While the open office was devised as a way to make workplaces more social, creative, and collaborative, many professionals have already soured on the trend, which caught on relatively recently in the US. The promised increases in productivity, happiness, and collaboration haven’t shown up; in fact, some studies have found the opposite. Now opponents of the open office can add another arrow to their quiver of research disproving the theory. At the Conversation, business professor Rachel Morrison shares the findings of her and her colleagues’ research, which showed that employees who don’t have their own space tend to suffer for it:
Our research found that there were increases in “employee social liabilities” in shared working spaces: distractions, uncooperativeness, distrust, and negative relationships. More surprisingly, both coworker friendships and perceptions of supervisor support actually worsened. Although prior researchers have claimed shared work spaces can improve social support, communication, and cooperation, our results indicated that coworker friendships are of the lowest quality in hot-desking and open-plan arrangements when compared to those with their own offices or who share offices with just one or two others. It is possible that these shared offices may increase employees’ use of coping strategies such as withdrawal and create a less friendly environment in a team.
As part of our research, we surveyed 1,000 working Australians. We asked them whether they shared their office space with others, what sort of coworker friendships and supervisor support they had, and any negative relationships they had (such as lack of cooperation or distrust).
We found that shared environments did not improve coworker friendships and, in addition, they were associated with perceptions of less supportive supervision. The finding may be because employees who receive either too much monitoring or only informal supervision perceive their supervision to be of lower quality than those who have dedicated supervision meetings. It could also be that as employees become more irritated, suspicious, and withdrawn in a shared workplace, their relationships with their supervisors and colleagues deteriorate.
The best situations for the workers Morrison studied were having their own office, sharing an office with one or two colleagues, or working from home. Other recent investigations into the relationship between workspace, productivity, and engagement has suggested that autonomy and control over the work environment are the features that really enhance employees’ performance and creativity. As for Morrison’s third option, many employees would prefer to work from home rather than go into an office, and there’s some evidence that working from home can actually enhance, not diminish, performance.
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