Rissler and Elgerot (1980) are skeptical towards the open plan office, although they describe studies showing that 75 percent of employees had adapted to the open plan office within one year after changing. Another way to see the performance than the result of an unhealthy work environment, is that it is really about being insecure with the change and new environment, an environment employees are not used to working in.
Brand and Smith’s (2005) study also showed an adaptation by time, after six months in the new open office environment there was a reduced tendency of employees to avoid contact, given the required effort, which may indicate increased communication. An open plan office removes physical barriers to interaction, and employees can talk more with each other. As in the Oticon example, the open environment should help knowledge disseminate more easily between different employees in the organization, which can foster innovation and competitive advantage.
Gomez and Ballard (2013) talks about how employees’ identification with the organization, in line with the ideal of a unified voice in organizational communication, can foster knowledge sharing. The open environment can thus involve talking to colleagues who would otherwise not have spoken since not required in terms of work, but as open plan offices easier invite to the conversation. This may mean a more innovative workplace where employees can get more and/or different input than they normally would have requested and you can get to know what others are working on, which you would not otherwise have met, which should encourage the development of ideas in the workplace.
A problem however would be if there is a superstition that increased communication, more than valuable communication, is inherently desirable and good, which will be discussed in the coming post.