Brain power

How open plan offices strangle collaboration

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker. Editor’s note: The collaborative physical workspace1 is considered an essential knowledge management tool. However, while open spaces for interaction should be considered, the evidence is mounting against open plan offices.

Despite the evidence mounting that open plan offices are increasingly bad for employees, their appeal endures in workplaces around the world, not least because many managers feel they facilitate the sharing of thoughts and ideas. A recent study2 adds further grist to the mill as to their negative impact however.

The work, from researchers at Karlstad University, Sweden, wanted to test the notion that open plan offices not only save money for the employer, but facilitate greater collaboration between employees.

The authors examined a range of different office types, including open-plan, shared-room and cellular offices, and looked at the association between each type and the job satisfaction, general sense of wellbeing and collaboration levels among workers.

“The results show a negative relationship between the number of co-workers sharing an office and employees’ job satisfaction. This association was mediated by ease of interaction with co-workers and subjective wellbeing, with employees working in small and medium-sized open-plan offices reporting lower levels of both these aspects than employees who work either alone in cellular offices or together with up to two colleagues in shared-room offices,” the author explains.

In other words, the more workers that are crammed into a room, the less happy and productive each worker is. So whilst there may appear to be short-term financial benefits in terms of the real estate needed to house the workforce, the reduced productivity and engagement levels actually make costs higher in the long-term. It underlines the importance of taking a more sophisticated view of the workplace rather than as just a cost sink.

Of course, this is just the latest in a long stream of evidence that supports this general finding, so I’m not expecting change to happen any time soon, but hopefully each drip drip will lead to change in the long run.

Article source: How Open Plan Offices Strangle Collaboration.

Header image source: Adapted from 30134 jissekiimage3.JPG by MUGENUP which is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0.


  1. Young, R. (Ed) (2010). Knowledge management tools and techniques manual. Asian Productivity Organization.
  2. Otterbring, T., Pareigis, J., Wästlund, E., Makrygiannis, A., & Lindström, A. (2018). The relationship between office type and job satisfaction: Testing a multiple mediation model through ease of interaction and well-being. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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