RESEARCH SUMMARY DETAIL

Individuals' Responses to Open-Plan Office Design

Author's Title: Individual Differences in Employee Reactions to Open-Plan Offices
Author(s) Name: Alena Maher and Courtney von Hippel
Year of Publication: 2005
Search Related Keywords: Acoustics  Code Requirements/Regulations/Standards and Analysis  Cognition/Perception  Corporate  Crowding  Environmental Control  Environmental Health  Mental/Cognitive/Learning  Office  Personal/Individual Needs and Factors  Productivity and Performance  Proxemics  Sensory Responses  Space Allocation and Standards/Office Move  Worker 

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Design Issue
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This study examined how employees reacted to open-plan offices in Sydney, Australia.
  • Previous research suggests that workplace characteristics (e.g., noise, lighting, space allocation) affect employee behavior, perceptions (e.g., satisfaction), and productivity.
  • As open-plan offices become more common, it is increasingly important to understand the their positive and negative effects on workers.
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Design Criteria
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Author Identified:
  • Be aware that employees may dislike open-plan office designs, especially those who feel crowded or perform complex tasks.
  • Be aware that while high partitions provide visual privacy and increase perceived privacy, they may not adequately block sound transmissions. High partitions may decrease satisfaction with cubicle workspace because noise may be more obtrusive when it is inconsistent with visual expectations.

InformeDesign Identified:
  • Include acoustic buffers or controls when including partitions in an office.
  • Consider differences in individual abilities to focus on work in distracting settings (inhibitory and stimuli screening ability) and differences in job complexity when allocating workspaces.
  • Consider providing dedicated, enclosed, sharable work space within open-space offices that employees can use to work with reduced distractions.
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Key Concepts
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  • Conventional workplaces often provided closed, private offices for employees. Open-plan offices minimize floor-to-ceiling walls and internal boundaries and may include cubicles or partitioned workspaces (Zalesny & Farace, 1987).
  • Open-plan offices have been found to have both positive effects (e.g., increased employee communication and interaction, flexibility, ability to house more employees, reduced set-up and renovation times) and negative effects (e.g., increased noise, distractions, and perceived crowding, decreased privacy).
  • Previous research suggests that employees prefer high levels of privacy (e.g., enclosure) and may be dissatisfied with open-plan offices, especially when there is high density, intrusions, and sources of excessive stimulation (Oldham & Rotchard, 1983).
  • Stimulus screening is the ability to reduce the stress of environmental stimuli by prioritizing and focusing on important information; inhibitory ability is the ability to block out distractions.
  • subjects with low inhibitory ability reported lower job satisfaction when perceived privacy was low and task complexity was high. subjects with high stimulus screening had higher performance and job satisfaction scores. subjects with low screening ability reported lower job satisfaction when perceived privacy and task complexity were high.
  • Privacy had inconsistent effects on affect task performance and job satisfaction.
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Research Method
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  • subjects (109; 60 males) were from a large municipal council (54) and an international architecture and design firm (61), both with open-plan workplace designs, in Sydney, Australia. sample groups were similar in employee characteristics (e.g., job levels, education, age); non-native English speakers were excluded.
  • subjects completed confidential questionnaires on screening ability (10 items from the Stimulus Screening scale—Mehrabian, 1977), perceptions of the work environment (e.g., task demands, perceived privacy), job satisfaction (items from the Job Diagnostic survey—Hackman & Oldham, 1975), and demographic information.
  • The Stroop test (1935), used to measure inhibitory ability, was administered one-on-one at each site.
  • Some subjects (86) received performance ratings on three common tasks and overall performance by managers.
  • Measures for objective privacy (e.g., number and height of partitions, workspace allocation, spatial density) were collected.
  • Hierarchical linear and moderated regression analyses and ANOVA and were used to analyze the data.
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Limitations
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  • Performance evaluations by managers were not performed for all subjects and evaluation results were similar.
  • Some sources of distraction in the open-plan office may not have been measured.
  • Behavioral tactics to avoid distractions (e.g., relocation to quiet space, use of headphones) may have affected the findings.
  • The study design did not include a comparison group (i.e., closed-office layout).
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Commentary
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The authors suggested further research on the affects of inhibitory ability on attitudinal and behavioral responses to workplace designs, with objective measures for job performance and complexity, controls for employee behavior tactics that minimize distractions, and comparisons results for closed- and open-office layouts.

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Adapted From
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Author(s): Alena Maher and Courtney von Hippel, School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Article Title: Individual Differences in Employee Reactions to Open-Plan Offices
Publisher: Elsevier Science
Publication: Journal of Environmental Psychology
Publication Type: Refereed Journal
Date of Publication: 2005
ISSN: 0272-4944
Volume: 25
Issue: 5
Pages: 219-229