While open-plan offices are meant to encourage collaboration and contribute to a collegial workplace culture, the threats to productivity and worker peace of mind caused by open-plan layouts are greater than most companies realize, according to the findings of a survey conducted by Oxford Economics.
The survey, which was conducted in the third quarter of 2015, asked more than 600 executives and 600 employees working for multi-national companies what elements of open-plan office layouts they believe contribute positively to the work flow, and what changes to current office design they would like to see implemented.
The results clearly indicated that employees value having a quiet place to work: 64% said being able to block out noise and distractions increases their productivity, 52% said it reduces errors in their work, and 48% said it allows them to focus on the task in front of them.
When asked to rank the factors that are most important in their work environment, the top priority cited by employees was the ability to focus and work without interruptions, followed by having space to collaborate with colleagues and coworkers easily and effectively, and the ability to seamlessly connect their devices no matter where they are in the office. By contrast, far fewer employees rated as important having access to space to take breaks or eat meals, amenities like free or subsidized food, or natural light.
The respondents were also asked which factors they believe were taken into account in designing their organization’s office space. Large majorities said they think the top priorities were allowing and encouraging employees to interact with each other (85%), followed by improving employee productivity (81%) and satisfaction (81%), and allowing the organization to minimize costs; while somewhat smaller majorities said they thought minimizing distractions from excessive noise inside (69%) or outside (64%) of the office were considered.
The findings further revealed that in addition to ambient noise, constant connectivity to digital devices can distract both executives and rank-and-file workers. The survey showed that 43% of executives and 27% of employees experience pressure (either self-imposed or external) to be always connected to the office through digital technologies, and that 38% of executives and 27% of employees worry about information overload as a result of these technologies.