A new study shows that open plan offices are making you unwell

Forget team work and communication, your shared office space could cause detrimental harm to your health.

Although the intention behind open plan office space was to increase communication and wellbeing among staff, it seems it may be doing the complete opposite.

A new study shows that compared with working in an individual office space, an open plan office or shared space is not beneficial to employees’ health.

The study, which took place at Canterbury University, revealed that working in an open plan office space hurts staff wellbeing, health and productivity.

Professor Anne Richardson, who led the research, said that across the 15 countries studied, a noticeable trend was an increase in sickness absence.

“The interesting thing is the consistency across different countries and different types of research that was carried out,” Richardson said in an interview with RNZ.

“They found that there was increase in sickness absence for people working in open plan compared with individual offices, less productivity, decrease in job satisfaction, increase in distraction and an increase in cognitive stress.”

The study revealed that in comparison to individual offices, occupants in two-person offices had 50% more days of sickness absence, occupants in three – to six – person offices had 36% more days of sickness absence, and occupants in open-plan offices (>6 persons) had 62% more days of sickness absence.

Regarding well being, during a 12-month study of 71 employees’ in Sweden, who had moved from individual offices to open plan, a deterioration in perceived health was statistically significant.

“Architects and designers might genuinely believe that this [shared office spaces] is a win-win, that you can build something that is economically more efficient, and that it has these good outcomes,” said Richardson.

“But actually that’s not the case, so what we hope from this research is that maybe architects and designers could use the information, and that they could still build economical buildings but taking into account the health and productivity of workers so that there would be more individual offices.”

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