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    tl;dr

    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.

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      Open plan offices were always about saving cost on space and not about making people more productive. It’s another instance of short term thinking and cargo culting. The irony is that the best way to save money is to not have an office at all and just buy into being entirely remote with an occasional biweekly or monthly “office” gathering. This idea is for some reason more radical than packing people into an open space with no affordances for blocking off noise and distractions other than buying them headphones.

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        I think the motivation for open plan over remote is the (IMO correct) assumption that in-person communication is more effective that electronic in most situations. But it doesn’t cater for the fact that everyone essentially becomes “remote” in a tightly packed open plan office.

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          I think a lot of people already know the cost of open plan offices outweigh the savings on square meterage. One of the arguments that I actually believe is the flexibility of rearranging furniture as opposed to walls. E.g. a company that experiences a growth spurt can much more easily cram a couple of extra desks in as a temporary measure while looking for larger offices. It’s a tragedy the temporary solution becomes permanent.

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        It’s never been about “collaboration” it’s only ever been about 3 things:

        • Saving money on construction and m^2
        • Surveillance, because if you’re not watching them, how will you know who’s working?
        • Separating the replaceable cogs from the important “leaders” who need privacy and space.
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          I think that’s (marginally) too cynical. I’ve worked for places that have spent a ton on refurbs with the idea that funky open plan will make staff happier and more productive. If it was all about money, they’d have done the refurb as cheaply as possible.

          The real issue I think is that stereotypically extroverted HR/manager types come up with the idea without any understanding of what it’s like to try to do intense cognitive work day in day out.

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            If it was all about money

            The refurbs are cheap enough to fall into OpEx. Brick walls depreciate over 10-30 years.

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          This fits with my experience. We’ve recently moved to an “activity based work” environment (aka hotdesking) from an already fairly open plan office. Everyone has headphones on 90% of the time, and most people try not to talk much because of the very obvious impact is has on everyone in the vicinity.