Twitter’s VP of Europe: The glorious open-plan office dream is dead

By Oliver Smith 15 March 2017

Bring back our cubicles.

There’s a change in the air of workplaces around the world.

The open-plan office, once a symbol of digital businesses tearing down corporate hierarchies, is today viewed by with disdain.

While open-plan was supposed to foster the cross-pollination of ideas, leading to more colourful, creative businesses, in fact the latest research shows the opposite may be true.

One 2014 study found we’re 15% less productive in open-plan workspaces, we have more trouble concentrating and we’re twice as likely to get sick with no walls to stop the spread of coughs and illness.

“We perceived offices as having hierarchy, the boss had a better office, but in fact the truth is that offices, cubicles and little spaces were far better for our productivity and for getting your job done,” Twitter’s vice president of Europe, Bruce Daisley, told The Memo at Neo@Ogilvy‘s Spring Breakfast Briefing.

Ask anyone who’s spent some time working in an open-plan office and you’ll hear the same complaints about coughs, office chatter and endless distractions.

It’s a topic Daisley is exploring in his new podcast Eat Sleep Work Repeat which tackles happiness and work culture.

“The arrival of interruptions is the most destructive thing in our working lives, but open-plan offices are just full of interruptions.”

Cubicle life

So if we accept that open-plan offices are the scourge of productivity, what’s one to do?

It’s a huge problem facing hundreds of businesses of all sizes who today find themselves with little choice as colourful co-working, open-plan offices spaces have taken over our cities.

And indeed many businesses are willing to accept the productivity hit, because of the other advantage that open-plan offers them.

“There are two reasons why offices are open plan, one is that we ripped down the walls of hierarchy, but two is because it’s a lot cheaper. We can fit lots more people in open plan,” says Daisley.

And, sadly, that’s the reason why open-plan is here to stay.

It may have been mis-sold as a boon for productivity, but it’ll be kept for reasons of cost-saving.