Open-plan offices: Greater productivity?

At the Work Place/Work Life forum in July 2014, keynote speaker Remi Ayoko from the University of Queensland will challenge contemporary thinking around productivity, territoriality and workplace design.

In contemporary office design, the open plan is often seen as a surefire route to greater productivity – it is a cheap and efficient use of space, while its literal openness easily accommodates more flexible modes of working, such as hot-desking, and encourages communication and collaboration. Remi Ayoko, a business educator, consultant and senior lecturer at The University of Queensland Business School, is currently leading an Australian Research Council project examining the effects of open-plan layouts on productivity and behaviour. She thinks the correlation between open plan offices and great productivity is not nearly so clear-cut.

Remi Ayoko, University of Queensland.

Remi Ayoko, University of Queensland.

“Most employees these days find themselves in an open plan space where it is hard for them to be themselves,” says Ayoko. “While open plan offices can promote collaboration and communication, they can also produce conflict and negative emotions, poor productivity and poor well being.”

Ayoko will be talking at the Design Speaks: Work Place/ Work Life conference on Tuesday 15 July 2014. The conference’s agenda is to examine the future of work place design. “I will be talking about productivity, territoriality and work space configurations,” says Ayoko. “The idea is that the space where we find ourselves actually constrains or frees people to behave in certain ways.”

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To give one example, Ayoko points out that many people place a great deal of importance on having a form of ‘psychological ownership’ over their workplace. Often, something as simple as a pot plant or a family photo on their desk can lend a sense of control. These tiny human elements, though, are rarely possible in a ‘flexible’ open plan office or while hot-desking.

As Ayoko has said, organizations spend millions of dollars renovating and building new workspaces every year, yet very little research has been carried out in the field. Her presentation at Work Place/Work Life promises to challenge many of the myths and generalizations that have come to define contemporary approaches to office design.

Remi Ayoko will present her keynote talk at the 2014 Work Place/Work Life conference in Melbourne on 15 July 2014. See the full program and purchase tickets here. Ticket sales close at midday on 10 July.

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