Space = Productivity

Embed from Getty Images
OK, Don, you talk a big game, but where’s the science with regard to the space issue?  How do you know that something like an open floor plan concept is actually worse for people?

I’m glad you asked.  Researchers from the University of Sydney examined the issue for me.  (OK, they did their work three years ago and I’m just absorbing it now.)  SO what does this research say?  Well, I could go to the original article but I dislike paying for research done using public money, so we’re using the material put together by the Harvard Business Review.  A fairly respectable organization.

The top three frustrations are the noise level, visual privacy and sound privacy.  This sound familiar to those that read the posts on Space from a few days ago?

Now, I must admit that their findings and my ranting are different in a couple of regards.  Based on their data the people who were most dissatisfied were those living in cubicles with high partitions although the cubicles with low partitions gave them a good run for their money.  Here is the graph they did with regard to the satisfaction level in different areas:

Previous research cited by the University of Sydney researchers showed that:

“the loss of productivity due to noise distraction. was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices, and the tasks requiring complex verbal process” – the most important tasks, you might argue – “were more likely to be disturbed than relatively simple or routine tasks.”

In the paper, they noted that “this loss of productivity is not offset by increased collaboration.”

So, we remove barriers to collaboration (walls) and we decrease productivity.  Well, that social experiment kind of fell apart didn’t it?  In a strange twist, the researchers found that the people who had private offices had the lowest dissatisfaction about collaboration.  The author of the HBR article attributes this to the fact that there is no challenge in finding a private place to talk.

And therein lies the other challenge:  meeting rooms.  If you eliminate private offices, places where people feel free to discuss topics openly (believe me, many don’t discuss topics unless there is an almost 100% certainty of the conversation not being overheard) then you need to put in place meeting rooms so that people can have those private places to talk.  There is no magic number for the number of meeting rooms or their size.  I do know that the larger the number of people in a building the more meeting rooms you need.  That’s kind of common sense, but you would not believe how often common sense is ignored.  Increasing the density of the area by taking a meeting room and dividing into cubicles is going to make the remaining meeting rooms even more in demand.  Which is going to lead to worker frustration.  Which is going to lead to lower productivity.  Which is going to lead to the need to hire more staff.  Which is going to lead to the need to increase density.  Which is going to lead to .

See where I’m going?  An endless circle, unless you step out of the loop and think about how you can make effective change.  Not just change, but effective change.

Leave a Reply