Posted by: healingtheworkplace | June 11, 2012

The Rise of the Open Plan Office

Hello There!

I’ve been doing some research on introversion and leadership. One of the challenges that introverts face at work is finding quiet spaces to “recharge their batteries”. Quiet space is at a premium these days but is necessary for both introverts and extroverts who want to do their best work!

Susan Cain recently published her New York Times best-selling book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” Cain’s book is well written and well researched and touches on issues relevant to both introverts and extroverts.

One of the interesting areas of research that Cain explored for her book focuses on ‘open office space’ or ‘open plan offices’.  Here are some quotes from her book:

“Top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.”

“Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They are associated with high turnover, and they make people sick, hostile, unmotivated and insecure.”

In fact Cain is arguing that open plan offices are ill-advised for both introverts and extroverts alike!

So, I was somewhat surprised when I opened the Working Section of the Vancouver Sun today and read the article, “Technology shrinks need for office space.”  It seems that the author, Haya El Nasser, hadn’t read Quiet.

In her article Haya describes the future workplace as one in which offices are smaller or are non-existent , where people are  forced  to work in noisy, crowded, highly stimulating environments.

For example, at Zappos, workers’ laptops have become their offices and they are encouraged to work anywhere: on couches, at shared tables, or in the coffee shop.

Collaboration is often used as an argument for justifying open space working environments and forcing people to work in groups.

In the 1950s it was widely believed that groups produced better ideas than individuals working on their own. This theory was dispelled in 1963 when Marvin Dunnette, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, demonstrated that group brainstorming failed to live up to its promises. In the 40 years since 1963 researchers have proven over and over again that performance gets worse as group size increases.

One positive note is that if you are being forced to work in an open office space and you need quiet time in order to do your best work you probably have a good argument for working at home – at least part of the time.

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Responses

  1. “In the 40 years since 1963 researchers have proven over and over again that performance gets worse as group size increases.” While I agree with the point, isn’t a reference rather than just a statement would be appropriate?

    • HI, thanks for pointing this out. This information is on page 88 of the book Quiet by Susan Cain published in 2012. She starts out by saying that “Group brainstorming doesn’t work…one of the first studies to demonstrate this was conducted in 1963…since then, some forty years of research has reached the same startling conclusion. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases…” Cheers, Lesley


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