In the modern working world, open-plan offices are becoming the norm and employees are less and less likely to expect their own office. By 2004 approximately 73% of office workers performed their work in open plan offices (Sykes, 2004). Whilst organisations are saving thousands of pounds by establishing open plan office environments where they can squeeze in more employees into smaller spaces, what are the costs in terms of productivity and employee motivation? When designed appropriately, open plan offices can themselves become tools for encouraging teamwork, the sharing of ideas and effective communication. Yet, when designed incorrectly (as is often the case) companies risk their business success for the sake of saving money. Open plan offices, when poorly planned, not only hinder employees’ ability to communicate and share ideas, but it can also cause disturbance and stress which in turn reduces productivity. There have been numerous studies that show there is a strong correlation between office noise and the negative effects on its working inhabitants.
It’s no surprise that a comfortable working environment has a direct effect on productivity. Studies have shown that ‘employees who are comfortable with their working environment are more likely to generate better work as the physical environment affects their job perception, attitudes and job satisfaction’ (Lee & Brand, 2005; Sundstrom, Town, Rice). While ergonomics, space, lighting and other factors are often addressed in office design, the acoustics of open plan offices are often overlooked. This is turn causes huge problems for employers and their employees. ‘Noise, in addition to causing nuisance and disturbance in an office environment, is a primary cause of reduction in productivity’ (Abbott, 2004)
Acoustic privacy has been found to be another influencing factor in satisfaction and productivity in office environment. A survey conducted by the Centre for the Built Environment found that occupants of private offices were significantly more satisfied with noise levels and speech privacy than occupants of open plan offices. In fact, ‘over 80% of office workers think it’s a problem that other people can overhear their private conversations’. (Jensen, Arens, & Zagreus, 2005)
Whilst open plan offices are often cited as being more sociable and flexible, they often hinder, not help communication between staff. A study made by the Journal of Environmental Psychology even suggests that the lack of privacy in open-plan offices can actually discourage communication between colleagues. The study found that ‘the open plan office occupants’ satisfaction level with ‘ease of interaction’ was no higher than that of private office occupants’. (Jungsoo Kim & Richard de Dear, 2013)
Stress and Morale
Numerous research studies have also found that as well as noise levels inhibiting productivity and communication, excessive noise in the workplace has a direct affect on wellbeing. A 2008 review that assessed many articles and studies carried out involving the effects of open plan offices found that ‘noise is a dominant disturbing force in the open plan office environment which leads to poor employee satisfaction, lower morale, decreased productivity, increased stress levels, increased absenteeism and overall increased staff turnover’ (Oomen, Knowles, & Zhao, 2008).
But it’s not all bad news for the open plan office. If designed correctly, open offices can be spaces that encourage productivity, idea sharing and effective communication between staff. A well thought out office that uses surfaces to absorb excessive noise and barriers to block sound can ultimately provide a comfortable sound environment for its users. FabricWall systems are ideal solutions for office acoustic issues as the eco-friendly glass wool core provides acoustic absorption that reduces the noise and reverberation in a room. For all of our case studies on office acoustics visit our ‘Our Work’ page.