Recently, a delegate on one of my courses told me that his team had been moved into a windowless, open plan area to allow all the engineers, sales people and project managers to sit together, in a huddle. The sales teams loved it - the engineers hated it.
One reason goes back to Carl Jung’s theory, written in the 1920’s, who postulated that people have different inherent preferences. Some people are energized by interaction with other people, whereas for others, they are drained by it. The so-called extrovert-introvert dichotomy, along with a few other preference traits, is the basis of many personality model profiling systems in the workplace today. While an extroverted preference is more common, it still leaves almost one third of the population who are introverted. Recent brain studies show that neurologically people at these two extremes can have completely different reactions to the same event. People who are more strongly extroverted need higher stimulation to produce the hormone dopamine, that results in feelings of pleasure. Introverts can often have feelings of fear to the same stimulation that excites an extrovert.
But if 2/3rds of the workplace is more extroverted, does that mean open plan is better? Lydia Dishman in a recent blog, highlighted a survey done of 39,000 North American workers, where 95% reported the need for quiet spaces in the office. Maybe the answer is more flexible working conditions where an open plan environment is created for times that collaboration is needed and some quiet areas or even home working is provided when people need peace and quiet to work at their best.