The Real Deal New York

Alone together: Study says open-plan offices might make us anti-social

Office design might lead to less in-person interaction
July 17, 2018 09:30AM

A silhouette of someone staring at their computer screen (Credit: Pexels and iStock)

The fact that you can see all of your co-workers doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to talk to any of them.

According to a new study by Harvard University, open-plan offices might actually deter employees from working together. Instead, workers are more likely to communicate by instant messaging and email, the New York Post reported.

But there’s a caveat: The study only looked at two Fortune 500 companies. At one company, after doing away with cubicles, employees spent an average of 1.7 hours on in-person interactions. That’s down from the average 5.8 hours they spent when walled off from each other, according to the report.

At the second company, in-person interactions decreased by 67 percent. According to one of the study’s researchers, Ethan Bernstein, people working in open-plan offices might feel more self-conscious. Feeling that they need to constantly look busy, they avoid eye contact and stare at their computer screens.

“On the one hand, it is hard to believe that people would not have a more vibrant and interactive experience when they work in an open office,” researcher Ethan Bernstein said. “On the other hand, I’ve spent enough time on the (subway) at rush hour to see that being packed together doesn’t necessarily lead to interaction.” [NYP] — Kathryn Brenzel