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Turns Out Open-Plan Isn't Always A Good Thing


What’s the most important amenity modern workers want at the office? A place where they can focus and work without interruptions. (Go figure.)

That’s according to a recent report by Oxford Economics, in which the firm surveyed 1,200 execs and employees for their feelings on the office of the future. 

68% of respondents ranked the ability to work with minimal disruption in their top three most important aspects of a workplace—compared to just 7% when asked about amenities like free food and on-site daycare.

Execs might not get the messagethe desire to minimize distractions is one of the least considered aspects when designing office space, according to executives surveyed.

And nearly two-thirds of execs surveyed say employees have what they need to deal with distractions, but less than half of employees agree with that sentiment. 

“Executives are working under different circumstances, they’re much more likely to have private offices and different technology, so they may not understand the full extent of the issues,” Oxford Economics’ Thought Leadership associate editor Adrianna Gregory tells Bisnow. “What we’ve seen is that noise has been an afterthought in office design and they don’t really understand how much it bothers their employees.”


Big landlords have been warming up to creative office space, with real estate heavyweight CBRE moving to open-plan space in several locations—there are even creative office REITs. (Not to mention, your favorite commercial real estate news provider has its HQ in a WeWork space.)

Both Adrianna (pictured, left) and Oxford Economics deputy director of Thought Leadership Edward Cone (right) tell us these companies move to open-plan office to save money and to emulate the collaborative model of some successful Silicon Valley startups—but they often don’t use the open-plan scheme well.

“It’s not open-plan per se that’s broken, it’s the design and implementation of open-plan that makes it uncomfortable,” Edward tells us. “People aren’t taking the steps they need to in terms of design and strategy to get value out of it. They’re just sticking people in an open space and saying ‘here you go.’”

Even Millennials—who you would think want nothing more than to socialize and get free stuff at work—prioritize a workplace with little distractions. Millennials are more likely to say noise distracts them from work, and are more annoyed by ambient noise in the office, according to the report. 

The younger generation is also more likely to take steps to drown out noise, like listening to music or leaving their desks.

“It’s hard to collaborate with someone who is desperate to avoid you,” Edward says. “If everyone is just sitting around with noise canceling headphones, then what have you really accomplished?”