July 19th, 2018 · 27 comments
An Open Discussion
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a new study that took a careful look at interactions in an open office. It found, contrary to popular belief, that moving to an open format made people less likely to talk face-to-face with their coworkers, and more likely to instead send distracting digital messages.
Not surprisingly, these changes led to lower productivity.
This post sparked an interesting discussion in the comment section and my personal inbox on the question of why so many organizations are so eager to embrace open concept workspaces.
A popular explanation was the cynical claim that open offices are a covert attempt to lower costs.
This might be right in some instances, but thrift can’t explain why Silicon Valley giants like Facebook or Apple, who literally have more cash than they know what to do with, embraced open formats in their new billion dollar headquarters.
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July 6th, 2018 · 83 comments
On Spatial Boundaries and Face-to-Face Interaction
Why do companies deploy open office layouts? A major justification is the idea that removing spatial boundaries between colleagues will generate increased collaboration and smarter collective intelligence.
As I learned in a fascinating new study, published earlier this week in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, there was good reason to believe that this might be true. As the study’s authors, Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, note:
“[T]he notion that propinquity, or proximity, predicts social interaction — driving the formation of social ties and therefore information exchange and collaboration — is one of the most robust findings in sociology.”
But when researchers turned their attention to the specific impact of open offices on interaction, the results were mixed. Perhaps troubled by this inconsistency, Bernstein and Turban decided to get to the bottom of this issue.
Prior studies of open offices had relied on imprecise measures such as self-reported activity logs to quantify interactions before and after a shift to an open office plan. Bernstein and Turban tried something more accurate: they had subjects wear devices around their neck that directly measured every face-to-face encounter. They also used email and IM server logs to determine exactly how much the volume of electronic interactions changed.
Here’s a summary of what they found:
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