Want to Chat with Your Colleagues? Don't Work in an Open Office

iStock
iStock

Open office plans are often touted by companies as a way to encourage interaction among employees, but in practice, open offices are often a lot less collaborative than they’re designed to be. In fact, new research goes so far as to say that they cause people to “socially withdraw,” according to a study spotted by BPS Research Digest.

In the study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Harvard researchers outfitted employees of two major corporations with sensor badges that could analyze their interactions. These badges—containing an infrared sensor, a Bluetooth transmitter, an accelerometer, and a microphone—could sense when employees were facing another person, whether they were speaking or listening (though it didn’t record what they were saying), if they were moving, and where in the office they were standing. The researchers also analyzed the employee’s corporate email and instant messaging data to determine whether people starting using digital communications more after they started working in open offices.

In one study, the researchers examined 52 employees working at a multinational Fortune 500 company that had recently decided to transform one of the floors in its headquarters to an open office. The company moved workers from workspaces with walls to a completely wall-free desk design with a similar layout. The researchers were able to record participants before and after the change.

In a second study, they analyzed 100 employees working in the headquarters of another multinational Fortune 500 company. This company was in the middle of redesigning its offices, too, and the researchers collected data before the redesign, when employees were working in cubicles, and afterward, when they were assigned to work at open desk spaces without dividers.

They found that the redesigns significantly changed how people interacted—and not in the way intended by most open-office advocates. Face-to-face interactions decreased by 70 percent as people began to opt for digital communication methods. Outgoing emails went up by between 20 and 50 percent after the change. “In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM,” the researchers note.

While companies hope to throw all their employees together in a room and create a culture of buzzing collaboration, the results are starkly different. “What they often get,” the researchers write, “is an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can (e.g. by wearing large headphones while appearing to be as busy as possible (since everyone can see them).”

Part of the problem is that in an open layout, even the smallest interactions end up broadcast to the whole office—which is awkward at best, and actively distracting to coworkers at worst. “Rather than have [a face-to-face] interaction in front of a large audience of peers, an employee might look around, see that a particular person is at his or her desk, and send an email.”

While previous research has tested employee satisfaction with open offices (and often found it lacking), this is one of the first studies to find an empirical way to measure how open offices can change social behavior at work.

The open office trend probably isn’t going away anytime soon. Companies may tout the collaboration benefits, but there's another reason they're so popular: Squeezing people together into long desks also helps businesses save on rent. Whether those rent savings balance out the cost of lost productivity is up for debate. But now at least we can say for sure that tearing down walls doesn’t actually get people talking to each other.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

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7 Online Tech Course Programs That Will Help You Build New Career Skills

dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images Plus
dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It's always a good time to build new career skills, and with these tech-related courses, you can learn anything from the basics of Python to the ins and outs of G Suite. These courses will boost your knowledge of the digital world and help you put some valuable new bullet points on your resume. Many of these courses allow you to read through the materials for free, but if you want to take advantage of graded coursework and earn a certificate of completion to include on your LinkedIn profile or resume at the end, there will be a fee of anywhere from $39 to $49.

1. UI/UX Design Specialization

In this four-class specialization on UI/UX design, you’ll discover how to design digital experiences that users can navigate with ease. Over about four months, you’ll learn the basics of visual communication and you’ll be able to practice gathering user feedback to build intuitive, attractive websites and interfaces.

Sign up on Coursera to take all four courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

2. Python for Everybody

Python is quickly gaining ground as one of the most in-demand programming languages for employers. Plus, its fans say it’s highly readable and approachable for new programmers just starting to learn a coding language. If you want to understand the basics of Python, from 101 principles to more advanced database design, these courses will get you started.

Sign up on Coursera to take all five courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

3. Data Science Professional Certificate

Data science is one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In this nine-course professional certificate program, you’ll start by learning basic data science methodology before moving into how to use Python and SQL to analyze and visualize data to forecast future trends. IBM estimates that you’ll complete the entire certificate in about 10 months if you commit four hours per week, but the timing is flexible enough to suit any schedule.

Sign up on Coursera to take all nine courses in this specialization for $39 a month.

4. Computer Architecture

This course, taught by an electrical engineering professor at Princeton, teaches students how to design computer hardware that supports powerful software. But be forewarned: This is an advanced class intended for students with extensive knowledge in computer science. If you’re looking for a beginner-level course, this class—also from Princeton—may be a better fit.

Sign up on Coursera for free.

5. AI for Everyone

If you’re worried that artificial intelligence will drive you out of the workforce, this course will help. Over the course of four weeks, you’ll learn the basics of what is and isn’t possible through AI—and you may even gain some ideas for how to use AI to augment your own career.

Sign up on Coursera for $49.

6. G Suite Administration Specialization

Become a Google Cloud expert with this series of courses put together by Google itself. Over about two months, you’ll learn management tactics and security guidelines for using Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Calendar. This specialization prepares participants to become G Suite administrators at their respective companies and organizations.

Sign up on Coursera to take all five courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

7. Introduction to Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is near the top of the list of skills employers are looking for, according to LinkedIn. In this introductory course, you’ll gain a basic understanding of cloud-based networks and get some practice working with IBM Cloud.

Sign up on Coursera for $49.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.