Baker Stuart’s Insight: New research has shown that open plan offices reduce face to face interactions in offices by 70%, with electronic communication (email and instant messaging) picking up some of the slack and increasing by 20% – 50%. This has crucial insights for workplace design. Instead of creating a more vibrant workplace, this shows that open offices can create “an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can”.
Organizations’ pursuit of increased workplace collaboration has led managers to transform traditional office spaces into ‘open’, transparency-enhancing architectures with fewer walls, doors and other spatial boundaries, yet there is scant direct empirical research on how human interaction patterns change as a result of these architectural changes. In two intervention-based field studies of corporate headquarters transitioning to more open office spaces, we empirically examined—using digital data from advanced wearable devices and from electronic communication servers—the effect of open office architectures on employees’ face-to-face, email and instant messaging (IM) interaction patterns. 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. This is the first study to empirically […]