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Does Office Design Affect How You Work?

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In a word, yes, office design does affect how you work, but how and to what degree?

This is a more complex question than first meets the eye, as how one handles themselves in an office can be due in part to both the personality of the individual working in the office, as well as the culture of the business. An employer’s vision of their company can affect how they design their offices and the sort of working environment they wish to foster; the design of the office often reflects the culture of the company.

There are two basic types of office, open and closed, and there are many arguments as to which one is best. Before we go into the pros and cons of open and closed offices, however, there are four basic considerations for any office being conducive to productive work: noise, air quality and circulation, and colour, and temperature.

Noise is perhaps the biggest complaint among workers, alongside temperature. Road and building works in the surrounding area, repetitive tapping of keyboards, solid floors, continually-ringing telephones... The list of headache-inducing noises is endless. Hence, sound-absorbing materials / furniture, carpeting over solid floors such as tiling or wood and echo-reducing ceilings are considerations to take in any office plan.

Keeping an eye on the thermostat, opening up the windows (and making sure there are windows in the first place - natural light is better than artificial light), ergonomic seating, humidity controllers and proper colour scheming of the office environment are also things to consider. After all, it is likely a person will be spending anything between one quarter and one half of their days in an office, and a badly-designed office which does not take these things into consideration may well find its workers getting ill. Therefore, the office design in Being John Malkovich should be avoided at all costs.

Now, for the pros and cons of office types open v closed.

Closed offices are considered “old school” nowadays, with their cubicles and separated workstations. However, just because the closed office is “old school”, doesn't mean that it is not functional. Many workers actually prefer closed-office types, as there are fewer distractions when doing work, and can give the feeling of autonomy within a particular space within the company. Depending on the type of job, the closed office is still a popular design, quite often useful for those who do “knowledge work”, where fewer distractions and noises are needed for reflection, thinking and concentration.

The open office on the other hand, is great for companies and / or particular roles where communication and interaction are critical elements of the work. Seeing other people and being able to read colleagues’ body language can also have particular psychological benefits by preventing the feeling of alienation. Frequent and non-organised communication (i.e. communication without the need for a formal meeting) is key to the open-office design, where team bonding and the ability to ask colleagues questions quickly is paramount to the success of the business.

Of course, there can be a need to strike a balance between the two office types, and many companies use radical and cutting-edge office designs. Perhaps the most popular example is the Google office, identifiable by their mixture of open-office spaces and personal “pods”, often kitted out with comfortable seating spaces and unusual designs. The Google office is an area to think in. Facebook meanwhile, has a completely open office, filled with books, comfortable living room-style seating and items which reflect their employees’ hobbies. Closer to England is the Base One Group office, which marries open-plan space with meeting and presentation areas for clients and designers. These companies employ distinctive designs which reflect the ethos and products they provide. Moreover, these companies realise the importance of stimulating the minds of their workers.

In the end, though, there will always be one question remaining; does the worker and their personality affect their environment, or does the environment shape the worker? Maybe it’s a mixture of the two, and it is up to the individual to decide how much of an overlap there is between them.


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