No doubt open space is perfect to optimize an office surface and cut down costs; more interaction was another advantage now brought forward. However problems are plain-to-see, let’s face it. The lack of privacy is a very real problem, but not the only one. In no uncertain terms, the article “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace” posted on The Washington Post reopens the discussion on this subject. “Workplaces need more walls, not fewer”: Manufacturers of partition walls should rejoice…
The ironic story by Lindsey Kaufman (New York based, she works in advertising; her personal essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Our Town Downtown and xoJane) offers an irresistibile picture of the rowdy behavior of a group of adult co-workers in an open space.
With a few amusing commonplace remarks (need of noise-cancelling headphones, embarrassment for frequent bathroom trips, control of clandestine porn-watching and unlimited personal calls) and some inaccuracy (about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, but I don’t think we can blame Google for it) the author gives some interesting data..
“Nothing was private” was the heaviest denunciation.
According to the 2013 study Kaufman quotes “Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices”, many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance and by the less of acoustic comfort. “50% of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound, privacy was a significant problem and more than 30% complained about the lack of visual privacy”.
About need of interaction “it was cited as a problem by fewer than 10% of workers in any type of office setting. And the conclusion is disturbing: “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”
Also, something we shouldn’t undervalue, especially in winter, is the easiest contagion of influenza virus (also Corriere della Sera in Italy talked about this problem).
So was Google wrong? Maybe not. Probably, benefits may justify some undeniable drawbacks, when the “open” model (open space and open mind, too) is part of the attitude of companies like Google in terms of philosophy and employees’ real age. Are there any studies on digital natives?
The mistake they make is to copy this model uncritically in more traditional companies, without involving the staff and, most of all, without a previous change in the corporate culture.
Editorial by Renata Sias, editor WOW! Webmagazine.