D’oh: Another Way Open Offices Make Us Unhappy

standard open office

Open offices (and cubicles) have sure been under a lot of scrutiny lately.

More recent(ish) research uncovered another reason that they might be making us all so frowny-faced.

The theoretical intention of the open office was to foster and/or induce collaboration by literally tearing down walls. That backfired because of all the distractions, among other dreadful factors.

Just picture yourself, chipper and gung-ho to dedicate your day (and the days thereafter) to a company. Yet every time you want to noodle on a creative thought or focus on a project, someone plays a prank on you--perhaps a whoopee cushion on your chair, an air horn in your ear, or a tap on the opposite shoulder from where they're standing.

That’s distraction in the office. Folks can’t focus--and frustrated, unfocused folks don’t want much to do with collaborating. We want to work and accomplish big things, but we’re constantly prevented from doing so.

That’s kind of frustrating. And the ire and backlash is strong, especially among introverts.

It Gets Messier

Previously, workplace researchers documented that open offices do, in fact, lead to more conversations (huzzah!), albeit less substantive ones (d’oh!). 1 Given how much we prefer our substantive 2 and non-overly stimulating conversations, introverts may have just found some more ammo.

All of those less substantive conversations don’t just fade--they likely negatively affect us. A 2010 study published in Psychological Science found a strong link between feelings of wellbeing and having more substantive conversations.

The university of Arizona researchers discovered that their happiest study participants had almost a third of the small talk and more than twice the amount of substantive conversations than did the unhappiest participants. 3

Substantive Fixins

If you want to be happier, try having more stimulating and substantive conversations. 4 5 And if you want your office and teammates to be happier, help create environments where folks can do it on their own terms.

Many offices are now designed under the guise of facilitating more conversations, yet they're missing the very elements that we need in order to have the quality ones. Providing your team with the privacy they need to comfortably chat and focus without being seen or overheard 6 is just crucial. Their wellbeing will go a long way in helping them be more collaborative.

Our offices are forcing us to do things that make us unhappy (not working, the other thing!). But even open offices can contribute to substantive conversations, as long as we consider and act on truths and research about our physiological needs.

To infinitely fulfilling conversations in the office and beyond!



  • Harvard Business Review - Who Moved My Cube     ↩

  • Researchers Have Very Good News for the Dating Lives of Introverts     ↩

  • Mehl, M. R., Vazire, S., Holleran, S. E., & Clark, C. S. (2010). Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-being is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations. Psychological Science, 21(4), 539–541. Read more     ↩

  • We're totally up for one of those! howdy (at) openpinecone dot com     ↩

  • Sheldon KM, Lyubomirsky S. “Achieving sustainable gains in happiness: Change your actions, not your circumstances.” Journal of Happiness Studies. 2006;7:55–86. Read more (PDF)     ↩

  • One should never resist making an Arrested Development reference: The Milford School     ↩

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    Opening Pinecone

    When the moisture level is just right, dry enough for the winds to help seeds intrepidly travel their farthest and spread themselves about, a pine cone will open. 

    Today, we open Pinecone. Our blog, our seeds, will piece together and make sense of interdisciplinary empirical research to help you and your team be happier, healthier, and more productive.

    Here, we’ll build bridges between environmental psychology, neuroscience, architecture, positive organizational psychology, nutrition, fitness science, and any/everything else that affects our whole wellbeing.

    We’re dedicated to helping everyone lead healthier lives because healthy people are fulfilled people and fulfilled people make epic things happen. And that makes those happy and fulfilled people even happier and more fulfilled. Lofty goals, for sure. And totally worth it.

    It allll starts in the workplace.

    Our best work isn’t done in the office 1 ; often, it’s those very offices that undermine our health and productivity! Just take a gander at some of the data points below.

    Today’s teams can’t work effectively--and their workplaces are often to blame. 2

    • 53% of them can’t focus because of their distractions from colleagues or work environment. Nearly half have to resort to MacGyvering their own distraction shields. 3

    • 69% dislike their office’s noise levels. 77% prefer quiet to get work done. 4

    • 95% need quiet places to focus at work; 41% don’t have them. 5

    Our minds can’t flourish in those environmentsand that’s making us grumpy and unproductive. Unproductive, uncreative, unmotivated, unengaged, and unhappy.

    Engagement at work is comparable to the Congress approval rating.

    • Worldwide, only 13% of folks are engaged in their jobs. 6

    • 69% of unengaged workers are also most dissatisfied with their office environment. 7

    • The most engaged workers? Also the most satisfied with their workplace. 8

    Every companyand every teammateis negatively affected, yet few organizations are addressing the issues.

    • Globally, less than half of organizations actively promote their teams’ health and wellbeing. 9

    • Even fewer organizations realize the benefit to both company and profit growth. 10

    Ron priorities

    What if our offices supported health and wellbeing?

    Actively promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace leads to

    • Teams that are eight times more likely to be engaged 11

    • 41% lower health-related costs 12

    • 35% lower turnover rates 13

    • 19% increase in operating income and nearly 28% growth in earnings per share 14

    • Teams that feel 72% more encouragement to be innovative and creative 15

    • 64% of teammates that plan to stay at least five years 16

    The workplaces we built aren’t designed for us or our biology. But together, we can fix that. Let’s turn our offices and cultures into places that nurture our lives and our companies.

    Follow along as we get into the nitty-gritty on factors that affect costs, focus, collaboration, learning, productivity, creativity, retention, engagement, motivation, resilience, stress management, recovery, and above all, health.

    That’s a lot of buzzwords; we’ll help you understand and wrangle all of them, as well as answer important questions such as

    • Can catering lunch hamper productivity?

    • What do a fern and a bush have to do with community?

    • How does birdsong affect your team's code?



    1. FastCompany: Why the Office is the Worst Place for Work     ↩

    2. 2013 Gensler U.S. Workplace Survey     ↩

    3. 2013 Gensler U.S. Workplace Survey     ↩

    4. 2013 Gensler U.S. Workplace Survey     ↩

    5. Steelcase Workplace Survey of over 37,000 North American workers     ↩

    6. Gallup State of the Global Workforce Report 2013     ↩

    7. Boosting Employee Engagement (from Steelcase-commissioned study of 10,500 workers in 14 countries)     ↩

    8. Boosting Employee Engagement (from Steelcase-commissioned study of 10,500 workers in 14 countries)     ↩

    9. Organisational Effectiveness Survey; Right Management, 2009     ↩

    10. Organisational Effectiveness Survey; Right Management, 2009     ↩

    11. The Wellness Imperative Creating More Effective Organizations; World Economic Forum, 2010     ↩

    12. Gallup - Lower Your Health Costs While Boosting Performance     ↩

    13. Gallup - Lower Your Health Costs While Boosting Performance     ↩

    14. Towers Watson and Harvard School of Public Health - Building a More Engaged Health Care Workforce     ↩

    15. The Wellness Imperative Creating More Effective Organizations; World Economic Forum, 2010     ↩

    16. The Wellness Imperative Creating More Effective Organizations; World Economic Forum, 2010     ↩