In a study that should surprise absolutely no one, a paper in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health concludes that occupants of open plan offices take 62% more sick days than those with private offices. (The paper itself is short and can be found here by clicking on the PDF button at the top.)
The first link takes you to a nice summary of the research, its methods, and its results. Even sharing an office with one other person results in a significant increase in sick days. Unless you think that there’s something special about Danish workers, this is devastating to the usual arguments management proffers in support of open plan offices and even argues against their real, hidden reason of cost reduction. If those open plan offices are increasing sick days by 62%, how long will it take to swamp the costs of a proper office buildout?
If you’re a parent with school age children, you see this phenomenon in action everyday. Kids go to school and come home with colds because they’re in the same room as kids who are already sick. Why would you think it would be different just because it’s adults instead of kids and offices instead of schools?