Open workspaces and collaboration | E. S. Bernstein and S. Turban | Royal Society

Data capture device

“[…]In two intervention-based field studies of corporate headquarters transitioning to more open office spaces, we empirically examined—using digital data from advanced wearable devices and from electronic communication servers—the effect of open office architectures on employees’ face-to-face, email and instant messaging (IM) interaction patterns. Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction. In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM.[…]”

Michel Baudin‘s comments: I got curious after reading multiple blanket statements on LinkedIn to the effect that open workspaces decrease office productivity. The authors all refer to the same “Harvard study” without giving any details.  Is the Harvard label sufficient to quell any doubts? As the notorious Reinhart-Rogoff paper on austerity shows, it is nothing of the kind. 

On closer scrutiny, the Bernstein-Turban’s study is serious but limited in scope. The readers of readers of readers of their paper draw increasingly cosmic conclusions that the study does not support. To locate it, you must thread your way through multiple layers of papers. Each one simplifies and amplifies the results of the previous ones. In the process, they forget any of the nuances and restrictions of the original authors. 

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