The Closedness of Open Workspace: How Open-plan Offices Limit the Diversity of Job Applicants

Saerom (Ronnie) Lee and Matthew Bidwell, Management, The Wharton School; Sunkee Lee, Carnegie Mellon University

Abstract: Using two complementary labor market experiments, this study plans to explore the effect of an organization’s “open-plan office” (where employees share a common workspace with minimal spatial boundaries) on the diversity of its applicant pool. In line with recent studies, companies, especially high-tech startups, have increasingly adopted this office design to spur innovation by fostering serendipitous interactions and interpersonal learning among their existing employees. However, we argue that open-plan offices can be detrimental to innovation by reducing the diversity of prospective employees. In particular, because this office design reduces privacy, increases informal oversight by peers, and escalates in-group vs. out-group social dynamics, it can dissuade experienced, female, and racial-minority job seekers from applying and joining the organization.