As an introvert and someone who sometimes must force herself to concentrate, I truly dislike open-plan offices. All that distracting noise and movement, plus the general android-y creepiness of noise-canceling headphones. Now, it appears that there is another legitimate reason for animus.
Thanks to Geoffrey James, who writes for Inc.com, for these thoughts. At first, I thought they were a bit overstated, but now I think he’s on to something. And if you find these ideas interesting, you will probably find his sexual harassment-oriented indictment of the open-plan office interesting as well.
In Mr. James’ opinion, open-plan offices create particular stress for women, because—and he’s blunt here—they force women to focus on being eye-candy, rather than on moving their careers forward. He notes a study by Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Bedfordshire that tracked employees who moved from traditional offices into an open plan layout over a three-year period. The study found that women were “more conscious of their visibility and often found this unsettling rather than liberating.”
The net effect is that women who spend time in male-dominated open spaces think they need to dress in a certain way. Mr. James notes that the open-plan office “also creates a major disadvantage for women who don’t fit within our dominant culture’s rather limited definition of female beauty.” He also notes that some of the women felt intimidated because “their presence—visible from everywhere in the room—made them the immediate center of attention because of how they looked, rather than their role in the company.”
Oh my. While I do think Mr. James makes a valid point, I can’t help but wonder if the turns of the head a woman may experience when she walks into an open area may have more to do with her male colleagues lack of engagement in their work and our generally shorter attention spans and ability to be disrupted.
What do you think?