The litany of complaints against open offices grows. They can be noisy and distracting. The environment is unkind to introverts. There's no privacy. An expanding body of research also finds that open-plan offices can hinder productivity and are pretty germ-y.
Now, there's a new study that finds yet another hidden psychological cost of the open workplace floor plan: Women report feeling more visible, watched, observed, and exposed. This increased exposure also makes women feel their appearance is being judged. Men from the study, however, reported none of these negative effects.
"This difference in responses was especially striking since we did not set out to explore the gender effects of open-plan work spaces," writes the study's author, Rachel Morrison. Over 14 months, researchers surveyed and interviewed employees at a law firm that had moved to an open-plan office. The study was published in the journal ScienceDirect.
What not to wear in an open office
Women in the study reported feeling more image conscious once the law firm moved to an open-floor plan. The increased visibility led some to change the way they dressed and even which routes they would take to walk around the office.
Was their appearance actually being noticed more, or did these women just feel like they were? It doesn't matter. Either way, women changed their behavior because they perceived others were watching them more closely and judging their appearance.
Fishbowl effect pressures women into staying later
When it feels like everyone's watching, women also reported experiencing unspoken pressure to stay later -- even if it wasn't necessary.
One lawyer said she felt like she could could go home after finishing her work at the old office. She was judged on the output of her work, not how visible she was.
Now, with open space, it feels more like a fish bowl and I have noticed more subtle pressure to stay later even if you don't technically need to - based on looks some seniors, even from entirely different teams, give you.