Study Confirms: Open Office Plans Are Terrible

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 16, 2018 1:57 PM

If you haven't figured out the problem with open office space already, Harvard researchers did it for you.

According to a new study, employees are more distracted and less productive in open office spaces. Not-so-academically-speaking, what they mean is open office space sucks.

For tech types, it seemed like a good idea to have co-workers share space for collaboration. But it turns out they would rather interact with their computers.

Less Face Time

Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban looked at two Fortune 500 companies that went from traditional office plans into open spaces with fewer walls, doors, and other boundaries. They examined face-to-face interactions and records of electronic communications.

"Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction," they wrote for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

They said the open architecture "appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates." Instead, employees turned to electronic messages and email on their computers.

Among the 150 employees involved in the study, face-to-face conversations dropped while email increased between 20 and 50 percent. It's not news that open space is not for everybody, but the authors say their study is the first to show it empirically.

Not Too Personal

Of course, many techies prefer computers to humans in the first place. So if your officemate puts on headphones rather than talk to you, don't take it too personally.

But many law firms are trying the open space concept -- with mixed reviews. The good news is the open floor plans can accommodate more workers, particularly with flex and part-time schedules.

The bad news is lawyers need space for private meetings, phone calls and other confidentiality concerns. So yeah, open spaces suck.

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