Is collaborative office design hurting workplace productivity?

Many offices are turning to open designs. But to increase productivity that's not enough.

The trendy theory in office design is that open, cubicle-less workspaces foster a creative, collaborative workplace.  One survey found that 77 percent of respondents have or are planning to implement an open-office design. But what is this office design doing to productivity?

In a new survey from Gensler, the global design and architecture firm found that some offices are going too far with the open concept and it's hurting productivity, with only one in four knowledge workers in the United States working in optimal workplace environments.

What exactly is the optimal design? In analyzing the survey, Gensler determined that the optimal workplace, while focusing on collaboration with an open design, also balances openness with spaces that help workers focus.

But offices' designs aren't putting enough emphasis on those focus spaces. When comparing Gensler's last survey in 2008, workplace effectiveness is declining.

Ineffective workspaces don't just impact productivity, according to Gensler. "Results show that a lack of effective focus space drags down the effectiveness of all other work modes: collaboration, learning and socializing, as well as the effectiveness of the workplace as a whole."

Survey results show that those who can focus are 57 percent more able to collaborate, 88 percent more able to learn, and 42 percent more able to socialize compared to workers who aren't able to focus. Additionally, workers who have more focus spaces found their jobs and workplaces to be more rewarding and view themselves as higher performing.

The bottom line: Don't scrap your new open office design, but provide a variety of workspace options that include open workspaces for when collaboration is a priority and secluded areas for when workers need time to think and process ideas. If you already have an open office design, here are some product ideas that can provide privacy without cubicles.

Read more from Gensler.

Photo: Flickr/f_mafra

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