The debate about open plan offices is not helped by its use of stereotypes

Open plan offices and national stereotypesThe incessant debate about open plan offices is informed by a number of assumptions that can lead us to misunderstand the issues involved. Nigel Oseland eviscerates several of them excellently here, making it plain that a great deal is lost in translation somewhere over the mid-Atlantic. In truth, the European and US experiences of the open plan are very different and while we in the UK could always laugh along with our US counterparts at the organisational insanity of Dilbert, the cubicles themselves were largely alien to us. Another red herring in the debate is the idea that the open plan office is for extroverts and its alternatives for introverts. There is something in this but it’s too simplistic an idea and is often built around the stereotypes associated with sectors such as TMT, the age of workers (especially Gen Y) and supposed national characteristics, not least the reserve of Brits and the brashness of Yanks.

Such national stereotyping is never a great basis for decision making and now a new report from psychometric testing firm Thomas International puts such lazy ideas to the sword. Based on analysis of its own database of nearly 500,000 people in the UK and over 70,000 in the US, the report concludes that British workers may actually be significantly more extrovert than their American contemporaries. Around three quarters (76 percent) of the British subjects were categorised as extrovert based on tests to gauge how ‘positive, communicative, friendly, more verbal and likely to share personal feelings’ they were compared to just two thirds (65 percent) of American subjects.