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The Truth About Open Offices

Even in open spaces with colleagues in close proximity, people who want to eschew interactions have an amazing capacity to do so. When the firms switched to open offices, face-to-face interactions fell by 70%. Another way to detect interactions is by collecting the digital “Breadcrumbs” people leave when they book a meeting, send an email, open a browser window, post on Slack or Teams, or make a call, thanks to systems designed to save communication metadata. People in open offices create a fourth wall, and their colleagues come to respect it. These findings suggest that locating people in proximate buildings won’t improve collaboration; to increase interactions, workers should be in the same building, ideally on the same floor. 50 company: “The leadership team has just given me a mandate to restack our headquarters to fit another 1,000 employees in here.” Tremendous progress has been made designing offices that can accommodate more people in a given space. People generally stayed in their team’s reserved seating area and rarely ventured into the open seating areas-which accounted for some 20% of the space. The rise in cross-team interactions meant that people were going directly to others to resolve issues and get things done-bypassing managers, whom the data had revealed to be “Communication bottlenecks.” And although this was an unintended consequence, the reason people spent more time on solo work was that meetings lasting 30 minutes or longer diminished.

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