SUMMARY: If you want to retain great people, you should learn from people who leave your company. Aesthetics matter, but not in the way that you might assume. It’s cool and trendy to have an open, loft-style work environment with a ping pong table and a fancy espresso machine on the side. It’s even cooler if you let your employees work from home as needed and give them a dedicated and quiet space when they come into the office.
Open offices are a concept that is supposed to ensure collaboration between employees, but instead has robbed them of privacy and an environment where they can really get work done. I once had a client whose open office concept was so bad that employees were not allowed to have phones on their desks. If they wanted to make calls they had to go into a “huddle” room. What was worse is that they saw designs for enclosed cubes, with doors, and though that would soon have a place to nest but management put an end to that.
Let’s make one thing clear: employees hate open offices. They want and need their space, but more importantly, they need quiet time. Late in the afternoon, it’s great to have a space where you can concentrate on getting stuff done rather than be distracted by others.
So why do executives like open offices? Some think it’s in a style others believe it’s a way to ensure people are working throughout the day instead of checking facebook. However, open offices can make people sick.
A study in Ergonomics – from four Stockholm scientists with straight-out-of-Wallender names – looked at the ways in which the different layouts of offices is related to sick leave days taken. They researched many different configurations. The single-room office (always my preference, for sheer, blinkered productivity). A shared-room office (two or three workers). And the various types of open plan offices: from small (four to nine workers) through to large (more than 24), the ‘combi-office’ (with less than 20 per cent of the workforce not at individual workstations, but working in teams) – and the ‘flexi-office’ (no individual workspaces at all).
And what were Stockholm survey’s findings? For female workers, the worst offenders – in terms of sick days – were the three sizes of open plan offices . If you’ve ever seen one of those films of a ‘sneeze’ in which germs are seen to travel extraordinarily long distances, it’s entirely obvious why that would be the case.
Creating an open office environment is a fast and practical way to reduce commercial real estate expenses while pretending that you care about aesthetics and collaboration . Your head of facilities can brag about tempered glass and funky light fixtures all he wants, but your employees aren’t stupid. They know that every dollar spent on new paint is a dollar saved on HVAC and electricity costs.
The bottom line? Employees hate open offices. It makes them take more sick days and leads to a higher turnover.