Open plan offices have become increasingly popular, as they help companies optimize the use of space while, at least in theory, encouraging collaboration and interaction among employees.
It sounds good on paper, anyway. But how many people actually enjoy working in the open plan office or believe this configuration benefits productivity?
For many of us, the lack of privacy, the difficulties in concentrating, and the annoyance of overhearing other conversations can have a negative impact on productivity. Finally, science seems to be backing us up.
Researchers at Yamaguchi University in Japan studied how work-related conversation compared to other types of distractions. They conducted a set of experiments designed to investigate the effects of different types of noise using a test called the “odd-ball” paradigm.
This test asks people to identify unique events interspersed within a series of repetitive events. In one experiment, subjects watched pictures flashing on a monitor while listening to “pink noise” (like white noise but more resembling human voices) or actual speech. Over a set period, they were asked to count the number of times a red square appeared in the mix of objects. In another experiment, subjects were asked to count the instances of a 2-kilohertz tone in a series of 1-kilohertz tones and rate their level of annoyance at each sound.
Researchers found that when subjects listened to meaningful speech, their selective attention to thought-related tasks was influenced by noise. Meaningful noises such as conversation also led to declines in performance on memory and arithmetic tasks. Meaningful noise also had a significantly greater impact on the level of annoyance.
The results suggests that environments used for cognitive tasks would benefit from designs that take into account sounds likely to be present – in terms of both volume and meaningfulness. According to the research findings, “surrounding conversations often disturb the business operations conducted in open offices.”
For employees who work in open office environments, this probably doesn’t come as any surprise. The best coping mechanisms include listening to music without lyrics or natural sounds through headphones. Both have been found to enhance mental performance and help employees relax in stressful work environments.
For more information, please read:
Your Open Office Plan Really Does Make You Less Productive | Time