Open Office Plans May Be Hurting Productivity

Posted on June 4, 2014

Ever wanted to punch the guy working next to you who sounds like he’s basically yelling into his phone when he’s on conference calls? What about the woman who taps her foot incessantly from the second you arrive to the second you leave, or that intern who crackles his chip bag every day at lunch?

It turns out that you’re not the only one who’s annoyed with your too-loud co-workers.

Researchers Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear at the University of Sydney discovered that noise privacy is the number one complaint among cubicle workers and open-plan employees, with 60% and 50% respectively describing it as a major issue.

Even worse? This reduction of sound privacy could be bringing down your entire team’s productivity. Think about it: How many times have you been trying to work on a project at your desk, only to be distracted by someone’s coughing fit or a conversation two co-workers next to you are having?

Overall, the research asks a new question: If open-plan offices (which were supposed to promote better communication and team building than restrictive, drone-like cubicles) are just as bad as giving people private space to work, what should the ideal office look like?

In short, an environment that allows employees to switch things up. Looking for some suggestions? See if your supervisor will let your work off-site a couple of hours every week so that you’re away from the noise and distractions that come with a busy office. Or, see if there’s an extra room in your office that can be converted into a quiet work zone when people really need to focus, or whether your company will foot the bill to buy everyone noise-cancelling headphones.

Whatever it takes, if you’re operating in an open office environment, see if you can carve out some pockets of quiet in your day. It may seem like a nuisance to skip out on your desk and find another workspace—but it could lead to far better results in your productivity.