Study: People Talk Less, Email More When Office Switches to Open Floor Plan

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jul 9, 2018
open office

A recent study found that, far from encouraging face-to-face communication, open office plan configurations are linked with workers emailing each other more, which researchers believe comes from a need to preserve privacy, according to Quartz.

The study, which came from Harvard Business School, looked specifically at one Fortune 500 company that underwent a major renovation to switch the entire headquarters to an open office plan. This enabled researchers to do a before and after observation of the social changes that take place when the nature of the space is changed. While previous research posited that people collaborate more in open office configurations, citing other places like college dorms and the U.S. Congress, the study found that, at least in this case, it was the opposite. Using analytics badges that track who is talking to whom and for how long, they found that before the renovation employees had met face to face for nearly 5.8 hours per person over three weeks. After the renovation, though, this number dropped to 1.7 hours per person, a 72 percent decrease.

These same workers, though, significantly increased their use of electronic communications, sending 56 percent more email messages after the renovations. They also used instant messaging services much more, with total number of messages increasing by 75 percent and the word count of said messages increasing by 67 percent. 

The study found, though, that switching to open office plans did increase interactions in one area: those seated near each other did talk to each other more once the cubicle walls were knocked down, though overall office-wide face-to-face communication still decreased. 

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