Open Offices May Increase Workplace Conflict

Sept. 22, 2015

Shared spaces could ramp up tensions between occupants.

Working environments with open office plans can increase the risk of conflict between occupants and cause noise disturbances that compromise focus and productivity, according to a new study. The research shows detrimental effects of the move to open plans such as flex offices, in which occupants do not have individual workstations, and combination setups, where individual workstations are provided but the environment is geared toward group work.

The research, which was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, shows that while both genders are negatively affected, female workers are more susceptible to the risks of interoffice tension and irritation from noise pollution. However, the study also found that conflicts decreased significantly for both sexes in medium and large open office spaces. The researchers point to the simple fact that open office plans tend to facilitate group work, which has been demonstrated by previous studies to lead to conflict as the most likely explanation for the findings.

Additionally, The Relation between Office Type and Workplace Conflict: A Gender Perspective, found significantly more women than men are bothered by noise in open plan offices of all sizes, though the disparity was greatest in small offices with only 46.1% of men reporting being annoyed by the noise compared with 59.5% of women.

Having similar troubles in your own open office? These tips can help you accommodate differing work styles.

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