Open Office Plans Might Not Help With Productivity

February 4, 2017

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. counterproductive / ˌkaʊn tər prəˈdʌk tɪv / (adj.) – not able to achieve one’s intended purpose or goals
Example: The project’s failure prove that our old methods were counterproductive.

2. communal / kəˈmyun l, ˈkɒm yə nl / (adj.) – shared or used by two or more people
Example: The project members share a communal desk.

3. arrangement / əˈreɪndʒ mənt / (n.) – the way that something is placed
Example: The new office arrangement helped improve the employees’ focus.

4. have a hard time (doing something) / hæv ə hɑrd taɪm / (idiom) – to have difficulty or feel challenged by something
Example: She had a hard time concentrating on her book because of the noise.

5. insight / ˈɪnˌsaɪt / (n.) – an awareness or understanding of something
Example: I will give my insights on your presentation later.


Read the text below.
Studies have shown that open-office spaces might be counterproductive for some employees.

The open office plan was designed in the 1950s in Germany and has gained popularity in the United States during the past decade. In an open-office layout, employees do not have their own workstations, but share a communal space with their colleagues. This setup aims to encourage people to communicate, collaborate, and be more open to their co-workers.

However, recent studies have shown that this kind of arrangement may do more harm than good, as it tends to cause work interruption and lack of privacy. A review of more than a hundred studies on open offices revealed that they have a negative impact on attention span, productivity, and creative thinking. In addition to this, a study from Cornell University found that employees have a hard time concentrating at work because of noise in open offices.

In order to gain more insight on office noise, researchers from the Yamaguchi University in Japan performed a series of tests and brain scans to see how different types of sound affect people’s concentration.

The researchers compared the effects of the sound of conversations against the effect of white noise, or meaningless sound. The results showed that the sound of people talking can lead to poor performance on tasks that require a lot of thinking. This type of sound is also considered more annoying than white noise. On the other hand, white noise may help people focus and be calmer.

In line with these findings, some experts recommend constructing offices with a mix of communal areas where people work together and private spaces where employees can concentrate on individual work.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Would you prefer to work in an open office or in an office that has separate cubicles? Why?
·         How can the disadvantages of open offices (e.g. noise, distraction, lack of privacy) be addressed?

Discussion B

·         Describe your idea of a productive employee.
·         What are common distractions that lessen the productivity of an employee?

February 4, 2017