KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak with [management professor] Neal Ashkanasy from Queensland University in Australia.
Neal, a lot of companies are adopting open offices. What are your thoughts on open offices?
NEAL ASHKANASY – It is an incredibly important topic. It is where office workers spend their time, and organizations these days are rapidly changing from the cell office environment, where everybody has their individual office, to open office.
This has largely been based on the fact that there are economies of scale, fitting many employees into a large space without having to worry about the expenses of walls, etc., and also it is supposed to be very collaborative because people are sitting in an open environment. If they have an idea, you can go and talk to a colleague.
But it is not so straightforward. We did a media survey just analyzing what is out there in the media, and we found there is two distinct clusters. One is comments by management and company owners extolling the benefits of open office – that there are cost benefits; as I said before there are potential benefits in terms of teamwork and collaboration etc. The other cluster is the employees.
So what do employees think about open office? What we find with the employees is that there is noise, there are interruptions, there is being unable to get your work done, it is finding your own space.
So there is a big disconnect there.
So we have been discussing and studying the open office environment and the effect it has on conflict, the effect that it has on people's emotional states, because I study emotions in particular. What we are finding is that the results can be rather mixed.
In particular, people, like all animals, require a bit of space. People like to have their territory and, just like dogs and cats etc., people mark their territory, maybe not the same way that dogs and cats do, but they mark it with plants, with pictures, with personalization, etc. Once they have their markers in place, then they do defend it.
So if you come into somebody's space, then you are usually pretty aware that they will let you know that you are in their space. This can generate conflict, unhappiness, or even the opposite – they can generate happiness in terms of pride in your space, etc., and it gives you a space to work in. So this is a new area of research.