The 2019 workplace is a potpourri of humanity with everything from 18-year-old entry-level employees to 60-year-olds putting in those final years to maximize Social Security payouts. But when it comes to the open office layout, the differences in generations begins to show themselves.
The results of a new study by executive development firm Future Workplace, and commissioned by Plantronics, Inc., was released last week. It asked 5,000 workers whose companies employ open office layouts, various questions about productivity, camaraderie and general opinions about this 21st century trend. One thing was absolutely certain: open office workstations provide little to no privacy.
Nearly every worker (99%) said they get distracted at the office and, subsequently, become less productive. Whether it's loud talkers or that annoying coworker drumming their fingers, open office layouts reduce privacy and force workers to find ways to keep themselves on track as it relates to their day-to-day responsibilities. When the study is broken down by generations, however, the distinction reveal themselves.
The younger the worker, the more accepting they are to the open office setting. Gen Z (those born after 1996) and Millennials prefer the open office layout at 55% and 56% clips, respectively. Those numbers drop when the sample group is Generation X (47%) and Baby Boomers (38%). Gen Z also reported being more productive in noisy environments (52%) while 60% of baby boomers said they are most productive when its quiet. One-fifth of the Gen Z sample (20%) is also more likely to spend at least half of their days doing something on a smartphones. Only about 7% of Baby Boomers said they do the same.
Jeanne Meister, cofounder of Future Workplace, said in a press release that companies have to take into account the very different working styles of four generations working under one roof. Generation X appears to be the buffer between the younger and older workers, and play a valuable role in bridging the gaps. There are no longer traditional specifications as to what makes an office productive, and companies have to adjust in order to be successful, she said.
There are also generational gaps in how workers deal with distractions. More than one-third (35%) of Gen Z said they use earbuds or headphones to drown-out distractions, while only 16% of Baby Boomer do the same. Gen Z is also more mobile, as 40% move around the office throughout the day to couches, standing desks and other stations. Baby Boomers are far more likely to stay at their primary workstation all day.
Despite generational differences in some aspects, the open office layout has many universal gripes. More than 70% of all respondents said they would be more willing to work in the office versus working remotely, if employers would find a way to reduce distractions. One commonly proposed solution was upgrading technology.
More than half (56%) of respondents said that all employers must do is provide the right hardware (i.e. noise-cancelling headphones) to eliminate distractions. Another commonly cited solution was quiet rooms. The open office layout is the wave of the 21st century. But companies simply need to create spaces for researchers, writers and others who immerse themselves in their work so they are not distracted by the general office noise.
The survey spanned 11 countries from March 18 to 26. All employees worked a minimum of three full days in the office every week.