01 March 2018

The psychology of the open plan office

Promoting a collaborative workplace while respecting the need for privacy asks designers to evaluate how the workplace environment influences the users.

Distracting at best and frustrating at worst

A significant body of research articulates the negative influences that open plan offices can play on employee health, in turn increasing employee turnover. Søren Peter Lund, a senior researcher at the Danish National Research Centre for Working Environment explains: “The lack of privacy in an open plan office makes workers feel like they are constantly being watched and the noises around them might be perceived as a threat as well as an intrusion”. 

The acoustic quality of a room is one of the main factors to take into account when designing spaces that are used for both communicative and cognitive tasks.

The behavioural influence of noise

According to Behavioural Specialist Mille Sylvest, noise isn’t just a disturbance that makes it hard to concentrate, but rather it can also impair the motivation for greater productivity and collaboration, potentially undermining the very things it was designed to achieve

“A person’s well-being is closely linked to their level of satisfaction with their own status in an organisation. The quality of the workplace is a proxy marker of that status. So a noisy environment is a low-status one, which negatively affects a person’s well-being and affects a person's behaviour,” says Sylvest.

Coupling collaboration and privacy

Designing offices involves designing for human interaction, supporting collaboration and concentration. As Lennart Nilsson, one of Sweden’s foremost acousticians says: “In offices, the need for good sound absorption is especially high when working in open plan offices and for team work that requires cross-functional conversations”.

Explore how to optimise office acoustics, achieving the best combination of high sound absorption and sound insulation.

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