Open Offices Cramp Productivity, Study Says

Open OfficesNothing has been more in vogue in the modern workplace than the open office, as illustrated by Bloomberg in its New York headquarters, among other corporate giants. But a new study put out by British neuroscientist Dr. Jack Lewis and featured on the U.K. Channel 4 Program, "The Secret Life of Buildings" says that open offices are bad for the brain by making it smaller.

The study also found that when workers are forced to work in sterile environments that banned them from personalizing their office, their productivity was reduced by 15 percent. The tests, as the Daily Telegraph reports, were conducted by placing a cap on workers to measure brain waves to track for bursts of distraction.

Indeed, the hope that open offices foster transparent work environments doesn't pan out, says Lewis, in an interview with The Daily Mail.

"Open-plan offices were designed with the idea that people can move around and interact freely to promote creative thinking and better problem solving," Lewis said. "But it doesn't work like that. If you are just getting into some work and a phone goes off in the background it ruins what you are concentrating on.

As Scientific American points out in a 2009 feature on the subject, the open office was a 20th Century innovation inspired by several leading architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright. Indeed, the genius behind Falling Water viewed walls as "fascist," as Scientific American reports. But it wasn't the spirit of democracy, but rather the desire to pack in as many workers as possible that led to the rise of the open-office starting in the 1950s, the quarterly reports.

These latest findings are in keeping with a landmark 2009 report published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management. The study, conducted by Queensland University of Technology Researcher Dr. Vinesh Oomen, of the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, found that open offices can lead to a host of problems.

"In 90 per cent of research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover," Oomen was quoted as saying in The Australia & New Zealand Science Alert. "It has been found that the high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity, there are privacy issues because everyone can see what you are doing on the computer or hear what you are saying on the phone, and there is a feeling of insecurity."

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