Over the years, office space planning has undergone various concepts in search of maximum productivity, with the most recent trend being an open office plan introduced since the 1960s. Open office plan was introduced by Herman Miller furniture as action office system but is that really the case now? While some organizations believe that open office plan is responsible for damping work efficiency, most are saying that the plan fosters various attributes of productivity such as effective communication, free flow of ideas and the annulment of hierarchy boundaries.
Some of the most recent studies are concluding that open office plan is actually causing the problem it was designed to solve. This includes being a source of distraction and by creating a stressful working environment. Other studies are pointing at worker’s varying level of sensitivity as the only attribute violated by open office plan. The negative scale is considered on introverts due to the uncontrolled level of interaction the work condition offers.
A research published in Journal Gender, Work and Organization in March 2018 revealed that employees working at open-plan offices are more self-conscious and dress in a particular way compared to those who work in cubicles or less open environments.
Some researchers from Anglia Ruskin University, England reported studying the behavior of about 1,000 employees in a UK office for three years, considering the effect of working in open-plan offices. The workers were initially assigned to six different departmental buildings before being merged into an open-plan office – a shared office building with transparent glass to initiate efficient communication and limit departmental and hierarchical boundaries. The result was amazing!
The switch in environment compelled most of the workers (particularly women) to change the way they behaved and dressed. The incessant visibility made the workers feel “exposed” in vulnerable circumstances such as when they received disturbing news or emotionally down. The research shows that presentation and clothes were the major aspects of the worker’s behavioral change. Senior staff members were easily identified among the employees by their assertive walk and smart clothing. Also, the lower-ranking employees were spotted staying more in their designated area while the higher-ups moved more freely around in the open space.
Dr Alison Hirst, a lead author in the research said: “When changing from a more closed, compartmentalized office space to a new open-plan, transparent and fluid working space, and office workers were more conscious of their visibility and often found this unsettling rather than liberating. Women in particularly felt anxious about the idea of being constantly watched, and felt they had to dress in a certain way.”
The self-consciousness among the employees, from senior members to the lower-ranked workers does not depict a red flag in productivity, however. “There was also evidence that workers felt more equal as everybody was more approachable in an open space,” said Hirst. “It was also seen by some as a chance to dress more smartly and fulfil a new identity.”