If You Want People to Collaborate, Get Rid of this Office Plan

Employees hate open office plans, but at least they help employees collaborate and work together? It saves companies money and it increases teamwork, right? Well, wrong.

Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, at Harvard Business School and Harvard University, took a look at how people who switched from individual cubicles to an open office plan. What they found wasn’t more collaboration after the switch, but less. Participants in the study spent

  •  73 percent less time in face-to-face interactions
  • 67 percent more time on email
  • 75 percent more time on instant messenger

Not exactly what you want to see when you move your employees into an open office plan. Instead of looking up across the table and saying, “Hey, Jane, what do you think about this?” they are sending text messages.

As Christian Jarrett, at the British Psychological Society said, regarding this study:

To keep reading, click here: If You Want People to Collaborate, Get Rid of this Office Plan

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6 thoughts on “If You Want People to Collaborate, Get Rid of this Office Plan

  1. Introverts need peace and quiet. Half of the country are introverts. I would hate the open plan and it would be a deal-breaker for me.

    1. Spot on. That’s one of the reasons I switched from an ‘open office’ so-called ‘permanent position’ recently to a remote consulting gig: peace and quiet.

  2. Hi Suzanne –

    In your article, “… with even the privacy of the cubicle you can quickly step in and say, quietly, “John, there were a ton of typos on that last report. Can you please double check before you send things out or ask someone to review it?”

    So in that spirit I feel compelled (yes, I’m one of *those* people) to say, “Suzanne, let me step quickly into your cubicle and quietly say, ‘The beginning of this article was really messed up. Can you please double check before you send things out or ask someone to review it? And can you ask the editors at Inc. to do the same?’”

    But really, a helpful article. I share an office with two others and this caused me to realize that on occasion (taking phone calls for instance) I find myself modifying my behavior when one or both of them are present); and sometimes my train of thought (when it’s actually running on the tracks) gets interrupted when the other two are conversing.

    In the 1980s (when dinosaurs roamed the earth and long before the “open office” became so popular) I worked in a large open space with about 10 or so others in an engineering department, and oh, the stories I could tell.

    So again, a helpful article.

  3. All the comments are spot on. Even in a cube farm it’s a pain having to sit near someone who has visitors over to yak all day long. This is not just about comfort — it’s about being able to retain the context of your work in your head, vs. having it constantly erased because someone wants to gab.

    Gabbing, like flirting, is best done after you leave the office.

  4. Between the guy (soon to be divorced) arguing with his wife and the older worker loudly proclaiming, “Cut! Paste!” — he was a tech writer, concentration was a lost cause. Headphones barely helped. Worse was when I spent minutes a day talking directly to developers. I was told to “Sit and be productive.” Did anyone realize I was 4-5 times faster than any other writer? In a single transaction lasting a minute I got an answer way faster than with an email flurry and waving my hands while yammering in the phone.

  5. Privacy in the office has been gone for me for along time; what I really miss is the quiet (and I am NOT an introvert) as I often need to concentrate on my work.

    Right now, the worst is one of the higher ups, who has her own office near my cube, likes to do everything on speaker phone; and so do a couple of the folks who work for her who also sit in the cube farm. They all like to use the speaker phone – which means I often have to endure their conversations in “stereo.”

    I often wonder if the reason they do this is to bring attention to themselves – “hey everyone! look at me! I’m on a conference call with the boss! Aren’t I special!” Otherwise, how could they not realize how disruptive their stereo conversations are? They may as well be like those who shout across the cube farm to get someone’s attention.

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