The Time Queen

Time management expert Robyn Pearce looks at how to get the most out of life.

Robyn Pearce: Why introverts struggle in crowded offices

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

In my last column we started looking at some of the core messages from Susan Cain's 'Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that won't stop talking' and I promised some more highlights.

As I do, Cain also has a major concern about open plan offices, most of which are unproductive. She highlights a study I profiled in my May 14th column - the Coding War Games. [My article: 'Open plan trend has gone too far' - read it for solutions from me as well as the experiences of the readers]

Here's more from Cain:

"A mountain of recent data on open-plan offices from many different industries corroborates the results of the Coding War Games."

These are the consequences she's observed, especially with introverts:

* Open plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory
* They're associated with high staff turnover
* They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated and insecure
* Open-plan workers are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and elevated stress levels and to get the flu
* They argue more with their colleagues
* They worry about co-workers eavesdropping on their phone calls and spying on their computer screens
* They have fewer personal and confidential conversations with colleagues
* They're often subjected to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates, releases cortisol and triggers the body's fight-or-flight "stress" hormone
* Introverts become socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive, and slow to help others
* Open plan offices and team work

A very high number of organisations are pushing their workers into smaller and smaller shared spaces. Currently over 70 per cent work in open plan. In the 1970s it was considered that 500 sq. ft. per employee was about right. By 2010 that figure had shrunk to 200 sq. ft. per employee. Some of this shrinkage is because, as a recent survey found, 91 per cent of high-level managers believe that teams are the key to success. Of course they'll think that if all their conditioning right through school and university has stressed the importance of collaboration and working together. A further imperative is the desire to save money on office floor space. And everyone's doing it so it must be right. Or must it???

But if introverts need quiet and solitude to develop their thoughts and tap into their creativity, what happens? We reduce the potential of close to half the people in most work teams.

Every time I write about the lost productivity of open plan offices (and how to work around it) I get vociferous agreement. But many designers and bosses aren't listening to their detriment! Or the ones who are listening are pushing against the tide of commonly held opinion amongst their peers.

Susan Cain's research completely backs up my hands-on experience over 21 years of working with corporate audiences in a number of countries.

Too many open plan office layouts are very poorly designed and grossly inefficient. The businesses who think they're saving money by cramming people into big shared spaces are deluded. Instead, in many cases they're losing terrible amounts of money in uncountable lost productivity.

Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, based in New Zealand. Get your free report 'How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds' and ongoing time tips at gettingagrip.com.

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