The Perils Of Open-Plan Offices

AFP reports:

Open-plan offices are making people sick, with workers more likely to suffer stress, catch a cold and be less productive, Australian researchers have found.

A review of global studies into the impact of modern office design found the switch to open-plan spaces had been overwhelmingly negative, with 90 percent reporting adverse health and psychological effects.

High levels of stress and conflict, elevated blood pressure, and rapid staff turnover were associated with open-plan environments, according to review author Vinesh Oommen.

Well, after a decade, I stand vindicated. I worked in MTV for a couple of years in the last millennium, and they had an open office back then. The then-MD, who was wearing shorts and fluorescent green socks when he interviewed me for the job in 1997, thought that open-plan offices were ‘cool’ and ‘modern’, and that he was being ‘with it’. He himself sat at one end of it, his ghastly socks visible to half his co-workers through the day. I argued against it once, and he gave me spiel on ‘productivity’.

I found it hard to function like that. I’d be hard at work and some joker’s cell phone would ring loudly across the hall again and again while he swigged free Coke at the pantry. All day long there would be chatter buzzing through the air, and people shouting at each other across the hall, Has Malaika’s bustier arrived yet?, and suchlike. And every time I reached up to dig my nose sensuously, 40 chicas would look at me in horror, suddenly disillusioned with the concept of the ideal male.

It was hard to concentrate on anything; and distractions abounded. A study a couple of years ago showed a correlation between open-plan offices and longer working hours—but that has nothing to do with productivity. (We did work all night often in MTV, but that is because there was a pool table in the conference room, and we took our pool seriously.)

Thankfully, I work from home now. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pool table in the living room. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs—but I’m happier than I’ve ever been at work.