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Workers 'dissatisfied' with open plan offices

17 September, 2013

Most people are dissatisfied with having to work in an open plan office, University of Sydney research has found.

PhD candidate Jungsoo Kim and Professor Richard de Dear from the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning found many feel open plan offices are disruptive to productivity.

"Open plan office layouts have been touted as a way to boost workplace satisfaction and team effectiveness in recent years," Kim said.

"We found people in open plan offices were less satisfied with their workplace environment than those in private offices.

"The benefits of being close to co-workers in open plan offices were offset by factors such as increased noise and less privacy."

Based on a survey of more than 42,000 office workers in the USA, Finland, Canada and Australia, "Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices" was published in the latest edition of Journal of Environmental Psychology.

The University of Sydney researchers analysed the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California, Berkeley's database which measured Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in office buildings.

IEQ includes factors such as indoor air quality, temperature, lighting, noise, privacy, and the amount of space an individual perceives they have.

In interpreting the data the University of Sydney researchers also further validated earlier findings that uncontrollable noise and loss of privacy are the main sources of workplace dissatisfaction in open plan offices.

"Open plan offices dominate modern workplaces yet there is little solid evidence they improve interaction between co-workers," Kim said.

"Our research was the first to use such a large sample size as well as to compare the reportedly positives aspects of open plan offices with the negatives.

"It clearly indicates the disadvantages of open plan offices clearly outweigh the benefits."

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Jeremy Nathan | Friday, September 20, 2013, 10:44 AM
I'm not buying this. It seems very one sided. As a manager I have read many studies and articles that support the benefits of open plan offices vs. the isolated and non-collaborative effects of closed offices. Disruption is an issue no doubt, but there are techniques to help with that like setting meeting times etc.
JOhn | Friday, September 20, 2013, 10:50 AM
I am wondering if this research is looking at a big enough picture. Are they factoring in variables such as corporate culture? For instance, a toxic corporate culture leads to dissatisfaction anyway, regardless of office architecture. This exacerbates noise disturbance perception and makes it easier for personal conflicts to be played out.
Rob | Friday, September 20, 2013, 11:46 AM
I completely agree that open offices are not at all conducive to work efficiency and confidential customer conversations. They became 'fashionable' in the 90's to save building costs and minimise the personal use of computers. Concerned companies would be better off with office layouts with glass fronts/doors and desks facing away from the doors, so screen activities are visible.
Alf | Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 10:52 AM
Rob , you are right, This is a very sensible way of handling any office and this opens everything to all and eliminates those little photos and dirty jokes circulating and wasting expensive time and reduces the insults. This together with a weekly meeting of all staff to swap ideas and problems, splitting people with personality problems and unwanted pregnancies, that is now not only an expensive problem with staff but now with management 6 month and $75,000. or do we only employ men now and women that have had their tubes god what are we all coming to.