Study: Workers Don’t Like Open-Plan Offices

More than two-thirds of employees in a recent study said they work in open-plan offices—and most said they dislike the environment and complained about the distractions.

The open-plan office may be common these days, but that doesn’t mean that the people working in them are fans.

A University of Sydney study, published by the Journal of Environmental Psychology, analyzed data gathered from 303 office buildings in the United States, Australia, Finland, and Canada. The data, gathered from more than 40,000 survey responses to the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment, led to these findings:

What turns them off? In particular, the lack of privacy. More than half of all occupants in open-plan cubicles (59 percent) and nearly half in unpartitioned cubicles (49 percent) complained about the lack of sound privacy. Between 20 to 40 percent of those surveyed said they were highly dissatisfied with their lack of visual privacy. “In general, open-plan layouts showed considerably higher dissatisfaction rates than enclosed office layouts,” the study noted.

Is the trade-off worth it? The chief benefit of the open-plan office is more collaboration opportunities, but the downside is the distractions such environments invite. “The productivity benefits of teams working together have been used to sell the open plan office for decades,” stated University of Sydney professor and study coauthor Richard de Dear, to The Conversation. “Yet, if you do these evaluations and actually talk to occupants of open plan offices, very few people think that they are productive spaces. You need places to concentrate.” De Dear, who leads the school’s architectural design science department, said that productivity and worker satisfaction were linked.

Wish you had a little bit more privacy in your office? Tell us your take on this issue in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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