After over a century of research attempted to assess and improve office workers' lives, considerable challenges in the coworking & open office space setting persist.
As a result of "overthinking" the open plan office design, organizations from innovative tech start-ups to blue chip businesses have switched to the collaborative, co-working workspace concept.
For most organizations, this has been a huge mistake.
The following are the top nine coworking space challenges which plague most office employees.
1. Coworking Space Challenge Numero Uno: Ever-Present Distractions
Workplace distractions are the most disruptive influences on staff. Between office chatter, the intermittent ringing of telephones, and the general cacophony heard in an office, the constant noise can sap the focus of even the most diligent employee.
Of that number who feel that the workplace is loud, nearly all of them find office noise too distracting to work to their full potential.
Furthermore, 54% of average employees spend considerable work time just trying to focus. In fact, according to the results of a study conducted by Humboldt University, it takes 23 minutes for the average person to refocus after being distracted by noise. That's nearly a half an hour of productivity lost.
2. Noise-Induced Illnesses
In addition to being distracting, workplace noise can have serious, detrimental health effects. In fact, rather than germs, it is office noise that is one of the leading causes of workplace illness.
Tinnitus, for example, very often develops as a result of exposure to too much and too-loud auditory dissonance at work.
Although offices themselves may not have ear-deafening noises, the earbuds that many employees use to escape the background sounds may indeed cause a loss of hearing.
Other health problems caused by excess workplace noise can result in a lowered immune system, raised stress levels, and can lead to severe headaches.
Furthermore, workplace noise can lead to the development of stomach ulcers, adrenaline-induced vasoconstriction, and even cause heart issues.
This problem of work noise is so pervasive that there is even a specific pathology which is caused by noise and recognized by medical authorities: occupational hearing loss.
Aside from producing sickness, excess noise in an office is one of the chief causes of acute psychological distress.
3. Communicable Diseases Are Another Coworking Space Challenge
As previously implied, besides noise, illness can be caused and spread through offices -- particularly those with an open layout -- by microbial pathogens.
These are typically transmitted by touching surfaces in common areas or by merely floating through the air.
On average, the typical office worker takes ten days off every year because of illness, not including an additional four days to care for ill relatives.
And that's just the statistical average; imagine what would happen to a firm if a particularly aggressive strain of influenza or gastroenteritis were to strike. Given the fact that an increasing number of pathogens are poised to develop into "super-bugs," that hypothetical is increasingly likely to occur.
Moving on, the effect of these illnesses on the productivity of businesses is notable. According to research conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, illness reduces worker productivity by half and results in an annual 260 billion dollars lost in economic value, just within the United States.
4. Issues with Other Workers
Another source of worker distraction common to open floor plans is workplace animosity. Differences in personality, plus idiosyncrasies and individual taste concerning fashion and personal scents can exacerbate seemingly minor problems.
Although workplace feuds can occur in any work setting, this is particularly common in open-plan offices.
As a result, even with a responsive human resources department and excellent teamwork, open offices can be hotbeds for possible conflict. Not having a space to which one can retreat and regroup when minor conflicts arise can lead to long-term resentment.
5. Differing Social and Professional Expectations
Even if all employees have the same or similar tasks and work in the same field, the typical office will feature a variety of temperaments and psychological profiles.
Just as everyone has different ideas of appropriate workplace banter, everyone also has different concepts of what type of proper social activities their co-workers or managers should engage in while at work.
Events such as birthday celebrations, although appreciated by many, may be perceived as unnecessary by other employees. Even when participation is not required, such events can be sources of interruption to workflow.
Worse, distributing such information, even in an attempt to create a welcoming workplace atmosphere may come off as invasive.
We have all experienced, at some point in our lives, the feeling of having a superior looking over our shoulder to inspect our work...and we’ve all hated it!
Although not universal, this is one of the most common forms of over management used by office administrators. But how does this relate to a standard office setting?
It may surprise you that one of the most common office worker complaints, according to the business website The Balance, is over-management.
Of course, most managers don't mean to do this. In an open office floor plan, managers may walk by as the employee is on a crucial phone call, upsetting his or her concentration.
Some old-school managers, unfortunately, may "hover"--just close enough to induce a sense of anxiety, causing disorientation and a drop in productivity for workers in the vicinity.
7. Varied Personal Environmental Preference
Most people have different preferences about the temperature at which they find comfortable. What’s more, individual professional performance is not only tied to temperature, but preference varies by individual.
According to surveys conducted and compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management only 54 percent of office workers state that the temperature of the environment that they work in is optimal. On the other hand, 27 percent of workers report that their workplace is too hot, while 19 percent find it to be too cold.
Given the nature of a standard office environment, only a single uniform temperate can be set, meaning nearly half of an office’s staff are in conditions which will degrade their performance.
8. A Perceived Sense of Overcrowding
Finally, high workroom density without adequate partitioning can lead to a series of problems in an office environment -- most prominent among them is additional stress.
In fact, a sense of overcrowding can even be the primary source of psychological distress which can be so profound it can lead to workplace violence.
Employees crammed into a space with no partitions can feel like sardines in a can--not an ideal environment to generate innovation.
Researcher Mike O'Neill, in his landmark work, "Open Plan and Enclosed Private Offices," agrees. In this paper, he states that "perceived crowding" causes a noticeable drop in productivity.
9. Privacy Is A Huge Coworking Space Challenge
According to a University of Sydney study, visual and speech privacy were office workers' two greatest concerns. Another study--this one by ICBEN--supports the Sydney findings.
When workers can hear the content of others' conversations, productivity suffers since their attention splits off between their co-workers' conversations and their own tasks at hand.
With the popularity of open floor plan offices in today's collaborative environments, companies need a solution that both encourages collaboration, yet provides the privacy, noise control, and physical space employees need to maximize their productivity.
Zenbooth office pods and meetings pods make for the perfect balance where companies can offer an open office quiet room and not have to completely revamp their current layout, which can be costly and time consuming.