Who says irony is dead? The open plan office was supposed to increase face-to-face interaction, and make the workplace more collaborative. Instead, open plan has turned the workplace into another way to make people feel more lonely and isolated.
"One of the main advantages of an open-plan office is that it allows for easier communication and collaboration among employees. Since you don't have workers separated by cubicles or physical offices, teams can easily meet at the same table or work area. Employees become more productive since they can share ideas and get frequent feedback on project tasks from other teammates."
Who could possibly be lonely in this promised-land of the never-ending coffee-klatch?
Pretty much everyone, it turns out, because open plan offices make communication and collaboration more difficult, make it harder for teams to meet, and make employees wildly less productive. As a groundbreaking study from Harvard University pointed out:
"Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction. In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM."
Rather than a vibrant and interactive, community, open plan offices result in huge rooms full of people wearing noise-cancelling headphone who desperately avoiding making eye-contact with anyone else.
The ironic part is that open plan offices were supposed to be uniquely adapted to millennials and the upcoming Zoomer generation. In fact, it's those cohorts who are the loneliest, with almost half suffering from it.
The younger generations are apparently more affected because they're already atuned to interacting screen-to-screen rather than face-to-face. Older cohorts are more likely to have real-world friends rather mere social media connections.
Why should managers and business owners care about this? Simple. As Forbes pointed out:
In other words, this plague of loneliness is yet another way that open plan offices destroy productivity while making employees miserable, and thus yet another reason that open plan offices are beyond all doubt the dumbest management fad of all time.
The solution to this problem is simple: if managers and business owners truly want collaboration, innovation and higher productivity, they'll need to 1) admit they've been snookered and 2) implement private offices with shared common areas.