Open-plan offices are often praised for the way in which they can boost productivity and creativity when engaged in collaborative tasks, as well as promoting interaction between colleagues and cultivating a more relaxed atmosphere in general. However evidence is piling up to suggest that when it comes to the requirements of the average working day, open-plan offices may not be as beneficial as many believe.

According to a new report from Unispace, the fact that individual task-focused work still accounts for 60% of the average working day means that an open-plan design is often more disruptive and distracting than it is an asset. Collaborative tasks meanwhile account for 25% of the average working day, while learning and socialising each account for 7%.

As for the specific issues reportedly caused by an open-plan working environment, 15% of respondents cited noise as the primary cause of distractions. Also mentioned was a lack of quiet areas (13%), a lack of privacy (9%), and temperature and air quality (7%).

“Our research shows that the vast majority of our time at work is based on the need to ‘focus’ - more than 60% of the working day.” said Simon Pole, Unispace’s Global Director of Design.  “The workplace has changed radically in the last few years, but it may have gone too far now. Collaboration is obviously a central tenet of many modern spaces and in this environment, creating a fusion of ideas and socialisation is key; but for the majority of everyday business tasks, workers need space for focus, calm and solitude.

“Increased noise, a lack of privacy and quiet areas consistently show up as the top three employee complaints in open environments,” continued Pole. “This is particularly problematic as most employees’ report that they engage in focus work more than any other work mode.”

Albert De Plazaola, Unispace’s Global Principal of Strategy, explained, “Open, collaborative work environments promised us increased employee performance, higher levels of productivity, happier employees and happier CFOs — as these environments were typically more efficient.

“We need to think critically around how and if the latest design trends and fashions can elevate the experience of employees. For example, progressive workplace designs for social media or tech companies may not be appropriate or culturally suitable for professional services firms. Similarly, napping pods and Zen lounges may do wonders for overworked software engineers, but would miss the mark entirely if placed in the office of a conservative management consulting firm.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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