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Is the open-plan office green?

There is an ongoing debate among office managers, workers and designers. Which is a better office plan? The open-plan office or the enclosed office?

An open-plan office is the generic term used in designing any floor plan making use of open spaces with minimal areas allotted for enclosed offices. On the other hand, an enclosed office plan is an office space that uses walls and partitions to create separate areas for workers.

Negative issues on open-plan offices

One research reveals that open-plan offices are unfavorable for employees' wellbeing. They are often stressed out, and productivity and creativity suffer due to the lack of privacy.

The studies concluded that instead of encouraging collaboration and conversation, wall-free office workers tend to be less productive since employees can get easily distracted by noise from other workers.

Positive issues of open-plan offices

Others noted that the research used some poor examples of open offices-instead of including a range of design options between totally open-plan offices and traditional ones.

Another study measured the response of workers in private offices, cubicles and open seating in several buildings and equipped them with stress and activity sensors for three days and two nights. They also used a mobile app to report how stressed they were on an hourly basis.

The results were surprising. Workers in open offices were 32 percent more physically active at their jobs than the employees in private offices, and 20 percent more active than the people working in cubicles.

Employees in the open-plan offices had the highest level of activity, which was directly related to lower physiological stress levels. Apparently, they got up and moved around the office a lot more.

Physiological stress is an organism's response to a stressor such as an environmental condition. Stress is the body's method of reacting to a condition such as a threat, challenge or physical and psychological barrier.

Open-plan offices promote physical activity levels at work by avoiding too much sitting and doing little exercise which is bad for one's health.

Employee wellness programs have become a staple in many companies today to attract top talent, keep them happy and productive, and decrease employee turnover. Open offices promote wellness and make employees more active with lower stress levels.

Green and healthy office

Since open offices have fewer partitions, it's easier to distribute lighting and ventilation at lower quantities with less equipment making it less costly to maintain. Daylight and natural ventilation circulate more easily, thus lowering its dependence on costly electrical systems.

Less walls in the offices mean direct views of the outdoors. Views of nature or access to daylight can replenish conscious intellectual activity even amid distractions. It also adds a sense of positivity.

Open offices also significantly promote enhanced physical activity resulting in much reduced physiological and perceived stress compared to cubicles or private offices.

Effect of office design on workers

Designers should design offices to allow people to be more active, that will result in better health and lower stress.

Every office needs a place where employees can talk and be honest and direct, which needs some level of privacy. Office layouts can be categorized by teams and work functions.

In the United States alone, illnesses related to workplace behavior cost more than $225 billion a year. Workplace rudeness, for example, can affect your bottom line if a rude employee transmits that negativity to your customers. The Harvard Business Review article that 25 percent of employees admitted taking out their frustration on the customers, either intentionally or unintentionally.

We have our own share of workplace behavior costs. Perhaps we can reflect on how we design our offices to consider its effect on our workers.

We need to design offices that are flexible and incorporate a wider range or type of spaces, such as open and closed meeting rooms, private work zones and break out areas, which all means that open-plan offices offer more alternative areas.

Offices can address acoustic concerns by breaking up the open floor space with huddle rooms or moveable barriers like white boards. Audible distractions can be minimized with ceiling fixtures like acoustical clouds, fabric surfaces and sound-masking speakers.

The author is the principal architect of A.P de Jesus and Associates-Green Architecture, and vice chair and COO of the Philippine Green Building Initiative. For comments or inquiries, email
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Nov 10, 2018
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