by Beth Mole @arstechnica.com
The findings, published recently in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, suggest that removing physical dividers may, in fact, make it harder for employers to foster collaboration and collective intelligence among their employees.
Before the study it was clear from employee surveys and media reports that workers are not fans of the open architecture trend. Employees complain of noise, distractions, lowered productivity, a loss of privacy, and a feeling of being “watched.” On top of that, studies have suggested that open offices can be bad for workers’ health.
After the open redesign, the employees spent 72-percent less time having face-to-face interactions with each other. The raw numbers shook out to an average of 5.8 hours of face-to-face time per day per person before the redesign, but only 1.7 hours of face-to-face time per person per day afterward. Meanwhile, electronic communication increased; workers sent 56 percent more emails to their colleagues and 67 percent more instant messages.
Consistent with the fundamental human desire for privacy and prior evidence that privacy may increase productivity, when office architecture makes everyone more observable or ‘transparent’, it can dampen [face-to-face] interaction, as employees find other strategies to preserve their privacy; for example, by choosing a different channel through which to communicate.