Is the Open Plan Bad for Us?

eBay Workplace Initiative by Valerio Dewalt Train Associates. Image Courtesy of Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

The concept of the revolutionized architecture  – promising light, space, and effortless collaboration (not to mention a more cost-effective way of getting lots of people into one space). Today, it’s practically become a standard of design – but at what cost?

A new report from researchers Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, concludes that the open plan comes with some serious collateral damage – namely a lack of “sound privacy” – which outweighs its positive qualities. What’s more, according to their results, the open plan doesn’t even make a measurable improvement in communication at all.

Courtesy of HBR.org

The Guardian reports: “‘Our results,’ the researchers conclude, ‘categorically contradict the industry-accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants’ overall work environmental satisfaction’. Even to the extent that easier communication did make open-plan offices a little less bad, for some, than they might otherwise have been, this ‘failed to offset the decrements by negative impacts of noise and privacy.’”

The study seems to align with another recent report released by Gensler, which found that “in opposition to the trend of workplaces being designed to encourage collaboration, workers are actually spending more time on focused, individual tasks than they were 5 years ago. Consequently, over 50% of respondents said that they were distracted by others when they needed to focus. What’s more, the survey found that when employees could not focus individually, collaborative work was also less productive.”

However, the Kim and de Dear study did not measure the affect of “hybrid” spaces, which offer workers the option of both public and private spaces; the Gensler study, on the other hand, suggested that “the best way to design a successful workplace was to provide the right balance between spaces which allow employees to focus, and spaces which allow them to collaborate with others – most importantly making sure that these spaces do not interfere with each other.”

So, perhaps, as with all good things, the open plan – in moderation – isn’t bad for us after all. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Story via The Guardian

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. “Is the Open Plan Bad for Us?” 25 Nov 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 4th December 2013. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=450972&gt;

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