A recent Harvard study revealed that open plan offices stifle rather than encourage face-to-face collaboration. That finding, combined with numerous scientific studies, now makes the open plan office the dumbest and possibly the most expensive management fad of all time.

However, once you've coughed up the Kool-Aid and swallowed the red pill, where do you go from here, office design-wise? One obvious solution is to implement work-from-home but that's not always practical. Sometimes you need teams to be in the same general area space to work together. What's the best floor plan for that?

Well, that depends on how you define "best." If your standard for "best" is that it's photogenic, then the clear winner is the open plan design. However, if you define "best" as a place where employees 1) like where they work and 2) want to hang out where they work, the open plan is a poor choice (although not the absolute worst choice, as it happens).

Researchers at the University of Sydney recently surveyed 42,764 workers who worked in offices with the following floor plans:

  1. Open Plan
  2. Cubicles with Low Partitions
  3. Cubicle with High Partitions
  4. Enclosed Private (separate room, one occupant)
  5. Enclosed Shared (separate room shared by 2-3 people)

The researchers asked workers how they felt about every physical aspect of their workplace that might cause them to be happier or more productive: room temperature, air quality, the amount of light, their visual comfort level, their noise level, sound privacy, amount of space, ease of interaction (i.e., collaboration), comfort of the furnishings, the adjustability of the furniture, colors and textures, and overall cleanliness. 

The study revealed that:

  • Enclosed Private ranks higher than other floor plans in every category except Building Maintenance.
  • Enclosed Private ranks much higher than other floor plans in the key areas of Sound Privacy, Amount of Space, Visual Privacy, and Ease of Interaction.
  • Open Plan ranked marginally higher than Cubicles (either types) in every category except Visual Privacy, where Open Plan was a spectacular loser.

When all the different characteristics were added together, the result was straightforward: 

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              Source: Journal of Environmental Psychology

So there you have it. You want happy, productive employees? You want them to willingly come into the office and work longer hours while they're there? You want them to communicate face-to-face better and more frequently?

Dump the open plan and convert to private offices.

It's really that simple.