The open office was originally conceived by a team from Germany, in the 1950's, to facilitate communication and idea flow. This concept has re-emerged with vengeance as a proposed solution to make Millennials feel more collaborative, inspired, connected, and empowered.
In 2012, Heidi Rasila and Peggie Rothe looked at how employees of a Finnish telecommunications company, born after 1982, reacted to the negative effects of open-office plans. They noted that young employees found certain noises (such as conversations and laughter) just as distracting as their older counterparts did. The younger workers also criticized their lack of privacy and an inability to control their environment. It is important to note that participants in this study said that ultimately all the distractions were a worthy trade-off for the camaraderie they had with co-workers.
In a 2005 study that analyzed organizations ranging from a Midwest auto supplier to a Southwest telecom firm, researchers found that the ability to control environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction. When workers couldn’t change the way things looked, adjust the lighting and temperature, or choose how to conduct meetings, morale spiraled downward.
Instead of hiring a designer to remove your offices and place the CEO's desk next to the entry level accountant (to demonstrate a "united organization"), think about how your organization can infuse controlled collaboration/camaraderie into the workplace. We have seen our clients use all-hands meeting, small group task forces, special project units, or a themed company lunch to inspire collaboration and camaraderie. It isn't always about being seen/heard, so much as it is about feeling like ideas have impact.