August 17, 2017

Better Workplace: Your open space kills productivity

Open spaces look good. Much better than our parents’ small offices or cubicles. For most of us, open space means collaboration, flat hierarchy and productivity. Sorry to bring this up, but it’s actually a myth. Various studies have shown that open spaces actually kill productivity. You will need a different approach to create a better workplace. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

Please take a moment to think about a dynamic, creative and collaborative workplace. Now what do you see? I bet many of you readers will picture an open space. I sure would do as well.

In the past 15 years or so, the open space has become a symbol for collaboration and flat hierarchies. It also has a high cultural meaning. It makes you feel like you work at a start-up. It makes you feel like you have a tighter relationship with your co-workers.

Data beats opinion

There’s a general belief that a workplace designed as an open space fosters collaboration and exchange of information. It’s a nice idea really. But is it true? As we always say at Enigma, data beats opinion. So, what does data say? We collected insights from various studies and papers. Here is what we found out.

  • Everyday, 86 minutes are lost by each employee due to the various disturbances of an open space workplace

  • An open space layout generates 15% loss in productivity for employees

  • Open spaces produce a drop of 32% in workers’ wellbeing

Wow. So long, open space fairy tale!

Better workplace: beyond symbols

What these studies show is simple. Symbols alone won’t create a better workplace. An open space is a symbol. But this symbol doesn’t work. At Enigma, we believe we can create a better workplace. Why is that? Because we don’t focus on architectural space only: we leverage other dimensions as well.

A study published in 2013, shows that giving more choice to employees about their workplace increases focus and effectiveness by 7%. Can’t you imagine? Your workplace remains the same and people are 7% more focused and effective. That makes up for half the damage your open space caused to productivity!


Based on this and other findings we created a new model to help companies create better workplaces. We call this model the Better Spaces Framework.

Better workplace: what are the jobs to be done?

This model is all about generating new ideas. We want to help employees achieve their specific tasks, or “job to be done”. First, they will list all blocking elements: what gets in their way when they try to perform any given task? Second, these blockers are organized into three categories:


  • Behaviors: everything related to human actions

  • Space: architectural elements like rooms, walls, etc.

  • Objects: little objects like plants, headphones and so on

Then employees have to generate ideas of “enablers” using the same categories.

Let’s imagine that Laura has to spend a lot of time on phone calls. The noise of these calls is a blocker for Bob, who has to write down offers for his clients. Of course, Bob’s job needs focus and concentration. And of course, Laura’s job creates noise. So how can you solve this problem? An architect would build walls between Laura and Bob. Takes time and money.

What about buying a pair of noise reduction headphones? It would certainly help Bob enter a focus bubble for as long as he needs. This solution is much faster and cheaper. See? It’s not only about architecture.

The Better Spaces Framework developed by the Enigma Lab
The Better Spaces Framework developed by the Enigma Lab

This simple example shows that complex problems don’t need complex, costly architectural solutions. We can create a real change by understanding behaviors, new cultural aspects or introducing new objects in the workplace too.

Better workplace: bringing people together

Creating a better workplace can’t be the task of a single person. There needs to be a common effort where all stakeholders are to be heard. From managers to janitor, everyone experiences pains at their workplace. So we designed a workshop to help you. With our support you will create conversations and generate innovative ideas for a better workplace. Learn more about our workshop in the video below or visit the Better Spaces Workshop dedicated page.

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