We’ve discussed employees as brand builders and the pros and cons of remote employee engagement.  This week, we’ll discuss how the physical layout of the work environment, specifically the open office concept, affects employee morale and engagement.

The open office concept was first introduced in Hamburg, Germany, in the 1950s but has only been incorporated into American business offices during the past decade. The idea is to facilitate communication and idea flow among employees. In fact, one survey by the International Facility Management Association found that roughly 70% of U.S. companies have some sort of open floor plan. This work environment most often involves taking down walls, removing many or all private offices, and moving employees to work in common areas.

Gallup found 57% of employees reported working in the same locations as their coworkers 100% of the time. When employees work in the same space as their co-workers, it enables collaboration, and collaboration energizes people. This collaborative energy creates a synergy of new and better ideas of how to streamline processes and improve output. The influx of streamlined process and improved output is an ideal recipe for profit. However, when employees work in offices divided by walls, it can be more difficult to build the valuable relationships needed to foster these positive traits among engaged employees.

Not all experts agree that an open floor plan is best for employee engagement and morale. Repeated studies have shown that employees most value flexibility and autonomy in the workspace. According to one study, roughly four in ten workers say they would leave their job for privacy or a personal workspace or office. Another Gallup poll states that one-third of employees surveyed would change jobs for a door they could shut. These statistics back the fact that there are still employees in the workforce who value private workspaces that provide autonomy.

An article from Slate states that, “open offices may be the worst thing to happen to employee productivity since the three-martini lunch.” Matthew Davis, an organizational psychologist, reviewed hundreds of studies about office environments in 2011. Davis found that workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction dropped in an open concept floor plan. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation. Davis goes on to cite that physical barriers are closely linked to psychological privacy, and a sense of privacy boosts job performance.

Considering a variety of places and spaces for groups and individuals to work collaboratively as well as individually is ideal. When creating an office space for employees to work, it is crucial to have both open spaces where employees can collaborate on projects, as well as private spaces where individuals can go to focus and work without distraction from coworkers. This mixture of private and open spaces proves to be the most productive and beneficial for employees, employers—and customers.

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