Say Goodbye to Open Plan Office Space Pt. 2

Back in May 2019, we published an article that looked at studies by Harvard and Oxford Economics that supported something many workers have felt for some time, that open plan offices are distracting and therefore less productive.

In the scientific paper published by Ethan Berstein and Stephen Turban from Harvard, they discovered that as a company moved to an open plan layout the number of face-to-face meetings dropped by 72% and emails and instant messaging to each other increased by 56% and 67% respectively. This is the opposite of what is supposed to happen in an open plan office, with companies adopting them to increase face-to-face collaboration.

In another research piece carried out by Oxford Economics, they noted that 64% of employees thought that their productivity would increase if they could block out noise. And 52% thought that they would make less errors if they were less distracted by noise.

Skip to Today

Over the last few weeks, we've explored the impacts of COVID on our working environments and what the office space may look like post-lock down. Social distancing will have significant effects on open plan offices for some time to come.

Social distancing rules will undermine one of open plan's key benefits, fitting more staff into smaller office spaces. One likely scenario is that desk groups or pods will have their capacity reduced to keep workers isolated from each other.

Remote working will be key in achieving this distancing and is clearly here to stay in the long term. And for those that need or want to work from the office (a busy home environment is not the easiest place to get work done), shifts and staggering working hours in the office will be commonplace for the rest of 2020.


Not so Hot on Hot Desking

Host desks were a key element of many open plan offices. Flexible working desks for workers to use ad-hoc helped use floor and desk space efficiently. Hot desks will be one of the open plan office's first casualties. The risks of sharing a desk will be too great without a very judicious disinfecting procedure and in most cases, that will not be practical.


Collaborating at Distance

In the original article we saw that employees seemingly want both the ability to focus and work without disruption and have spaces to collaborate as a team. These were the top of their priorities when asked. With most employees having a laptop and or mobile device, having a desk that is allocated as yours may be less necessary than ever before.

Since lock down began, Video has become the standard method for teams and colleagues to collaborate and communicate. Calls, emails and IMs are helpful tools and very much part of the wider collaboration environment but only video brings people together face to face and allows teams to share documents and project work in real time.

Many people who had previously been uncomfortable using video, either due to unfamiliarity with the technology or just from being camera shy, have had to adapt during the lockdown period. The outcome is we now most workers are experienced, competent, and more comfortable with video communication.

Video will continue to play a crucial role in open plan offices as teams split up by social distancing, remote working and reduced meeting spaces will use video to conduct a large proportion of their meetings.