Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Knowle relocation project: Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They’re associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated, and insecure.

There is 'visionary' open planning; and there is depressingly bad open planning. Unfortunately, the new HQ in Honiton belongs to the depressingly bad:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: designs for a new building... or... ..."visionary office design and functionality" by retaining, refurbishing and recycling

It must not be forgotten that one of the main reasons for 'relocating' was 'greater efficient working models' or something like that: 
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'modern working practices' >>> Of Worksmart, Hubs and Hot-desking
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: open-plan offices
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and the curse of open plan
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: hot-desking
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: the aesthetics of 1970s concrete office blocks
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: hot-desking: latest

"Our new and refurbished office space will reflect our new ways of working..."

Moving and Improving: all you need to know about the office relocation - What are the main reasons for relocating? - East Devon

And as a piece of open planning, the District Council's 'new office space' in Honiton does not look that promising:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: District Council planning application for Honiton HQ
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: District Council planning application for Honiton HQ >>> 16/1292/MFUL
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and questions of floor space
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: District Council planning application for Honiton HQ >>> 16/1292/MFUL approved
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: District Council planning application for Honiton HQ >>> 16/1292/MFUL approved >>> reports

The problem is that the 'new ways of working' have been proven to be unworkable:

The Arch Daily explained in November:
Why Open-Plan Offices Don't Work (And Some Alternatives That Do) | ArchDaily

And last week, the office design industry itself was explaining why open open-plan offices don't work:
Here’s the final nail in the coffin of open plan offices - Contract Furnishings News

But this complaint with the bad quality of office design goes back a long way, as explained again by the Arch Daily with this overview of how we got to where we are today:
From Cubicles to Hot-Desks, Here Are the Origins of the Open-Plan Office | ArchDaily

And the complaint is happening everywhere, whether in Australia:
Open place offices make people talk less: study

In the US:
Mark Zuckerberg loves his open-plan office, but they can stress workers | Stuff.co.nz

Or in the UK:
Is it time to close the doors on open-plan offices? - Telegraph 

With something from the FT - with a video here 
... and the full piece here:

Video: the welcome, belated backlash to the open-plan officeLinkedIn

I really like my colleagues at the FT, but I spend at least half my working hours wishing they would stop talking. Pipe down. Not quite STFU but at least be mindful of making a racket.
The fault isn’t remotely theirs. What are they supposed to do? Never say anything to each other?
No, the problem is our physical proximity in an environment with few barriers, constant noise, phones ringing, sporadic laughter, shrill voices, interruptions and distractions and SOMEONE PLEASE END THE GODDAMN PRINTER.
FT video producer Chris Booker and I want to experiment more with video formats and ideas this year, and we used this first video as an excuse to whinge about the open-plan office. We want your feedback, so thoughts welcome in the comments.
I had a vague feeling for several years that the popularity of open-plan offices would inspire a backlash. I’ve always hated them, and not because I’m an introvert.
That the productivity gains generated by spontaneous water-cooler chats would outweigh the losses that come with an open-plan environment, one so opposed to sustained concentration, is an idea that always seemed ludicrous.
I have thus watched with relief and smug satisfaction the endless parade of studies and media articles finding that open-plan offices are terrible for employee health, productivity, stress levels and general office-worker contentment.
Can anything be done about this scourge of (admittedly rather privileged) humanity? Probably we can’t have private offices for everyone, which never existed in the first place. Cubicles are better, but only marginally so — and, if they are suffocatingly constructed while offering merely the illusion of privacy, could even be worse. Good design ideas can help. Some are passed along in the links below. Especially promising are office designs that make it easy for employees to move naturally between open and private spaces, as it suits their work.
True, often the difficulty of working in an open-plan office is linked to a more fundamental, specific problem. If a company doesn’t give its employees the autonomy to control their workspaces, for instance by allowing them either to work remotely or to have quiet chats in private, then that company probably sucks to work for anyways.
And yes, a workplace should be social. Daily interaction with friendly colleagues is one of life’s reliable joys. Sometimes those spontaneous discussions really do lead to helpful breakthroughs and creative ideas. But daily interaction during occasional breaks shouldn’t mean constant, forced, inescapable interaction — which actually leads to greater resentment towards one’s coworkers.
These frustrations of open-plan offices seem like such a silly item to complain about. When a company or a boss asks for feedback, we tend to focus on more obvious issues: “I’m underpaid. I deserve a promotion. My talents are being wasted. Mike doesn’t work well with Brenda, and Brenda is always complaining about Glenn, and Glenn is an asshole. I deserve to be rated higher than these idiots.”
Complaining about the inability to concentrate seems comparatively… wimpy. After all, this is one of the #firstworldproblem-iest of #firstworldproblems. It’s a problem for people lucky enough to have decent white-collar work. And a common objection is that people should just deal with the distractions by learning to concentrate despite them — that working in an open-plan office can be an acquired skill, like writing well or speaking in public.
I don’t buy it. The notion goes against too much of the empirical evidence about the mind’s ability to juggle multiple tasks without compromising good performance. And in any case, why toss up yet another obstacle to good work? Are there not enough in a typical office bureaucracy?
So I would really emphasise the conclusion in the video that this matters a lot, possibly more than you think. Just consider all the time you lose to distraction. Hour by hour, or even day by day, it might not seem like such a big deal. But accumulated over a lifetime, the losses add up. They might even be the difference between completing big projects and never starting them. The difference between looking back fondly on proud achievements rather than finishing your career with only a vague understanding of what you did for four decades. Or it could mean foregone time in your personal life, which most people want more of. This all sounds hokey and dramatic, but I believe it.
Obviously the ability to concentrate deeply for long stretches of time won’t matter to every career. And even to those where it is crucial, it isn’t the only variable that counts. But it’s a pretty big one, and companies with the means should consider office design a priority, not a cost-saving opportunity or an architectural vanity project.
But don’t take my word for it. Numerous others have covered the topic in recent years. Here’s a bibliography of media articles, including links to relevant studies, and company surveys that were used to inform the video:
1) Open-plan offices are bad for your health.
Maria KonnikovaThe New Yorker:
In a recent study of more than twenty-four hundred employees in Denmark, Jan Pejtersen and his colleagues found that as the number of people working in a single room went up, the number of employees who took sick leave increased apace. Workers in two-person offices took an average of fifty per cent more sick leave than those in single offices, while those who worked in fully open offices were out an average of sixty-two per cent more.
Rachel FeintzeigWall Street Journal:
recent study published in the journal Ergonomics found that workers who share open spaces with multiple colleagues are more likely to take short-term sick leaves than those who enjoy the privacy of their own office. Researcher and architect Christina Bodin Danielsson and three colleagues at Stockholm University studied 1,852 employees working in seven different types of offices in Sweden. … The study found “a significant association with office type” when it came to the short sick leave spells: workers in small, medium and large open office layouts had “elevated risks” as compared to those who had private offices.
2) Open-plan offices are bad for your productivity.
Anna-Codrea RadoQuartz:
In a literature review of studies on open-plan offices, researchers from Virginia State University and North Carolina State University found evidence to suggest that they’re linked to lower productivity. Scanning work from the Journal of Human Ecology, Academy of Management Journal and Administrative Science Quarterly, Tonya Smith-Jackson and Katherine Klein identified reduced motivation, decreased job satisfaction and lower perceived privacy as factors negatively affecting productivity in open-plan environments. Similar to Mak and Lui findings, the resounding message in the research is that overhearing conversations in the office is very intrusive and distracting for workers.
Harry BradfordThe Huffington Post:
Offices that lump employees together in large spaces, called open-plan offices, have detrimental effects on workplace productivity despite previous claims that such configurations promote communication and boost morale, a new study by Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear of the University of Sydney Faculty of Architecture has found. … “Our results categorically contradict the industry-accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants’ overall work environmental satisfaction,” the researchers wrote. “The open-plan proponents’ argument that open-plan improves morale and productivity appears to have no basis in the research literature.”
3) Conversations in open-plan offices are paranoid and superficial.
Ethan BernsteinHarvard Business Review:
For all that transparency does to drive out wasteful practices and promote collaboration and shared learning, too much of it can trigger distortions of fact and counterproductive inhibitions. Unrehearsed, experimental behaviors sometimes cease altogether. Wide-open workspaces and copious real-time data on how individuals spend their time can leave employees feeling exposed and vulnerable. Being observed changes their conduct. They start going to great lengths to keep what they’re doing under wraps, even if they have nothing bad to hide. If executives pick up on signs of covert activity, they instinctively start to monitor employee behavior even more intensely. And that just aggravates the problem.
Anne-Laure Fayard and John WeeksHarvard Business Review:
More than a dozen studies have examined the behavioral effects of such redesigns. There’s some evidence that removing physical barriers and bringing people closer to one another does promote casual interactions. But there’s a roughly equal amount of evidence that because open spaces reduce privacy, they don’t foster informal exchanges and may actually inhibit them. Some studies show that employees in open-plan spaces, knowing that they may be overheard or interrupted, have shorter and more-superficial discussions than they otherwise would.
4) Workers don’t like open-plan offices.
People work less well when they move from a personal office to an open-plan layout, according to a longitudinal study carried out by Calgary University. Writing in the Journal of Environment and Behavior, Aoife Brennan, Jasdeep Chugh and Theresa Kline found that such workers reported more stress, less satisfaction with their environment and less productivity. Brennan et al went back to survey the participants six months after the move and found not only that they were still unhappy with their new office, but that their team relations had broken down even further.
5) Managers want space per worker to continue shrinking ever more.
Survey by CoreNet Global:
The average per worker in 2017 will be 151 square feet per worker, compared to 176 square feet today, and 225 square feet in 2010. ‘The main reason for the declines,’ said Richard Kadzis, CoreNet Global’s Vice President of Strategic Communications, ‘is the huge increase in collaborative and team oriented space inside a growing number of companies that are stressing “smaller but smarter” workplaces against the backdrop of continuing economic uncertainty and cost containment.’
6) Open-plan offices make people dumber, and multi-taskers aren’t exempt.
But the most problematic aspect of the open office may be physical rather than psychological: simple noise. In laboratory settings, noise has been repeatedly tiedto reduced cognitive performance. The psychologist Nick Perham, who studies the effect of sound on how we think, has found that office commotion impairsworkers’ ability to recall information, and even to do basic arithmetic. Listening to music to block out the office intrusion doesn’t help: even that, Perham found, impairs our mental acuity. Exposure to noise in an office may also take a toll on the health of employees. In a study by the Cornell University psychologists Gary Evans and Dana Johnson, clerical workers who were exposed to open-office noise for three hours had increased levels of epinephrine—a hormone that we often call adrenaline, associated with the so-called fight-or-flight response. …
In a 2005 study, the psychologists Alena Maher and Courtney von Hippel found that the better you are at screening out distractions, the more effectively you work in an open office. Unfortunately, it seems that the more frantically you multitask, the worse you become at blocking out distractions. Moreover, according to the Stanford University cognitive neuroscientist Anthony Wagner, heavy multitaskers are not only “more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli” but also worse at switching between unrelated tasks. In other words, if habitual multitaskers are interrupted by a colleague, it takes them longer to settle back into what they were doing. Regardless of age, when we’re exposed to too many inputs at once—a computer screen, music, a colleague’s conversation, the ping of an instant message—our senses become overloaded, and it requires more work to achieve a given result.
7) In other words, open-plan offices, at least as they are now designed, absolutely suck.
Susan CainQuiet (chapter 3):
A mountain of recent data on open-plan offices from many different industries corroborates the results of the [Coding War Games, an experiment designed by Tom DeMarco and Timoth Lister that suggested the powerful effects of privacy on performance]. Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They’re associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated, and insecure.
Open-plan workers are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and elevated stress levels and to get the flu; they argue more with their colleagues; they worry about coworkers eavesdropping on their phone calls and spying on their computer screens. They have fewer personal and confidential conversations with colleagues. They’re often subject to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates; releases cortisol, the body’s fight-or-flight “stress” hormone; and makes people socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive, and slow to help others.
(I embedded links to some of the relevant studies, as referenced in the back of Cain’s book, where I could find them.)
More links:
– Open-plan offices: Task performance and mental workload, by Tonya L. Smith-Jackson and Katherine W. Klein
– The physical environment of the office: contemporary and emerging issues, by Matthew Davis, Desmond Leach, and Chris Clegg
– Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, by Nikil Saval (chapters 6 and 7 were especially useful)
– The boss with no office, by Seth Stevenson
– The Privacy Crisis, from Steelcase
– An open office experiment that actually worked, by Paul Rosenberg and Kelly Campbell
– 24 reasons your open-plan office sucks, by Tanner Ringerud and Jack Shepherd
– Offices for all!, by Jason Feifer
Here is a stupid meeting room in the FT’s New York office. There is no door separating the room from the rest of the office. If there is no door, does a space even qualify as a room? I don’t know. But if it is indeed a room, then it is a stupid, stupid room.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved. 
Video: the welcome, belated backlash to the open-plan office | FT Alphaville

Maybe staff can be given wellness classes to be able to cope with their new open planning office conditions:
Open plan offices have ruined productivity in workplace.
Open-plan offices are bad for workers and bosses

As suggested in the Guardian last week:

Wellbeing is a nice buzzword. But when employers use it, ask why

Poor employee mental health is not treated with the humanity it requires – instead, it’s seen as a risk, or a barrier to profit
Business people cheering with arms in the air
 ‘‘Employee wellbeing programmes’ are now ubiquitous, with workers regularly offered a raft of benefits –such as yoga, gym subscriptions and subsidised fruit for breakfast.’ Photograph: XiXinXing/Getty Images/Xixinxing

The student mental health crisis shows no sign of abating: in the year to July 2017 alone, 95 students killed themselves, and many reportimpossibly threadbare services and overworked staff unable to help. One recent study also found that the UK student suicide rate had risen by 56% in 10 years – a clear sign that something needs to be done.
It’s therefore shocking news that universities including Hull, Wolverhampton and Essex are outsourcing mental health services, referring students not to trained, on-campus mental health professionals but to (already comically stretched) NHS pathways. Most noticeable in this shift is the total rebrand of mental health services – which are now, in many universities, simply referred to as “wellbeing services”. Counsellors are being asked to reapply for their jobs, now titled “wellbeing practitioners”, and a focus is being placed on “healthy eating, mindfulness, and stress-relieving activities such as yoga, meditation and campus walks”.

It’s indicative of a wider social trend, with “wellbeing” encroaching not just on our educational institutions (including schools), but also slowly creeping into the workplace. “Employee wellbeing programmes” are now ubiquitous, with workers regularly offered benefits such as yoga, gym subscriptions and subsidised fruit for breakfast.
At first glance, these programmes seem appealing – who doesn’t want a free banana when they get to the office? But for those experiencing severe or chronic mental health problems, such initiatives are not just ineffective but also profoundly insulting, failing to meaningfully engage in any of the realities of mental illness at all. If you’re so depressed you’re finding it hard to go to work, for example, you don’t need a smoothie or a free flat white: you need structured support from mental health professionals and paid time off. Some companies do offer paid-for therapeutic support. But most do not, using the vague and foggy “wellbeing” umbrella to mask what essentially amounts to a glorified set of employee perks.
It’s easy to see why such programmes are so popular, at least from the perspective of an employer. Engaging in any other kind of reform, after all, would require institutions to acknowledge that many mental health problems are rooted in the very structures themselves. Of course a company is more likely to offer you a free FitBit than they are to modify sick leave policies or adjust their line on overtime – one requires spending a bit of money on some technology, the other fundamentally overhauling the way we think about work. One requires workers themselves to be responsible for their mental health; the other requires structural support that simply does not exist.

It’s also telling that much writing on the topic focuses on “workplace performance”: one Acas report notes that improved wellbeing programmes will result in “improved workplace performance ... in profitability, labour productivity, and the quality of outputs or services”. Here, poor employee mental health is not treated with the humanity or dignity it requires; instead, it’s seen as a barrier to profit, a person as a simple unit of value in a wider, uncaring machine.
This is warped. When Josh Hall, writing for the Baffler, described such programmes as “emblematic of the debasement of so many of our basic human instincts”, he wasn’t being hyperbolic: despite acting as a superficial nod towards genuine mental wellbeing, “wellbeing” as currently used by employers and institutions is functionally useless.
By focusing on mindfulness and yoga, on free fruit and campus walks, universities and workplaces are both ignoring the parts of work that make us sick and devolving responsibility to the mentally ill themselves, excusing themselves from making further investment, material or otherwise. It’s a nice buzzword. But dig deeper and it’s easy to see that we’re simply being sold a lie that genuine wellbeing is within our grasp, if only we try hard enough.
  • Emily Reynolds is a freelance journalist and author
Wellbeing is a nice buzzword. But when employers use it, ask why | Emily Reynolds | Opinion | The Guardian

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