Harvard scholars Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban have published an intriguing new study regarding open office environments. The study is distinctive because of its methodology. The scholars used sociometric badges and microphones to monitor the face-to-face interactions of employees before and after the switch from cubicles to an open-office layout. As a result, they did not rely on people's feelings and perceptions about the layout, but instead, they collected objective data about the impact that a change in office environment had on human interactions. The scholars discovered that face-to-face interaction dropped substantially after the shift to an open-office layout. Here is a summary of the research findings, from the British Psychological Society's Research Digest:
The results were stark: after the shift to an open-plan office space, the participants spent 73 per cent less time in face-to-face interactions, while their use of email and instant messenger shot up by 67 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.
A second study involving 100 employees at another Fortune 500 company was similar but this time the researchers monitored changes to the nature of the interactions between specific pairs of colleagues before the shift to an open-plan office compared with afterwards.
There were 1830 interacting dyads and, of these, 643 reduced their amount of face-to-face interaction after the workspace became open-plan, compared with just 141 showing more physical interaction. Overall, face-to-face time decreased by around 70 per cent across the participating employees, on average, with email use increasing by between 22 per cent and 50 per cent (depending on the estimation method used).