OPC Inc. conducts on-going Qualitative Research about Open Office Design’s costly losses
As part of OPC Inc’s ongoing qualitative research regarding office design, we undertook this past week, interviews with 3 employees who work in 3 very different types of companies, all of which have moved to an open office design in the last 2 years. As part of this research we pose specific open-ended questions to elicit feedback & thoughts on their experience as employees working in very open office environments.
One of the employees we interviewed escapes to her home office 2-3 times per week despite needing to be around her team on a regular basis for collaboration & communication.
Another of the employees we interviewed puts earphones on her ears to block out noise which means she is not available to her team. She also has to announce loudly to the employees sitting near her that she is about to attend a conference call at her desk (booking small conference rooms is next to impossible on a consistent basis) and for everyone to keep their voices down.
A third employee works in the safety & product testing department of a company which manufacturers transportation vehicles. His job is so safety sensitive that mistakes by he and his team could result in significant injury & accidents should the vehicles fail. During conference calls with his global team of suppliers & sub-assemblers this employee let us know he misses pieces of key information during these calls as conversations which occur around his workstation interfere with his ability to focus & listen to issues which have arisen! He is rarely able to book a small conference room for these calls as there quickly occurred a shortage of these rooms soon after they moved into their new offices.
Conducting similar research within your own companies is straight forward & takes little time and effort on the part of operations, human resources and managers. At OPC Inc we believe many of the design firms, facility managers & corporate real estate managers do not want to know fully what the impacts of open design are on employees.
Employees, if and when asked will respond even after a period of “getting used to the open designs” that their productivity levels are lower; attention to details diminished; feelings of being “overstimulated” and distracted hard to deal with on a day to day basis. And yes, safety related details are also being impacted.
At the end of the day it is real estate costs being measured and found to be lower by having more employees in a smaller footprint and by having no designs to allow employees to have quiet areas in which to think and work. The problem is the cost savings is not being measured against the departments who measure safety, lost time from work, productivity and presenteeism. How ironic given that the very human beings who add the largest value to all companies are being neglected all for the sake of saving real estate costs.
Poorly designed open offices which have not taken into account the human factor via ergonomic experts is resulting in a shortage of spontaneous meeting areas & a lack of areas for “escape” especially for introverted employees or those who need quiet for concentrative types of job demands.
This growing issue truly needs to be seriously looked at by all Facility Managers, building owners & managers,, corporate real estate, architects and designers. To read related research we direct you to Steelcase’s 360 Magazine and White Papers. It is time for C Suite Managers to make sure the spreadsheets showing real estate savings also have information about employee turnover, presenteeism and absenteeism, lost time mental health issues and human error costs. Then and only then will proper human factors design be used to make sure all designs meet the human beings who have to use these spaces day after day in the workplace.
The ergonomic design team at Optimal Performance Consultants Inc.