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The Open Office Plan is Making Employees Worry How They Walk

Ah, the cubicle. It was like a closet where employees could hide all day long. But now cubicles are going the way of the dodo -- leaving employees feeling exposed, and striking a pose.

Researchers at UK's Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Bedfordshire spent three years following a group of 1,000 employees as they moved from a compartmentalized departmental setting to an open office environment. As the employees transitioned to an office where all eyes were on them, all the time, their behavior began to change.

As one of the lead researchers explains:

Lead author Dr Alison Hirst, of Anglia Ruskin University, said: "When changing from a more closed, compartmentalised [sic] office space to a new open-plan, transparent and fluid working space, office workers were more conscious of their visibility and often found this unsettling rather than liberating.

"Women in particularly [sic] felt anxious about the idea of being constantly watched, and felt they had to dress in a certain way. However, there was also evidence that workers felt more equal as everybody was more approachable in an open space. It was also seen by some as a chance to dress more smartly and fulfil [sic] a new identity."

Instead of sparking the employees' creativity, the open office environment was making them highly self-conscious! Not only did they behave and dress differently, they began to walk differently, too. They displayed a more "assertive gait" as they bounded from one side of the open office environment to the other. They suddenly walked like they were going somewhere important, or coming back from somewhere even more important. Walk this way, talk this way, just give me a list of potential vendors.

Let's walk this workplace runway like we mean it, people!


Excessive posturing in the open office environment makes sense when you stop power posing long enough to think about it. All the workplace is a stage now. Combine this stage-like feel with the age of social media where your co-workers are constantly cultivating an image, and every day at work is like watching a cast of characters enter stage left to run their lines.

Use your keen powers of observation to pick up on this delicate dance of daily departmental-free dysfunction. Does the plot work? How about the character development and dialogue? Dare to be different, too. That is, just be yourself. The world needs more people who aren't trying to put on an image. Except when we're power posing by the copier at work because everyone in the office can see us, that is.

The study appears in the journal Gender, Work and Organization.


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