Harvard study: Open-plan offices decrease collaboration

A new study from Harvard reveals that open-plan offices decrease rather than increase face-to-face collaboration.

From my perspective as a developer, having to work in a climate of constant interruption is a total productivity killer. IBM did numerous studies of this decades ago, yet somehow the open plan office model managed to become somewhat of a utopian managerial ideal. It really is not.

From the article by Geoffrey James:
“A new study from Harvard shows that when employees move from a traditional office to an open plan office, it doesn’t cause them to interact more socially or more frequently.

Instead, the opposite happens. They start using email and messaging with much greater frequency than before. In other words, even if collaboration were a great idea (it’s a questionable notion), open plan offices are the worst possible way to make it happen.

Previous studies of open plan offices have shown that they make people less productive, but most of those studies gave lip service to the notion that open-plan offices would increase collaboration, thereby offsetting the damage.

The Harvard study, by contrast, undercuts the entire premise that justifies the fad. And that leaves companies with only one justification for moving to an open plan office: less floor space, and therefore a lower rent.

But even that justification is idiotic because the financial cost of the loss in productivity will be much greater than the money saved in rent. Here’s an article where I do the math for you. Even in high-rent districts, the savings have a negative ROI.

More important, though–if employees are going to be using email and messaging to communicate with co-workers, they might as well be working from home, which costs the company nothing.”

More at: It’s Official: Open-Plan Offices Are Now the Dumbest Management Fad of All Time | Inc.com