Open Office, Open Communication? Think Again!

Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, of Harvard Business School and Harvard University, took a look at employees who switched from individual cubicles to an open office plan. What they found wasn’t more collaboration after the switch but less (
The participants in the study, whose roles included sales, technology and human resources:

● spent 73 percent less time in face-to-face interactions
● spent 67 percent more time on email
● spent 75 percent more time on instant messenger

Perhaps not surprisingly, people like privacy and speaking one on one. If they aren’t given at least some privacy (cubicles are better than nothing), people will turn to electronic means for private communication.Although it is probably no surprise that employees have expressed negative feelings about open plan offices, both in terms of lost privacy and adverse effects on communication, this is the first study to provide an objective measure of the impact of an open-plan space on how people interact.
While it is possible to bring chemical substances together under specific conditions of temperature and pressure to form the desired compound, more factors seem to be at work in achieving a similar effect with humans,” the researchers said. “Until we understand those factors, we may be surprised to find a reduction in face-to-face collaboration at work even as we architect transparent, open spaces intended to increase it.