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open communal space

Cubicles are a thing of the past (thank goodness); but with industrial open offices taking over the corporate real estate scene, evidence is surfacing in the HR department that this may not be the best alternative. An anonymous study found that an astounding fifty eight percent of high performance employees need a more quiet workspace. Here’s why.

The open office vision versus reality

“The open office movement is like some gigantic experiment in willful delusion. It’s like something dreamed up in Congress.” –Jason Feifer of Fast Company

When managers and HR execs jumped on the bandwagon of open offices, it came with a completely idealized notion of employee collaboration, socialization, and team spirit. In their heads, a more open space and “easy access” to other team members was the catalyst to creative brainstorming and the next big idea. What the romanticizing executives failed to recognize is that they were actually creating a random display of chaos, competition, and distractions.

Interruption = Exhaustion

While the lack of cubicles or barriers between coworkers certainly makes for more social activity to an extent, these interruptions to what should be concentrated productivity are actually taking a toll on workers’ health.

Employees in cubicles receive 29% more interruptions than those in private offices, finds research from the University of California, Irvine. And employees who are interrupted frequently report 9% higher rates of exhaustion.

Competitive… Edge?

What management also failed to predict is that natural competition that exists in a corporate office is only amplified by this type of setup. Having the constant ability to see and hear about what other people are working on adds an unnecessary pressure to coworkers, increasing stress levels all around.

The Backfire of Socialization

HR execs got a crazy idea in their heads that an open office layout would lead to everyone being friends. Yeah, right. What actually happens is an environment jam-packed with what we like to call a forced display of friendship, or FDF—which essentially sums up how you feel about making awkward small talk with people you don’t really know or care for. Those awkward minutes could be much better spent on other things, am I right?

“There’s some evidence that removing physical barriers and bringing people closer to one another does promote casual interactions,” explains a Harvard Business Review piece “…but there’s a roughly equal amount of evidence that because open spaces reduce privacy, they don’t foster informal exchanges and may actually inhibit them. Some studies show that employees in open-plan spaces, knowing that they may be overheard or interrupted, have shorter and more-superficial discussions than they otherwise would.”

Silence is Golden

To combat the constant distraction of noise and prevent potential interruption, the majority of workers in open office layouts wear headphones. Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube all make it easy to drown out chitchat and open-office buzz; but as it turns out, music is just the lesser evil when it comes to productivity. Experts have found that the human brain functions at its best when entirely uninterrupted by

The way forward

Experts have since found that having the freedom of choice when it comes to socialization and noise level in the office is where the real magic happens. Employees should have the option of collaborating when they want, and flying solo (uninterrupted), just as easily. This makes workers feel more in control of their own tasks and thus, deliver better results. Coworking spaces worldwide are mastering the art of workplace freedom. Individuals in coworking spaces, just like individual employees in corporate offices, have the upmost flexibility when deciding where and how to carry out his or her responsibilities. Choose between working in an open communal space perfect for brainstorming sessions, a cozy in-house coffee shop, or a private office for ultimate focus. It’s no wonder the most innovative businesses are modeling their offices like coworking spaces, or taking it a step further and providing employees with coworking space memberships closer to home to eliminate in-office competition and foster more effective work-life balance.

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