The Bottom Line on Open Offices

Published February 1, 2019

I’ve seen several articles lately on open offices. They cite the same Harvard study I cite in Corporate Crap that dispels the notion that such environments enhance collaboration and teamwork. They don’t. In fact, the Harvard study found that open office environments actually reduce face-to-face interactions and increase the number of emails employees volley back and forth instead.

Why is this? Because the lack of privacy in open office settings makes it hard to have conversations. I don’t know why you need studies to figure this out.

The larger point is that for most employers, it doesn’t matter. As I say in Corporate Crap, “While the effects of office layout on creativity, productivity, and employee satisfaction have been studied extensively, most recommendations are not realistic for most companies.”

Rising real estate costs have caused most employers to reduce the amount of space they dedicate to their employees. In Corporate Crap, I mentioned how the average office cubicle has shrunk from 8×10 feet in the 1960s to 6×6 feet today. The total amount of square footage allotted per employee in U.S. offices dropped from 225 square feet in 2010 to 151 in 2018.

An open environment is the most economical (i.e., cheapest) way to get the most bodies in the smallest amount of space. A 2018 survey by Bospar PR found that 76 percent of employees said they hate open offices. Yet an estimated 70 percent of offices in the United States are open offices as opposed to wall offices or cubicles.

In other words, it’s all about the bottom line. As such, I think we can expect this trend to continue.