Universal application of open plan has led to global privacy crisis, claims report

open planA major new report from office furniture maker Steelcase claims that the universal provision of open plan offices means that organisations are facing an unprecedented privacy crisis with their employees. The claim is based on international research carried out by market researchers IPSOS and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase which found that a remarkable 85 percent of people are dissatisfied with their working environment and cannot concentrate. Nearly a third (31 percent) now routinely leave the office to get work done in private. The authors of the report claim that this does not mean a reversal of the decades long shift away from cellular offices but rather a move to create offices that offer a range of work settings to give people a choice of where and how to work. More than 10,000 workers across 14 countries were questioned about their office environments and working patterns.

Other findings from the research include:-

  • Office workers are losing 86 minutes per day due to distractions.
  • Too many employees are chronically disengaged at work.
  • They are unmotivated, unproductive and overly stressed.
  • They have little capacity to think and work creatively and constructively.
  • The right balance between private and collaborative working spaces can deliver a step change in employee engagement and productivity.

Bostjan Ljubic, vice president of Steelcase UK and Ireland said: “The drive for collaborative working spaces was founded on getting people working better together. It has been enormously successful and has delivered efficiency on a major scale but too much interaction and not enough privacy has reached crisis proportions, taking a heavy toll on workers’ creativity, productivity, engagement and wellbeing. People not only expect privacy in their private lives – they want it at the office as well. Our research has found that for people to collaborate with their colleagues more effectively they need less ‘we’ time and more ‘me’ time than they are getting today.

“Over the years we have seen office preferences shift from more enclosed spaces to more open. But in some organisations the pendulum has swung too far,” notes Bostjan Ljubic, “Many people do not realise that effective collaboration actually requires individual private time.”

The report claims that workers are not, however, looking to turn back the clock to the days when they were isolated in closed individual offices. Instead, they are seeking privacy within open plan settings – where they can function effectively and complete work without being driven to distraction. The IPSOS survey showed that 95  percent of people identify having the ability to work privately is important but less than half, 41 percent, say they have the opportunity.

The report concludes that it is now necessary for firms to create an ‘ecosystem’ of different spaces where employees can choose the level of privacy they require.

Nearly 70 percent of the workers questioned in the Steelcase-Ipsos research worked in open spaces or in a combination of individual and open space offices and the results demonstrate a strong link between employees’ satisfaction with their work environment and their level of engagement.

Engaged workers are most satisfied with their work environment (31 percent) while the least engaged are also the most dissatisfied (69 percent). The most satisfied and engaged workers says their workplace allows them to concentrate easily, work in teams without being interrupted, choose where to work within the office. They also feel relaxed, calm and have a strong sense of belonging.