What sort of office is beneficial for performance?

What kind of office makes us most creative, enhances productivity, creates a great working atmosphere and a sense of cohesion amongst employees? For a long time, it has been thought that an open environment would be ideal because it enhances communication and idea flow. However, recent research questions this notion.


An article in the New Yorker summarises research on open office environments and comes to a clear conclusion: this kind of setting enhances neither creativity nor productivity. For example, researchers followed up on a transition from a classical office to an open environment and found job performance, satisfaction with physical environment, and interpersonal relationships to deteriorate, while stress level rose. Moreover, a meta-analysis of over a hundred studies on open environments revealed that this setting is harmful for attention span, productivity, creative thinking, and job satisfaction. Finally, one study also found people who work in an open environment to be on sick leave more often than people working in smaller offices.

The results found are in line with research on what is beneficial for concentration, performance and team cohesion. For example, one big issue with open space offices is noise, which in turn is known to have a negative impact on concentration. Even worse, it is harmful for health because it raises the level of stress hormones. Furthermore, a sense of privacy is related to job performance, while feeling in control of your environment is beneficial for team cohesion and satisfaction. This sense of control includes for example adjusting temperature and lighting in a room, but also the way in which meetings are conducted.

There also seems to be an effect of age: younger individuals do not seem to be as affected by the detrimental effects of an open environment as older ones are. This might be due to the fact that they are more used to things like multi-tasking and dealing with distraction. However, their work performance is also affected by working in an open environment: those who are good at multi-tasking (i.e. those who are usually the ones that deal well with an open space office) are more susceptible to distractions than those who are not.

Generally, interruptions seem to be very detrimental to concentration and performance. We reported on this before. In consequence, for getting things done, it is important to be able to stick with them for elongated periods of time. The risk of being interrupted is greater in an open space office than in smaller ones.

Thus, to sum up the research mentioned: open space offices are detrimental for performance, team cohesion, and health and therefore whenever there is the choice, smaller offices should be preferred.

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