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4 Myths About Open Office Working

Posted on Apr 21, 2016, by Michael Eckert

The open office trend has changed how we work - hoping to improve communication, collaboration and creativity. But there are many misconceptions about how open office working affects our productivity and health.

Today I’m looking at four common open office myths and misconceptions, and how they affect our work.

Feature image - CA Technologies, Herzilya, Tel Aviv, IsraelCA Technologies, Herzilya, Tel Aviv, Israel

1) Open Offices Improve Collaboration

The open office environment is specifically designed to foster collaboration. The common belief is that switching to an open office layout will automatically improve collaboration between your employees.

However, collaboration takes work, and is as much of a company culture issue as it is an environmental one. Many organizations have developed a silo mentality, with different teams working in isolation from one another.

As companies grow, the more obvious the problem becomes: the product team develops something new without discussing it with marketing, or your design team produces artwork for a campaign that’s been canceled.

The best way to improve collaboration in your workplace is to first of all look at how your departments interact with one another: how is information shared (or not), and what can be changed to improve the flow of information?

2) Open Offices Improve Communication

How many people in your open office wear headphones every single day?

By taking down walls, you’ve created a space that is inherently loud – full of background conversations and distractions. This means that, in order to get their work done, more and more people plug in their headphones and shut out their colleagues for much of the day.

So while in theory it’s easier to start a conversation with a colleague – because you can see where they’re located – they’re more likely to give you as brief a response as possible, so they can get back to work.

In order to improve communication in your open office, you first need to address the problem of ambient noise – perhaps by investing in partitions for your breakout area, building closed meeting rooms, or investing in carpet with acoustic insulating properties.

3) Open Offices Improve Employee Productivity

It may seem like the open office is perfect for facilitating communication and creativity, to help you get more done in the day, but in fact it’s full of interruptions and distractions that hamper productivity.

A typical office worker gets interrupted every three minutes, and it can take up to 23 minutes for them to get back on track with their work. In an open office, interruptions from colleagues are much more frequent than in closed offices where workers have their own office or cubicle.

4) Open Offices Reduce the Need for Meetings

With everyone working together in a communal office space, you might think that would spell the end for team meetings, and instead pave the way for a constant environment of idea generation and cross-team collaboration.

However, on average US employees spend 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings – so that’s clearly not the case!

Even worse, if your office doesn’t have any closed off meeting rooms, a small meeting involving only a fraction of your employees can cause a distraction to everyone around them, as everyone listens (willingly, or not!) to what’s being discussed.

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Michael Eckert

Written by Michael Eckert