|Employees in open offices complain about increased noise|
and less privacy, researchers say.
A study by researchers at the University of Sydney has found that many employees feel activity-based working environments, which feature open-office plans designed to foster teamwork, are disruptive to their productivity.
Jungsoo Kim, one of the study's authors, said open-office layouts, which have been a growing trend in recent years, have been touted as a way to boost workplace satisfaction and team effectiveness.
"We found people in open-plan offices were less satisfied with their workplace environment than those in private offices," Kim said. "The benefits of being close to co-workers in open-plan offices were offset by factors such as increased noise and less privacy."
The research was based on surveys of more than 42,000 office workers in the United States, Finland, Canada and Australia.
In addition, researchers analyzed a University of California database that measures indoor environment quality in office buildings, factoring in things such as indoor air quality, temperature, lighting, noise, privacy and the amount of space an individual perceives they have.
Researchers said that the data further validated earlier findings that uncontrollable noise and loss of privacy are the main sources of workplace dissatisfaction in open-plan offices.
Kim said open-plan offices dominate modern workplaces, yet there is little solid evidence they improve interaction between co-workers.
The study, co-authored by professor Richard de Dear, was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
Ways to improve the office atmosphere
Disgruntled workers don't have high productivity ratings, but there are many things employers can do to improve the situation -- short of remodeling the entire office.
- Enforce office rules to respect privacy and work hours. Make sure employees know that they should concentrate on their work during office hours instead of interacting with each other unnecessarily.
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- Tell facilities management to monitor the indoor environment closely. Conditions such as temperatures that are too high or too low, humidity that is too high or too low and poor indoor air quality can affect employees' health, well-being and productivity. Listen to their concerns and make the necessary changes.
- Use portable dehumidifiers, heaters and air cleaners where needed. Some offices require extra help, especially when the existing HVAC system is unable to do the job. The air cleaners should have activated carbon, HEPA and possibly UV germicidal filtration for best results. These filters can remove airborne chemicals, particles, odors, fumes, mold, bacteria and viruses.
- Make sure the office is well lit and ventilated.
- Make some private offices or meeting rooms available to workers.