RESEARCH SUMMARY DETAIL

Supporting Collaboration in the Workplace through Spatial Layout

Author's Title: Workplace Collaborative Space Layout Typology and Occupant Perception of Collaboration Environment
Author(s) Name: Ying Hua, Vivian Loftness, Robert Kraut, and Kevin M. Powell
Year of Publication: 2010
Search Related Keywords: Acoustics  Behavior and Operations  Crowding  Office  Social Interaction and Neighboring  Worker 

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Design Issue
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This study examined how the layout and location of formal and informal collaborative spaces in office settings impacts office workers’ level of distraction and perception of how well the environment supports collaboration.


  • Previous research on how the physical work environment impacts behavior has primarily focused on individual workstations rather than the overall layout of the space (Rashid et al., 2006).
  • Both collaborating with groups and completing tasks individually with minimal distraction are important to office workers’ overall work performance.
  • Effective collaboration is a critical element for successful organizational performance, highlighting the need to identify floor plans that are most conducive to supporting collaborative behaviors in office workers.
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Design Criteria
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Author Identified:
  • Locate meeting spaces close to clusters of workstations to increase perceived support for collaboration in open-office environments. Assure that such spaces are appropriately enclosed to prevent noise from distracting occupants of nearby workstations.
  • Dedicate specific spaces for services (e.g., copiers) and amenities (e.g., refrigerators) in open-plan offices as opposed to housing them in random spaces (e.g., extra workstations) to isolate noise-generating activities. Additionally, assure that sufficient floor space is dedicated for service areas to encourage casual interactions to take place away from workstations.
  • Consider uniformly distributing clusters of different types of spaces (e.g., workstations, informal meeting areas, formal meeting areas) throughout an open-office to most effectively support collaborative work as opposed to randomly distributing them or creating a central hub.

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Key Concepts
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  • Formal meeting spaces distributed around the core and distributed both around the core and in the corners were perceived to support more collaboration and create less distraction than other layouts.
  • dedicated space for service areas (e.g., copy rooms) were perceived to support more collaboration and create less distraction than service spaces located in main circulation areas or vacant workstations.
  • Although amenity areas (e.g., kitchen areas) located in a dedicated space in the core of the building were perceived to support collaboration and create a low level of distraction, results were not as significantly different from other layout types as they were for formal meeting spaces and service areas.
  • Shorter distances from individual workstations to the nearest formal meeting space, longer distances from individual workstations to a shared kitchen/coffee area, and a larger percentage of floor space dedicated to shared service and amenity areas were all associated with more perceived support for collaboration. Shorter distances from individual workstations to shared service areas and layouts with less floor space dedicated to service and amenity areas were associated with more perceived distraction.
  • variables found to have a significant impact on perceived collaboration were related to both office space layout and individual workstations (distance to nearest coworker, workstation density). However, variables found to have a significant impact on perceived distraction were only related to office space layout.
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Research Method
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  • Workplace settings (27) in office buildings (11) in different U. S. cities (8) were used as the study sites.
  • Distances from individual workstations to the nearest formal meeting area, service area, and amenity area and percentage of floor space dedicated to meeting spaces and shared service and amenity spaces were measured based off the best available floor plans and walk-throughs by an expert. Openness was calculated based off the number of open-office cubicles out of the total number of workstations in the setting.  Workstation-scale variables (i.e., workstation size, partition height, distance to the nearest coworker, workstation density, and the presence of a door on the workstation) were also measured. Additional spatial characteristics (e.g., level of enclosure, presence of technology, furnishings and arrangements) were also noted.
  • Office workers (308) completed a questionnaire collecting data about their satisfaction with different physical qualities of collaborative spaces (e.g., size, location, enclosure). These items were divided into two categories – perceived workplace support of collaboration and perceived workplace impact on distraction from other workers. Office workers also indicated where they preferred to do collaborative work and have casual interactions in their work environment.
  • descriptive statistics, factor analysis, p-values, ANOVA, correlation analysis, and regression analysis were used to analyze the data.
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Limitations
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  • Results were based on self-reported data which is subject to inherent limitations.
  • Although casual conversations can take place in circulation areas, they were not addressed in this study.
  • A significant amount of the variation between different office layouts and perceived workplace support for collaboration was not explained by variables in this study.
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Commentary
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Tables and graphs of data, including sketched diagrams of workplace setting layouts were included. Future research employing observational and behavioral mapping methods to measure collaboration, collaboration performance data, an expanded occupant survey that includes features of individual workstations, more organizational variables, and space syntax methods to measure floor plan integration was recommended.



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Adapted From
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Author(s): Ying Hua, Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Vivian Loftness, School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA; Robert Kraut, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA; and Kevin M. Powell, Office of Applied Science, U. S. General Services Administration, Washington DC
Article Title: Workplace Collaborative Space Layout Typology and Occupant Perception of Collaboration Environment
Publisher: Pion, Ltd.
Publication: Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design
Publication Type: Refereed Journal
Date of Publication: 2010
Funder/Sponsor: Funder/Sponsor of Research: US General Service Administration
ISSN: 0265-8135
Volume: 37
Issue: 3
Pages: 429-448