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Academic Paper Critiques Large Open Plan Offices

Academic Paper Critiques Large Open Plan Offices
30 June 2021

A new paper examines the relationship between office workers’ visual control over their environment and their performance at work.

The paper, "Differential perceptions of teamwork, focused work and perceived productivity as an effect of desk characteristics within a workplace layout", discusses open-plan offices and critiques large office spaces.

The study finds that office workers with more visual control over their environment rated their focus, productivity and teamwork more highly.

As companies and workers navigate ways of returning to the workplace, the findings may help employers rethink how and where employees work, and how office spaces function and impact their teams’ experiences of their professional environment.



Picture: a figure showing an annotated floor plan of the four floors of office accommodation that were included in the study


Four Floors of International Tech Company Studied


The study was carried out in spring 2018 when Sailer, Pachilova and Koutsolampros studied four floors of the London headquarters of a large international technology company. In a staff survey, they reviewed workers’ satisfaction with workspaces and meeting rooms, along with a floorplan and the seating positions of all participants.

Participants were asked in an online questionnaire to provide their seat asset number, which was found on a sticker on their desk. The researchers received a floor plan marked with those numbers, and the seat categorisation (mid-row, next to wall, next to window, next to corridor). Visible areas from desk positions were analyzed using space syntax techniques,calculating the visible area from a specific vantage point.



Picture: a figure showing all spatial metrics illustrated for a sample desk and area, including : a) Degree; b) Density (Degree/Area 360°); c) Outdegree; d) Control (Isovist area 170°/Isovist area 360°); e) Seat types A-D. 


Workers seated beside windows, facing the room with a small number of desks in their field of vision, regarded themselves as more productive and focused and felt more connected to their teams. Some of the factors that negatively impacted how workers rated their environment included a high number of desks in their fields of vision and facing away from the main space with people behind them. The paper suggests counteracting these factors by designing smaller, more intimate workspaces where workers can see their colleagues.


What Were the Other Outcomes?


  • The higher the number of desks in someone’s forward-facing view, the less likely for the environment to be considered supportive of team identity, sharing information, meeting others in planned ways, concentrating on tasks and working productively.
  • A seat next to the wall was perceived as less favourable for productive work than a seat next to the window.
  • Satisfaction with the workplace varies since it depends on the characteristics of a desk and the spatial qualities associated with visible fields.

Published in PLoS journal, the paper is authored by Dr Kerstin Sailer, Dr Rosica Pachilova and Dr Petros Koutsolampros.

Dr. Sailer teaches at The Bartlett School of Architecture’s Space Syntax Laboratory on the Space Syntax: Architecture and Cities MSc/MRes programme.  Her co-authors, Dr Rosica Pachilova and Dr Petros Koutsolampros, both completed their PhDs at The Bartlett, supervised by Kerstin.

Picture: a photograph of an open-plan office with rows of occupied desks

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 30 June 2021


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