One of the biggest downsides of the open office is that it lends itself to distraction: The lack of private, quiet places to work independently can be so detrimental to productivity as to outweigh whatever boost the open plan provides to employees’ creative and collaborative energies. For introverts, this borderless workspace is doubly detrimental, and it is with this in mind that the Economist makes the case for more peace and quiet in the office:
The biggest culprit is the fashion for open-plan offices and so-called “group work”. Companies rightly think that the elixir of growth in a world where computers can do much of the grunt work is innovation. But they wrongly conclude that the best way to encourage creativity is to knock down office walls and to hold incessant meetings. This is ill-judged for a number of reasons. It rests on a trite analogy between intellectual and physical barriers between people. It ignores the fact that noise and interruptions make it harder to concentrate. And companies too often forget that whereas extroverts gain energy from other people, introverts need time on their own to recharge. …
What can companies do to make life better for introverts? At the very least, managers should provide private office space and quiet areas where they can recharge. Firms need to recognise that introverts bring distinctive skills to their jobs. They may talk less in meetings, but they tend to put more thought into what they say. Leaders should look at their organisations through the introverts’ eyes. Does the company hold large meetings where the loudest voices prevail? That means that it is marginalising introverts. Does it select recruits mainly on the basis of how they acquit themselves in interviews? That could be blinding it to people who dislike performing in public.
This argument also alludes to the concept of “collaborative overload,” which management professor Rob Cross touched on in his keynote speech at CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Miami, Florida last week and which we’ve looked at before here at Talent Daily. As more employees are asked to collaborate with an ever-expanding circle of connections, this puts a strain on their cognitive and emotional faculties and ultimately reduces their productivity and happiness. For introverts especially, collaboration can be draining in the first instance, so a work culture that elevates it over other skills and activities is one in which these individuals will tend to lose out.