The evidence that open plan offices are bad for you keeps piling up. Anne Murphy Paul put together a great roundup of current research at Time.com. Her article is titled “Why the Open Office Is a Hotbed of Stress.” As you can imagine, she doesn’t paint a favorable picture of what it’s like to work in an environment where noise is at a maximum and privacy is at a minimum. She points out that every benefit employers thought they would reap by doing away with private offices or taking down the cubicle walls has actually backfired.
- Social interaction frequency increased…but conversations became shallower
- People could reach out to coworkers for help…but those being asked for help got less done
- Everyone could hear and see everyone else…but everyone could hear and see everyone else
According to Anne’s article, not only are open office designs associated with more stress, they can even sap your will to live – or at least the will to keep on trying to find solutions for problems. We hope that doesn’t mean that people will stop looking for solutions to the open office problem. We’re doing our part with desktop mounted privacy panels. They can close the “door” a little bit on all these problems.
Other structural and process changes that can make a difference include:
- Setting aside some enclosed areas for private conversations. This gives people a space to really communicate instead of just chatting about the weather and sports.
- Making sure the coverings on ceiling and walls are designed to absorb sound. This may involve some retrofitting, but it will be worth it.
- Have all workers turn off sound-generating devices. Have desktop phones light up instead of ringing. Put cell phones on vibrate. Turn off “pinging” email notification sounds on computers.
- Institute a two hour “period of silence” at the beginning or end of each work day. During this time, employees are to work by themselves with minimal interaction.
- Install privacy screens, doors or other barriers that can be rolled or pulled across the cube opening. This can be as simple as adding CubeGuard Cubicle Message Barriers that let frequent helpers notify “helpees” when they need to be left alone.