Open concept offices disrupt brainwaves: Study

But communication around process, soundproofing help workers adapt, say experts
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/11/2011

There have been several studies debating the merits of open-space offices, touching on issues such as privacy, productivity and job satisfaction. A more recent look in the United Kingdom took a somewhat scientific approach to confirm these suspicions. In the TV program The Secret Life of Buildings, TV presenter and architectural historian Tom Dyckhoff wore a special cap that measured brainwaves. When he worked in a busy, open concept layout with everyday distractions, the computer measured intense bursts of interruption.

“Open-plan offices were designed with the idea that people can move around and interact freely to promote creative thinking and better problem-solving. But it doesn’t work like that,” said Jack Lewis, a neuroscientist who carried out the test. “If you are just getting into some work and a phone goes off in the background, it ruins what you are concentrating on.”

In the end, Dyckhoff said he could never work in an open-plan office again. So are employers on the wrong path when it comes to incorporating an open design?