Employees give open-plan offices the thumbs down

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Worker dissatisfaction is rife among workers in open-plan offices, with cramped quarters, lack of privacy and noise the main reason why, according to a new study.

Open-plan is supposed to encourage communication and camaraderie but a study of more than 42,000 office workers over a decade has concluded that they are more disruptive due to ‘uncontrollable noise and loss of privacy’.

The researchers from Sydney University, who analysed the data, said enclosed private offices ‘clearly outperformed’ open-plan.

“Our results categorically contradict the industry accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves overall work environmental satisfaction,” the team concluded.

The survey, carried out by the Center for the Built Environment at the California University, asked respondents to list their level of satisfaction of dissatisfaction with the temperature, lighting, privacy, noise and ease of interaction.

Sydney University’s analysis showed two-thirds or respondents worked in open-plan offices and that they show ‘considerably higher dissatisfaction rates’.

More than half of those in open-plan cubicles (59% in high partitioned cubicles and 58% in low partitioned) and 49% in open-plan with no or limited partitions were unhappy with sound privacy.

The findings, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, revealed the annoyance with noise and privacy issues were not offset by their ratings for greater ease of interaction.

“What the data tells us is that, in terms of occupant satisfaction, the disadvantages brought by noise disruption were bigger than the predicted benefits of increased interaction,” lead author Jungsoo Kim, from Sydney University’s Faculty of Architecture told The Conversation.

Co-author, Professor Richard de Dear, head of the University’s Architectural Design Science added worker satisfaction was important because it was linked to productivity.

“The productivity benefits of teams working together have been used to sell the open-plan office for decades. 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.”

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