Bernstein and Turban (p. 6, 2018) found that moving staff to an open plan office reduced face to face interaction by 70% and increased email traffic by 20% to 50%. The assumption has been that open plan increases informal face to face interaction between staff. However, the authors claim this to be the first study to actually measure the effect directly, rather than just relying on surveys.
Staff in an office building wore Sociometric badges (Bernstein & Turban, p. 3, 2018). The badges had IR transceivers and microphones to detect when two wearers were conversing. Staff were tracked in an office layout with walls and then after moving to open plan.
This study was conducted in a Fortune 500 company and it would be interesting to replicate it at a university. New university buildings, such as that at ANU for Maths, Computing and Cyber security
, have an open plan for most staff and graduate students. Even the few enclosed offices in new buildings tend to be located adjacent to the open plan areas, on the assumption this improves collaboration. This may be incorrect and the layout might reduce collaboration.
|Professor Andy Hopper, |
wearing an active badge,
Cambridge, UK, 1996
However, some limitations should be noted with Bernstein and Turban's experiment (2018). In 1996 I visited Professor Andy Hopper, Head of the Olivetti and Oracle Research Laboratory in Cambridge, UK. The lab had developed an Active Badge System. The badges had IR beacons for tracking staff and visitors (in the photo I took, Professor Hopper's badge is just visible behind his hand).
The badges also provided access control. However, I simply walked into the building following someone wearing a badge and surprised the counter staff who said "How did you get in?". I was then issued with a badge which I wore during the visit, but found that staff tended to leave them covered, so they could not be tracked, and just bring them out for access. There may have been some of this behavior with Bernstein and Turban's badges, which would skew the results.
In addition, the assumption that people talking to each other indicates work relevant collaboration perhaps also needs to be tested. For privacy reasons, Bernstein and Turban's badges only recoded that people were conversing, not what was being said. Many water cooler conversations are not work related. However,
Bernstein and Turban did report anecdotally that the company's own productively measures had shown a drop with the move to open plan.
Bernstein ES, Turban S. (2018, July 2). The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 373: 20170239. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0239
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