversations about last night’s soaps, which we as a human race cannot help but listen to, no wondered people find it difficult to keep their brains focused on work.

Dr Jack Lewis, a neuroscientist expressed, “Open plan offices were designed with the idea that people can move around and interact freely to promote creative thinking and better problem solving. But it doesn’t work like that. If you are just getting into some work and a phone goes off in the back ground it ruins what you are concentrating on. Even though you are not aware at the time, the brain responds to distractions.”

Open-plan offices have been around since the 1950s and became an instant hit. Dr Craig Knight, a psychologist at Exeter University said, “It is because they are able to engage with their surroundings, feel more comfortable and so concentrate.” Open-plan offices have over taken the closed office layout which although it gives an employee no distractions, can give employees a sense of individualism as they may not communicate with anyone all day, which can also affect their work.

Channel four produced a TV series, titled ‘The Secret Life of Buildings,’ which looks into what effects badly designed buildings can have on people. During an episode, presenter and architect critics Tom Dyckhoff wore a hat that measured how distractions affected the brain whilst working in an office. The results found that employees responded better if they had a space which was bright and could be personalised with their own items, such as photographs and plants, as Dr Knight stated, “If they have been allowed to enrich the space themselves with their own things it can increase their wellbeing.”

Businesses using an open-plan office in their commercial property need to think more about the design of the layout as it is not just about placing desks in different positions. Professor Lloyd from The Open University expressed, “Design isn’t just something which is applied to buildings or products, it is applicable in all sorts of contexts outside what you would consider the usual design disciplines – to management processes, for example. He went to say, “I think there is a growing appreciation of how it can fundamentally affect our day-to-day experience.”

To ensure people are happy and working effectively in the commercial property, businesses must ensure the office is designed in the most pro-active way.


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