Ditching The Cubicles Only Decreases Worker Productivity And Satisfaction, Study Finds

July 3, 2013  |  

The interior design of many U.S. offices encourages the placement of employees that’s too close for comfort. Nearly 70 percent of American workers are forced to function in open-plan offices — a concept that eliminates barriers between people. However, this floor plan has proven to be nothing but fruitless and unproductive, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

Slaving away in a small booth for hours seems torturous, but discarding the cubicles is making workers feel distracted and cramped. The design promotes office-wide cooperation but also coerces workers to constantly interact with each other. “When focus is compromised in pursuit of collaboration, neither works well,” a new study conducted by Gensler, a design firm, found.

The weakened motivation, diminishing job satisfaction, and little privacy that plague open-plan designs are the central reasons behind its ineffectiveness, according to a meta-analysis conducted by Tonya Smith-Jackson and Katherine Klein.

In a more congested environment, it’s not just distractions that spread. Bacteria can easily wiggle and glide from worker-to-worker. According to Quartz, one study found that employees that worked in open-office models reported 62 percent more sick days than workers in closed-off layouts.

Another study discovered that employees found conversations, phone rings, and machines to be the most bothersome, added Quartz. “When the phone or a desk mate just won’t stay quiet, workers need a retreat where they can focus,” said Janet Pogue, head of Gensler’s workplace design. Open-plan offices can easily sidetrack employees from their work; Pogue suggests allowing private rooms to be accessible to workers who need some peace and quiet.

Getting rid of the barriers that exemplify the traditional cubicle office is unnecessary to encourage interaction. To promote a friendly workplace aura, Bloomberg says to create a copy room instead of giving every employee his or her own printer. In this way, there is some small banter and chitchat before they go back to their own office space and resume their work.

Bloomberg adds that the key to increasing worker productivity and satisfaction is to designate areas in the office for socializing, learning, and work. “…[W]hen it’s time to do some hardcore collaborating or learning, moving to a different environment can help them shift gears,” it says.

The Gensler study was an online survey that recruited 2,035 office workers.

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