A well-designed open-plan office improves well-being at work and increases efficiency

Press release 48/2015, 22.9.2015

A study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) showed that satisfaction with one’s work environment, well-being at work and work performance improved considerably in an open-plan office when the work environment as a whole had been taken into account in the design stage. Acoustics is not the only important factor in an open-plan office: temperature and ventilation should be also be considered when planning premises.

The traditional problems in open-plan offices, such as the sound of people’s voices and the lack of peace and quiet, are generally well-known. Studies of these offices often examine conditions such as temperature and acoustics as separate factors, but in a real office environment, these are simultaneous features. This was the first study to research offices’ essential conditions; acoustics, temperature and ventilation, at the same time.

Both employer and employee suffer when an open-plan office is poorly designed

According to the study, the performance of workers in a poorly designed open-plan office was as much as seven per cent lower than it could potentially be in a well-planned office. 

 “In a poorly planned office, the performance of work memory decreased in particular; something that plays an essential role in work performance,” says Johanna Varjo, a researcher at FIOH.  

 The study participants’ experiences of the investigated conditions confirmed these results concerning efficiency. The work environment as a whole was considered more positive in an open-plan office in which acoustic solutions muffled unnecessary sounds of workers’ voices, the temperature was neural, and the ventilation sufficient. In contrast, in poorly designed open-plan offices, strain and diminished alertness was reported more often. These employees also reported more symptoms such as headaches and feeling unwell, even though these were mainly mild.

Open-plan offices are space efficient and are considered to improve organizations’ productivity, as colleagues are within easy reach.

“This study shows that if open-plan offices are to fulfil their expectations, they must be planned properly,” Varjo stresses.

“The fact that the design of the offices seemed to have an effect within only a couple of hours of work is significant. We assume that this effect would be even greater if we studied the whole working day. Thus, choosing the right solutions is essential when planning offices,” she continues.

Research in real conditions

The study was carried out in an open-plan office of 12 people at FIOH. Two conditions that clearly differed from each other were compared in respect to room acoustics, temperature and ventilation. The study had 65 participants. The study lasted two hours under both conditions, during which time participants completed different tasks that measured work performance, and answered questionnaires on working conditions and coping at work. The tasks chosen for the study corresponded to general knowledge work carried out in open-plan offices.

This study focused on expert work that requires concentration. It is important to take into account that which the work to be carried out in the office demands of its surroundings already when the office is being planned. For example, work that requires particular concentration and precision is not necessarily adaptable to an open-plan office. Nowadays, many space-efficient multi-space offices are also being built, in which different working spaces are designed to suit different types of tasks.

The study has been published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.08.001

Further  information
Valtteri Hongisto, Senior Researcher, tel. +358 40 585 1888, valtteri.hongisto[at]ttl.fi
Johanna Varjo, Researcher, tel. +358 43 825 3192, johanna.varjo[at]ttl.fi

FIOH researches, develops and specializes in well-being at work, and promotes the health and safety of work and workers’ well-being. It is an independent institution under public law, operating under the administrative branch of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. FIOH has five regional offices, and its headquarters are in Helsinki.

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About Us

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (Työterveyslaitos) researches, develops and specializes in well-being at work. It promotes occupational health and safety and the well-being of workers. It is an independent institution under public law, working under the administrative sector of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. It has five regional offices, and its headquarters are in Helsinki. It employs about 560 people.

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