The Problem With Open Office Plans

Open layout offices were conceived nearly sixty years ago in an attempt to increase communication and the flow of new ideas, but decades later we're learning they may be causing more problems than it's solving.

The New York Times published an article in the Sunday paper titled "As Office Space Shrinks, So Does Privacy For Workers." In the article, written by journalist James Barron, it details how companies throughout Manhattan are looking to cut costs by cutting space. However, while that saves money on rent, it comes with a different cost: a lack of privacy.

One employee from a New York architecture firm told a story where he told a coworker about an upcoming colonoscopy but others within earshot also heard. How could they not? They sit just a few feet away.

"About six people around me know - they heard," he said. "They hear all the phone calls. They know if I'm upset with a client on the phone. Or, if you come back from a bad meeting and you don't want to show your bad side but you're decompressing and venting, everybody hears you venting. It's very intimate in that sense."

Scott Adams, who created the office-centered comic strip "Dilbert," says he's not at all surprised by the decrease in work space. He explained to the Times that employees don't require the space they once did. Computers have gotten much smaller and documents are now almost entirely digital. All you require is a coatrack, a chair, and a place to put your laptop.

According to a survey by the International Facility Management Association, nearly 70 percent of offices have open layouts. And organizational psychologist Matthew Davis says office employees experience higher level of stress, lower levels of concentration, and decreased motivation. Not only that, according to a Danish study, as the number of people in an open office increases, the number of sick days taken by employees sky rockets.

There are advantages to open layout offices. Colleagues are reportedly more intimate and better friends -- which is great for a social life... perhaps not so great for productivity.
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