Recently, a team of Harvard researchers set out to determine whether open plan offices help employees interact with each other. Open plan offices have come under intense scrutiny, as studies link the design to poor acoustics and employee performance, but companies continue to build them, because they’re cost-effective, and they’re believed to foster communication and collaboration among employees. The Harvard study wasn’t exactly encouraging, at least not at first glance: It concluded that wall-free offices encourage workers to talk less and email more. Collaboration appeared to be reduced in the subjects’ workplaces.
The study attracted a lot of attention, including in this publication, yet the study had an essential flaw: the extreme open plan offices they studied.
The study only tested how much collaboration happens in poorly designed and extreme open plan offices with absolutely no walls or partitions. But the vast majority of offices used by leading organizations categorized as “open plan” have collaboration spaces and dedicated areas for private conversation. Extreme open offices–work areas without a choice of meeting rooms, breakout spaces, or telephone booths–are unlikely to appeal to business managers who want to keep employees happy. Furthermore, designers well-versed in workplace strategy would never suggest such an environment for a client.
Every office needs places where employees feel free to talk–which typically requires some element of privacy. As we’ve found in our line of work, designing offices for various organizations and Fortune 500 companies, a thoughtful mix of open and closed spaces is key to any successful office design.
Originally published in Fast Company. To read the rest of the article, visit here.