The noise of the phone vibrating on the desk, uninterrupted. The music that comes out of headphones because the volume is so loud it sounds like soundtrack. And all those snacks, sweets, trays, open and closed cans. Unnerving. Especially when the right concentration is needed, like from 9 to 11 on Monday. Too bad that the work environment is an open space. And in those two hours the background buzzing turns the office into something akin to a Marrakesh bazaar. It is normal for the first reaction to be a race towards your seat. Safe. Perhaps with the mobile phone on vibration setting on, headphones for music, crackers. All at the expense of relationships with colleagues who flock to the same place. Harvard Business school says it in a more scientific way: open space leads us to converse much less (-73%) and to write more messages and e-mails (+ 67%).
Results far removed from initial expectations, therefore. Open space should have encouraged collaboration and sharing among colleagues, but in the white-collar life of the service society it is a stress multiplier. For example, acoustic stress. Like a colleague calling a client three times just to chat. According to a 2016 study by Cornell University, the sound level in open space offices reduces productivity by 66%. And that’s not mentioning how easy it is to be distracted. Coffee breaks are at the bottom of the list, preceded by corridor chats, bathroom stops and water refills. All of this represents a loss for companies, which Basex has estimated to be around 588 billion dollars in the USA alone. A sum of money spent in low attention errors as soon as you return to your desk.
According to a study by Cornell University, the sound level of open spaces reduces productivity by 66%
Overall, therefore, open spaces seem like a bad investment to make the most out of employees. Especially if, as a study by Oxford Economics, commissioned by Plantronics, it is precisely the noise level of open spaces that push people to take a break: for 75% a walk in the open air is helpful for regain concentration, while 32% use headphones and audio supports to concentrate Among the 500 executives interviewed by the research, only 40% are able to understand the close correlation between noise, employee distraction and low productivity. There is a long way to go.
The alternatives to the classic open space in which the space is divided into islets of three to four people with the shared printer (a necessity, along with the company server) exist and focus on flexibility (no fixed stations, variable work hours, smart working, etc.) and the modularity of the places (the canteen, the coffee machine, the meeting room, the "cabins" to call, etc.) in which there is some chance of gaining a sense of privacy.