The Open-Office Trap – Jan. 7. 2015 New Yorker. Good intentions – bad results.

A Jan. 7, 2015 New Yorker article is entitled: “The Open-Office Trap.”

The article reminds me that When I was at at the University of Toronto in the early 1980s to get my teaching degree, rather than taking a course in Educational Psychology, I did an independent research project on how the architecture of school buildings affects the learning that goes inside of them.

I remember what I learned in the project better than what I learned in other courses.

Among the things that I learned, in the project, is that the open concept classroom doesn’t have a lot going for it especially given the noise levels that you have to deal with in such settings.

The open classroom fad of the 1970s hadn’t yet arrived when I was in elementary school and high school. You had regular classrooms, where you could close the door to keep out the noise from other classrooms.

Jan. 7, 2015 New Yorker article

The open-concept office is no different from the open-concept classroom, with regard to the noise levels that you will encounter. It’s like trying to have a conversation in some restaurants. You at times have to shout to be heard about the noise and music.

Regarding the topic of noise, the Jan. 7, 2015 New Yorker article notes:

“But the most problematic aspect of the open office may be physical rather than psychological: simple noise. In laboratory settings, noise has been repeatedly tied to reduced cognitive performance. The psychologist Nick Perham, who studies the effect of sound on how we think, has found that office commotion impairs workers’ ability to recall information, and even to do basic arithmetic. Listening to music to block out the office intrusion doesn’t help: even that, Perham found, impairs our mental acuity. Exposure to noise in an office may also take a toll on the health of employees. In a study by the Cornell University psychologists Gary Evans and Dana Johnson, clerical workers who were exposed to open-office noise for three hours had increased levels of epinephrine—a hormone that we often call adrenaline, associated with the so-called fight-or-flight response. What’s more, Evans and Johnson discovered that people in noisy environments made fewer ergonomic adjustments than they would in private, causing increased physical strain. The subjects subsequently attempted to solve fewer puzzles than they had after working in a quiet environment; in other words, they became less motivated and less creative.”

[End of excerpt]


The history of the open-concept classroom, and of the open-concept classroom, warrants close study. Good intentions, great theory – bad results.

The October 2014 Harvard Business Review explores these topics from other perspectives, which I found of interest.

The topics include:

  • Spotlight on the 21st-Century Workspace
  • Balancing “We” and “Me”: The Best Collaborative Spaces Also Support Solitude
  • The Transparency Trap
  • Workspaces That Move People


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