Is An Open Office Plan Really More Productive?

We’ve been seeing them all over the place, especially in the tech industry which is all over NorCal and the Bay area – it’s the open-office layout. You know, a big room with a ton of desks for everyone in the middle, no cubicle walls or anything like that. They say it’s to fuel creativity and to be more productive and collaborative (and it’s cheaper), but a new study suggests it might be doing the opposite.

This study says that the typical background noise of an open office area is actually very distracting, and many people even report it to be annoying and very lacking in privacy (I mean, no walls or anything). Groups of people used in the study were asked to look for unique objects mixed in with regular items in a series of tests, and researchers found that when people were exposed to the same sorts of noise as a typical open office space while performing the tests, they missed more unique objects.

The findings also suggest that the types of noise matter more than how loud something is. Example, listening to “white noise,” or the sound of a water fountain, something like that, is more relaxing and helps you to focus, and the sounds of phones ringing or people talking is very distracting. Makes sense, we always have problems focussing when we hear someone talking, whether right next to us or down the hallway in the break room. A solution? Headphones playing white noise or even music without lyrics.

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