Is Your Open Office Making Your Employees Sick?

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An open floor plan has been the defining characteristic of modern offices. Peek inside the most robust companies today, and you won’t see the good old cubicles anymore.

In terms of aesthetics, the floor layout has the hip and cool look that primarily appeals to millennials, the biggest chunk of the workforce today. In terms of functionality, it encourages collaboration among employees (or at least that’s the idea). But in real life, on the ground, it also has a lot of drawbacks.

In one study, researchers attributed to open-plan layouts the higher incidents of sick days among employees. Just how exactly? Because of these drawbacks:

It spreads diseases easier

Did you know that a single cough spews about 3,000 droplets of saliva, each possibly containing a million virus particles? Sneezes are even worse. They create about 40,000 droplets, which can land on different surfaces, on the table, your laptop or someone’s well-ironed shirt.

The viruses can survive for hours, even days, which greatly increase the risk of disease. In open-plan offices, where no barriers are restricting the spread of such, it’s easier for employees to share infections and illnesses.

This doesn’t mean diving deep into a major overhaul of your office layout though. What you need is to improve office hygiene. Schedule regular clean-ups. Consider professional janitorial services in Kansas City to make sure that tricky areas in your office, like carpets, windows and equipment, are taken care of. Roll out a policy for employees on how they should keep their personal workstations clean.

It creates visual pollution

One of the advantages of open-plan offices can ironically be a disadvantage, too. Leaders take pride in the fact that their workplace promotes collaboration, as it allows employees to check in on each other easily, given that there are no physical barriers.

On the flip side though, this also increases distractions. When you see something happening out of the corner of your eye, you can’t help but look. It’s somewhat a natural reflex. This adds to the stress of your employees, processing so many information all at the same time. Over time, this can contribute to fatigue, burnout and more sick days.

In traditional offices, cubicles serve as blinders to distractions beside, behind and in front of them. Now, you can recreate something like that in your open office. You may use frosted glass partitions to limit sightlines, and still keep the open, airy look of the workplace.

It highlights noises

woman wearing a headphone with speaker in an open office

Irrelevant sounds are more apparent in open-plan offices, precisely because there are no barriers to cushion such. Your employees are dealing with a hodgepodge of sounds, from fingers hitting the keyboard and high heels strutting in the hallway to a colleague bantering or arguing with a client over the phone. All these can lead to increased stress and inability to focus on tasks.

Avoid the listener fatigue by dampening sounds in your office. Install acoustic panels on your walls. Use carpets for your floors. Introduce plants to the space. All these can help reduce noises. You may also dedicate a quiet zone dedicated for employees wanting to find some silence.

Open-plan offices are great—until they make your employees sick. If your workers have been taking time off more frequently lately since you moved into your new workplace, perhaps it’s time to change things up in your space.

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