Open Offices Reduce Communication

Despite wishful thinking for better communication, new research shows that open offices may reduce productivity and decrease face-to-face conversations. Researchers at Harvard found that employees used online tools, such as instant messaging and email, more frequently and reduced their in-person discussions about 72% when open office floor plans were implemented. For the study, employees wore sociometric badges to track their interactions, including audio, motion, and distance.

What accounts for the change? The authors explain, "[R]ather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM." 

The study raises issues of certain types of cubicles, which negatively impact our need for privacy and cause distractions. Instead of open offices, the authors suggest communal lunch tables and simultaneous coffee breaks to increase socialization.

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  • What's your reaction to this study: obvious, interesting, or something else?
  • What has been your experience with open office floor plans? How did the design affect your work and interactions?
  • What other ideas do you have for increasing face-to-face communication at work?