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
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!
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 ↩