Offices designed with open and shared workspaces have been popular for decades – at least, with people designing office buildings. Research indicates that those who actually work in shared spaces aren’t necessarily happy about it. Moreover, open work spaces may not be the best idea for a company’s bottom line.
A new study questioned 10,000 workers in 14 countries about their office environments and working patterns. The results show that the number one complaint from employees is a lack of privacy in their work areas. The research suggests not having private workspaces undermines the ability of some workers to do their best at their jobs, damages their level of engagement, hurts morale and can negatively affect an organization’s productivity.
The Impact of too Little Privacy in the Workplace
The extensive international research, carried out by global market research company IPSOS and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase (an international leader in the office furniture industry), found that almost all the employees surveyed (95%) believe having the ability to work privately is important. However, only 4 out of 10 said that they have that opportunity.
“People not only expect privacy in their private lives, they want it at the office as well,” Bostjan Ljubic, vice president of Steelcase UK, said in a media statement.
The survey also found a strong link between the level of employees’ engagement and how happy workers said they were with their office environment. Engaged workers (31%) were most likely to report that they are satisfied with their work environment; those who were the most dissatisfied with their workplace setup (69%) were also those saying they were the least engaged.
The most satisfied and engaged employees described their work environment as a setting that promoted concentration and allowed them to work in teams when needed without being interrupted. The happier employees also reported that they were able to decide where they could work within the office and that, in general, they felt calm and relaxed as they worked.
Other Key Survey Findings:
- Approximately 70% of workers questioned in the Steelcase-Ipsos survey worked either in open spaces or in a combination of individual and open space offices.
- 85% of those polled are dissatisfied with their working environment and say it keeps them from concentrating effectively.
- 31% claim they have to leave the office to be able to concentrate and get their work completed.
- On average, office workers are losing 86 minutes per day due to distraction.
Collaboration and Privacy
The need for more private workspaces doesn’t mean that the ability of employees to brainstorm and work together isn’t also important.
“The drive for collaborative working spaces was founded on getting people working better together. It has been enormously successful and has delivered efficiency on a major scale,” Steelcase VP Bostjan Ljubic said. “But too much interaction and not enough privacy has reached crisis proportions, taking a heavy toll on workers’ creativity, productivity, engagement and wellbeing.”
“Over the years we have seen office preferences shift from more enclosed spaces to more open. But in some organizations the pendulum has swung too far. Many people do not realise that effective collaboration actually requires individual private time,” Ljubic said. He added that the solution does not mean employees should be isolated from one another in closed, individual offices.
Instead, the new survey suggests offices can be designed with private work areas within open plan settings in order to provide employees space whether they can work and function with minimal distractions when needed. The result is what Ljubic calls an office “ecosystem” of different areas where workers can opt for the level of privacy they need in order to do their most effective and productive work.
“Many offices have limited options such as individual workstations, private offices, conference rooms and a cafe,” Ljubic said “However, having studied people at work in depth, they need spaces for different types of work and these include formal and informal work in groups or alone. Some people find it inspiring and creative to work in a crowded, noisy environment whereas others prefer quieter spaces and quite often they want a mix of both. The workplace needs to offer a variety of public and private spaces.”