Open plan offices – the Silicon Valley turned global trend of fostering hip and funky collaboration hubs and idea percolating meccas. Well, I’m not sure about you, but I am sick to death of not being able to do my work because all I can hear is my co-worker Kevin speak to his partner about whether taco Tuesday’s should be changed to Thursday’s!
And research has shown I’m not alone in feeling this way. A Steelcase study of 10,000 workers across 14 different countries found that working privately was important to 95% of employees but only 41% said that they could actually manage to do so due to the open office environment they work in - and a whopping 31% said they had to leave the office to get work completed!
And although working from home is the new norm as we speak and brings to light the much needed benefits of quiet time for productivity, we don’t quite see working in your sweatpants with your pooch cozied up next to you, whilst your favourite realty TV show plays in the background being long term sustainable.
As employees for a company, this modern-day problem is all too familiar. However, is it really an issue for employers? After all, the real estate cost saving perks that open office setups offer are irrefutable and besides, workers around the world need to either suck it up or move on – right?
Well, what business owners are failing to see are the very real indirect costs their open office plans, as they exist today, are causing them. Let’s take a look at some numbers to illustrate this point further. In 2015, the University of California conducted a study by observing the activities of employees in a simulated environment and the effects different types of distractions had on the activity being performed at the time. The results were staggering. The study revealed that it takes us on average 23 minutes to re-focus on the task we were doing prior to being distracted.
Companies are losing $9500 every year simply from their employees being distracted by avoidable interruptions associated with their new and sexy open office environment.
When we combine this number with a finding of the same Steelcase study mentioned above, that workers are distracted on average 4 times a day as a result of distractions associated with the open office, we soon come to realise the cost of our love affair with the open office as business owners.
If it’s still not obvious to you, then let’s play the numbers out in a real life scenario. Meet Jack - Jack is a graduate consultant on a $50,000 salary. Jack works in an open office environment and is distracted every day by his co-workers four times. Given it takes Jack 23 minutes to re-focus on the task he was performing prior to being distracted, Jack is losing approximately 92 minutes of productivity every day. That equates to 19% of his working hours. Put another way, 19% of his salary is wasted down the drain. So, if our year 7 maths serves us right, Jack’s company is losing $9500 every year simply from their employee being distracted by avoidable interruptions associated with their new and sexy open office environment. And this is for a grad student at the bottom of the corporate ladder – we’ll leave you to do the maths for the highly paid executives who have been placed out in the open confines of their company’s office.
What these numbers don’t account for however, are the even more indirect costs of a company’s open office setup. High performance employee (HPE) consultant William Belk surveyed over 4000 ‘superstar’ employees across various companies in 2017 and found that 58% of HPE’s desired more private spaces for problem solving and a further 54% believed their office environment to be too distracting. These sorts of findings present all sorts of issues for companies who refuse to acknowledge the pitfalls of their open office, in attracting and retaining top talent.
Of course, companies can make small and incremental changes to their current office setup today. But to simply ignore the trends outlined above, would be to do so at your own peril. Your call.