Open-Concept Offices Are Killing Face-To-Face Communication

The common reasoning behind the open-concept office space is that it help facilitate communication between co-workers, enabling collaboration and creativity. But, sciences says that may not be so.

Researchers chose to examine how communication evolved at an unnamed Fortune 500 as the office was converted from cubicles to a shared space. The Harvard Business School research team found that face-to-face communication suffered as a result. Using a device developed to track conversations without recording them, the study saw a 72 percent drop in face-to-face interactions in the new open-concept office. IM and email use, however, increase drastically—67 and 75 percent respectively.

So what's happening here? Why do people have more in-person conversations when the office has walls? Well, the study suggests privacy has something to do with it. The feeling of always being watched means people sometimes become more concerned with looking busy then doing good work.

As study author Ethan Bernstein told Quartz, people also like structure. Having defined spaces helps people "make sense of their environment by modularizing it, clarifying who is watching and who is not, who has information and who does not, who belongs and who does not, who controls what and who does not, to whom one answers and to whom one does not."

Technology has also increased the ability for people to work from home, offering a significantly more private and personal space to work from. But, moving all your employees out of the office might not be the best idea either.

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