Open Offices Don’t Always Increase Productivity

Open offices might be a dangerous trend for workers who need peace and quiet to be productive.

open offices

The workplace isn’t what it used to be. If the media’s depiction of Millennials is to be trusted, worker demand for a more sociable, collaborative office has caused office design to do a full 180. But is that really what happened?

One thing is for certain: the workplace is more social than ever before. The rigid hierarchy of assigned desks and private offices of differing sizes has fallen away, replaced by open designs that are more like common work areas in universities. This change in design was indeed prompted by young workers who prefer the less secluded feel of open offices.

But like all trends, it’s possible to take open office design too far. Now that we’ve been working with open offices for several years, we may have already taken them too far. In an interview with MarketWatch, a co-founder of Homepolish said that “when you study people more, you find out that not everyone is an extrovert, and that’s a good thing.” Some workers legitimately prefer quiet work spaces, and they’re not going to make use of the social features of collaborative work spaces anyway.

In fact, collaborative work spaces might be worse than standard cubicles for people who don’t thrive in them. The noise, foot traffic, and visual distractions can all pull attention away from what you’re working on. Add the fact that coworkers can interrupt you without feeling too awkward about it, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster for anyone who needs constant focus in order to be productive. Writers and programmers could easily lose their train of thought in an open environment.

open offices

This isn’t to say that open offices are a bad idea altogether (otherwise companies would’ve scrapped them by now). But it’s a fact that, despite what innovation-happy news outlets might say, this new trend in office design is not a guaranteed productivity hack. It’s hardly even a guaranteed happiness hack. After all, the ability to unplug and relax during the day could lead to longer hours overall, which would wear down the employee just as much as a rigid schedule in a traditional office.

Right now, office designers are trying to find a balance that appeals to both the instinctive need to unwind and the practical need to buckle down and get work done. In the end, people want freedom: whether they choose to socialize or work in solitude is up to them. Designers are striving to allow freedom of work styles to everyone without having workers step on each other’s toes.