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Open-plan offices are making us less social

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BERLIN – A number of big companies in recent years — IBM, Bank of America, Aetna, Yahoo under former Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer — cut back on their telecommuting programs in the name of more interaction and cooperation between employees, supposedly fostered by being stuck together in an office. The business model of companies providing co-working spaces, such as $20 billion “unicorn” WeWork, is also based on the proposition that if people find themselves in a shared space, they’ll network and cooperate more.

It doesn’t quite work like that, though, recent research shows. At the office, be it a corporate one or a WeWork-style environment, workers these days are housed in vast open spaces designed to break down barriers. But in a just-published paper, Harvard University’s Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban showed, on the basis of two field studies of corporate headquarters, that the modern open office architecture tends to decrease the volume of face-to-face interaction by some 70 percent and increases electronic communication accordingly. With such a communication pattern, the workers might as well be anywhere.

The two companies Bernstein and Turban studied, both Fortune 500 multinationals, were transitioning to more open, modern office environments. One of them removed all the walls on one of its office floors. The researchers fitted workers from functions as varied as sales, technology, finance and human resources with high-tech tracking devices, so-called sociometric badges, for 15 days before and 15 days after they moved from walled........

© The Japan Times