Poor planning

The debate over the suitability of open plan offices for modern business activities continues with the publication of a paper by Harvard researchers. Despite being the dominant format for offices in the UK, and having been shown to increase employee activity levels, open plan layouts have been criticised for lack of privacy and a reduced ability to concentrate. Published late last year in Frontiers in Psychology, this latest research surveyed employees of an architectural practice. In open plan environments, the report found ‘significantly more unfavourable working conditions’ in terms of: (1) acoustic privacy, (2) workplace effectiveness, and (3) the perception that ‘the physical space where they worked embodied the values of the organization they worked for’. This, the researchers found, translated to lower job satisfaction and engagement; however, there was no causal relationship with health and wellbeing. The authors conclude that the intended benefits of open plan offices (better communication, enhanced performance, talent retention) were not only not realised, but in fact negatively offset. They propose the optimum solution of a mix of open (increased interactions and knowledge sharing) with private space (fewer visual distractions and crowding and better one-on-one communication).