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Research suggests the open-plan office could be killing productivity

Divina Paredes | June 28, 2016
Employees need the quiet time, spaces, and devices they need for focused work, according to Oxford Economics.

Minimalist interior designs, rows of employees sitting close to one another, with few or no enclosed rooms are the hallmarks of the modern workplace.

These open-plan offices aim to encourage collaboration and a collegial workplace culture, but new research from Oxford Economics shows these also come with serious drawbacks.

Noise and distraction, technology integration, and after-hours work are bigger issues than most executives realise - and can have detrimental effects on employee productivity and satisfaction, according to the research conducted with Plantronics.

The survey asked more than 600 executives and 600 employees what works - and what doesn't - about open-plan layouts. The respondents came from the US, the UK, Germany, India, China, Australia and the Nordic region.

An issue raised by employees is that technology integration is a work in progress.

The employees say they are expected to be connected to the office all the time - but only 40 per cent say the devices they use at home integrate seamlessly with their work tools.

As well, the research finds constant connectivity breeds compulsive behaviour and could lead to burnout.

"Many feel pressure to be 'always on' and experience the strains of constant connectivity and information overload," the report states.

More than a third of the employees say they use their technology devices mainly because of habit or compulsion, fear of missing out, or social pressure.

Meanwhile, there is a disconnect on how the executives and the employees view the workplace environment. Nearly two-thirds of executives say the staff have tools they need to deal with work distractions, but less than half of the employees agree.

The first step to overcoming challenges of open plans is to start a dialogue between executives and employees about what is working-and what needs to change- about office design, Adrianna Gregory, associate editor, Thought Leadership, Oxford Economics tells CIO New Zealand.

"Open-plan spaces are a reality of the modern workplace, and to make it function, leaders will have to better understand what their employees need in terms of technology tools and separate spaces for focused work," states Gregory.

"Recognise noise and distractions as serious issues in the open-plan office, and plan accordingly," advises Edward Cone, deputy director of Thought Leadership and Technology Practice Lead at Oxford Economics.

Employees need the quiet time, spaces, and devices they need for focused work to allow them to be more productive during the work day, the research notes.

"The ability to create a quiet environment or escape a noisy one is more important to employees than free food or other novel amenities, and should be prioritised when designing the office layout and planning for collaboration technology."


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