Fact Sheet: Productivity in Open Workplaces

What do our members say about productivity in open workplaces?

  • In the September 2018 PIPSC Survey on Open Workspaces, 62% of PIPSC members say that compared to their former workspace their productivity and efficiency is worse.[1]​​​
  • Only 6% say the new open space offices improved productivity.[2]
  • Members (81%) who have not moved to new open space office say that they expect a detrimental impact on productivity. [3]
  • 79% of members say they have a harder time focusing and concentrating. [4]

​​​​​​​What does the research say about productivity in open workplaces?

  • A review of over 100 studies of office environments showed that that open offices are damaging to workers’ attention spans, creative thinking, satisfaction and productivity.[5] 
  • Productivity in these environments can suffer due to noise.  Smith and Jackson in their 2009 study demonstrate that noise is tied to reduced cognitive performance, [6] while some workers use music to block out noise - it has been demonstrated that the use of music to block out noise also impairs mental acuity.
  • Other research has demonstrated that exposure to open office noise connected to increased levels of distraction[7] and the ability to recall information.[8]
  • “Shared work environments, and in particular hot-desking, are associated with increases in distraction, negative relationships, uncooperative behaviours and distrust. This may be due to amplified demands in terms of workload in hot desk environments (i.e. finding and personalising a space), in addition to the uncertainly associated with not having an assigned workstation, other increased load from distraction in a shared space.”[9]
  • In a major US workplace survey, researchers found a 6% drop in workplace performance.[10]
    • 53% of employees surveyed were disturbed by others when trying to focus
    • 77% of employees surveyed preferred quiet when they needed to focus and 69% were dissatisfied with noise levels in their primary workspace.

What does your employer say about productivity?

  • The GC Fit Up standards say nothing about productivity or efficiency of work.
  • The GC Workplace Design Guide contains several statements about productivity:
    • “Modern, inspiring spaces equipped with tools to enhance personal productivity and collaboration contribute to attracting and retaining a diverse and talented workforce.”[11]
      • The fit up standards do not specify what these tools are or how departments should consider assessing the need for these.
      • The Workplace Design Guide does refer to “technological tools for sharing ideas and co-creating”.


  • Design Specifications
    • Design should prioritize employee choice and  more space for focused work might be important in some types of workplaces.
    • Ask management in the planning phase if they are considering making any non-compliance requests of PSPC.  A department can make such requests to PSPC according to the GC Fit Up Standards.  If your department makes such a request, please let PIPSC know so we can monitor how these are dealt with.
    • Management should be trained on preventing noise pollution and dealing with complaints.
  • Monitoring
    • Ongoing noise assessments must be performed.  Follow-up action plans must address shortcomings identified in these assessments.
    • Ongoing monitoring and evaluation, through employee feedback.

[1] PIPSC, Workplace 2.0 Survey Analysis: Question 8 (2018) [unpublished, archived at PIPSC Research Section].
[2] IBID.
[3] IBID, Question 12.
[4] IBID, Question 8.
[5] Matthew C. Davis et al., “The Physical Environment of the Office: Contemporary and Emerging Issues,” (2011) 26 International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology
[6] Tonya L.Smith-Jackson & Katherine W.Klein, “Open-plan offices: Task performance and mental workload” (2009) 29(2) Journal of Environmental Psychology, 279-289.
[7] Heidi Rasila & Peggie Rothe, “A problem is a problem is a benefit? Generation Y perceptions of open-plan Offices” (2012) 30 Property Management 362-375; Rachel L. Morrison and Keith A. Macky, “The demands and resources arising from shared office spaces” (2017) 60 Applied Ergonomics 103-115.
[8] Perham, Hodgetts & Banbury “Mental arithmetic and non-speech office noise: an exploration of interference-by-content.” (2013) 15(62) Noise Health73-8; Nick Perham & Martinne Sykora, “Disliked Music can be Better for Performance than Liked Music” (2012) 26(4)  Applied Cognitive Psychology 550-555.
[9] Rachel Morrison & Keith Macky, “The demands and resources arising from shared office spaces” (2017) 60 Applied Ergonomics, 24.
[10] Gensler, “2013 U.S. Workplace Survey: Key Findings” (2013) online: <http:www.gensler.com&gt;.
[11] PSPC, GC Workplace Design Guide, (Ottawa: 2018)  at 6.