Do Open Office Spaces Just Open Up More Problems?

Many offices are really good at doing two things: zapping productivity and creating stress. A combination of excessive and wasteful meetings, an overabundance of emails, and constantly overhearing co-worker conversations are just a few of the factors that lead to the typical worker only spending about 45% of their time on their job duties.6072966411_0510d162c9_n

That’s an astonishing figure. Less then half of our work day isn’t even spent on the things that likely motivated us to take the job in the first place.

This all has an impact on employee health, wellness, engagement and happiness.

Take open office environments as one example. There are plenty of instances, like Google, where this type of environment can be a catalyst for employees, particularly to help spur innovation through increased collaboration.

But, there’s also more research coming out to suggest that open office environments may cause more issues then they solve. They often significantly decrease things like focus, productivity, creativity and job satisfaction, all of which influence our mental and physical health.

My own experience is reflective of this. When I worked in small, open office environments I found it difficult to concentrate, especially if co-workers were having a conversation or someone was on the phone. A recent survey found that nearly 1/3 of workers face the same problem of stymied focus because of co-worker’s conversations, an unintended consequence of open office spaces.

I began bringing my laptop to the office and if I wanted to research and/or write for any significant period of time, I went into the quiet conference room and closed the door.

This type of work environment is likely upping our stress and impacting long-term health. Based on research, open work spaces directly contribute to increased circulation of stress hormones in the body. Noise generated in an open office also increases fatigue, which makes mustering the motivation to exercise after work that much harder.

The good news is more companies are thinking about how to create a more balanced environment with both open spaces and quiet havens. One example is the work led by Susan Cain, best known for her best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts and her widely popular TED talk on the topic. She and office design company Steelcase are creating offices with options, opportunities for quiet, focused work, combined with spaces for discussion and collaboration with colleagues.

And when an employee feels their environment supports their unique work style and needs, chances are their engagement and investment in their work will likely increase (hopefully moving the stagnant employee disengagement trend of the past decade, which has held over 50%). This is a good thing from the employers perspective (the employee is likely to stay longer), but it’s also a sure way to reduce some of the ever-mounting stress we feel at work.


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