There’s no doubt that the physical work environment has a big impact on productivity and employee satisfaction, and research abounds on this matter. The typical office design has undergone several transformations over the years, going from private offices to Herman Miller cubicles, then onto open-plan layouts, creative offices and the now-trendy coworking spaces. Such transformations are usually driven by a variety of factors: cost-effectiveness, growing/changing number of employees, flexibility, company culture, and so on. But what do the people who work in these offices really want?
As the debate surrounding the effectiveness of the open-office design continues to heat up, we thought we’d check in with office users to get their take on the ideal work environment. According to recent research, roughly 70% of offices in the U.S. boast an open-plan design, but that doesn’t mean that people enjoy working in that type of setting.
We conducted a survey of 2,107 respondents from all around the U.S., asking them about their ideal office layout, the biggest productivity killers, how the office design affects their work, how they interact with coworkers, as well as a few personal details about their age, location, employment and field of work. Keep reading to see what they said.
In an Age of Openness, People Still Crave That Corner Office
Looking back at how the look and feel of workspaces has evolved through the years, the evolution seems cyclical, as Miller’s semi-enclosed cubicle originated in the need for privacy, which back in the early 1960s was just as sought-after an office perk as it is today. Then, as the number of white collar jobs expanded significantly and at a rapid pace, cubicles were no longer the best choice for most companies. Besides the fact that open office designs are less costly than cubicles, they also leave room for flexibility and workforce expansion, while fostering communication and interaction among workers.
However, it seems not everyone is ready or willing to embrace the open-office trend. The results of our survey revealed an interesting, though not entirely surprising, phenomenon: 42.76% of respondents chose the private office as their ideal work environment, and 23% chose the home office. What this shows is that, despite the benefits that the open floorplan provides (such as flexibility, communications, transparency), the ideal workspace for most is still one where they can enjoy privacy. Only 9 to 10% of respondents picked open or coworking spaces as their ideal work environment, while less than 5% said they’d prefer working in a cubicle.
Overall, People Are Happy With Their Current Office, Even if It’s Not Ideal
What we’ve gathered so far from our survey is that most people dream of working remotely or having their own private office where they can enjoy privacy and work without interruptions. Nonetheless, even if they don’t currently work in their ‘dream office,’ they are still quite satisfied with their work environment. We asked respondents to rate how happy they were with their current workspace, on a scale from 1 to 5. Over 50% of respondents said they were happy with their current office layout, while 19% said they were neither happy or unhappy. Though close to 18% of respondents said they were unhappy with their office, overall, people are quite content with their work environment.
How do you feel about your office workspace?
People Don’t Tend to Quit Just Because They Don’t Like the Office Layout
It’s clear, from the results of our survey, that a lot of people aren’t fully satisfied with their current workspace, and that, no matter what type of layout you work in, privacy will always be a concern. Even so, people are aware that there is no such thing as the perfect office, and that if you love your job and enjoy what you do and the rapport you have with your colleagues, sometimes it doesn’t matter how loud or how crowded the office may be. Our survey reiterates this fact: 64% of respondents said they definitely won’t quit their jobs because of the current layout, and 30% said they probably won’t quit. On the other hand, 6% of respondents said they might quit because of their work environment, while less than 1% said they will definitely switch jobs. However, it’s very likely that there are more factors at play when considering a career change, and the office layout might be just one of the things driving people towards a new place of work.
Lack of Privacy is #1 Productivity Killer at Work
One could argue that privacy can be within reach even in an open office environment, as many companies provide quiet rooms or spaces where employees can go to focus on pressing tasks (like Google’s now-famed pods). Nevertheless, research shows that people perform better and are happier at their jobs when they have a dedicated space of their own that they can personalize as they wish, as it creates a sense of belonging. Every individual yearns for control, and in an open-office layout that’s usually difficult to attain, as everything is shared: the space, the lighting, the temperature, the noise level, even one’s time.
We asked office workers which factors tend to impact their productivity in the workplace, and as it turns out, there are a lot of things that can have a big effect on someone’s workflow and well-being at work. Of the 2,107 respondents we surveyed, 64% said the most disruptive factor in the office is being constantly interrupted by coworkers, while 60% of respondents also picked noise as one of the most disturbing factors. Other high-impact factors include lack of and invasion of privacy, poor lighting and air quality and outdated workstations. However, the noise level and constant interruptions are productivity’s worst enemies.
When It Comes to Office Design, Every Detail Matters
In order to extract what companies ought to focus on when designing their office, we asked people to rate the importance of seven crucial factors in the workplace, on a scale from 1 to 5: noise control, privacy, air quality, design, natural light, ergonomic furniture and artificial light. The results suggest that each of these factors are very important in the work environment, as they each affect productivity and wellbeing at work. The one factor that isn’t quite as important, according to our respondents, is artificial light. This should come as no surprise, as artificial (especially fluorescent) lighting can impact productivity and health in a bad way: blue light tends to disturb your the circadian rhythm and affect sleep patterns and sight.
No, It’s Not An Optical Illusion: Your Office Space is Shrinking
As white collar jobs become more prevalent than blue collar jobs, and companies keep adding payrolls and expanding their office footprint, a good way to cut costs is to cut down on personal space. According to The New York Times, the average amount of space per office worker in North America dropped from 225 square feet in 2010 to 176 square feet in 2012–that’s a 49-square-foot loss in just 2 years. And those aren’t even the most recent numbers.
More than 30% of respondents said they currently have between 50 and 99 square feet of personal space at work–that’s well below the expert recommended range of 125 to 225 square feet of space per person. Over 26% of respondents said they have less than 50 square feet of space at their disposal at work, which is a little more than a king-size bed, while on the other end of the spectrum, 15.47% of respondents enjoy over 200 square feet of personal working space. Of course, how much space you have depends on the type of layout at your current job–if you work from the comfort of your own home, you have control over the layout and the amount of space you get. If you work in a cubicle or a shared office, you don’t really have a choice, and everyone around you is in the same boat.
We asked people how much space they think they would need to be comfortable and productive at work, and 37% chose the 50-to-99-square-foot range. Close to 27% of respondents would like to have more than 100 square feet of personal space, but overall, it seems office workers don’t need that much space in order to work efficiently. If you work in an open-office environment, it doesn’t really matter all that much if you have 50 or 90 square feet of space to work with, as more space doesn’t equal less noise or more privacy.
People Are Most Productive Working From Home or in a Private Office
We asked respondents to rate the extent to which they think a certain type of layout could impact their productivity at work. As it turns out, the more open and collaborative the office space, the more it hinders employee productivity: the cubicle and the open-plan layout have the biggest effect on one’s productivity, followed by coworking spaces. Not surprisingly, the private office and the home office are the least distracting, as one has a lot more control.
How You Interact With Others Can Affect Your Productivity
One factor that is at least equally as important as the office layout and overall environment is the relationship among coworkers. How you feel about your job can be heavily influenced by the connection you have with your colleagues and whether you get along; if you have no one to talk or relate to at work, you’ll definitely feel less satisfied with your work life as a whole. Having friends at work can definitely brighten your work week, while having to work with people you wholly dislike can ruin it.
We asked people to rate the interactions they have with some of the most common (and possibly annoying) personalities one has to deal with in the workplace, including ‘The Cubicle Invader,’ ‘The Loud Talker’ and ‘The Gossip.’ Our respondents said the most annoying character at work is ‘The Office Bully.’ It’s not hard to imagine what this character does: the office bully is that person who’s always got something negative to say about basically everything, or someone who feels the need to make others uncomfortable so that he/she can feel superior and in charge. Following close is ‘The Loud Talker;’ in an open-plan setting, there can be multiple loud talkers, which can be really distracting when one is trying to focus and get work done.
Getting to Know Our Respondents
Field of Work
Duration of Employment
We conducted a nationwide survey of 2,107 respondents, asking them about their ideal office space and how the physical work environment and interaction with coworkers affect their productivity. The people who answered our survey are U.S.-based full-time employees of all ages, working in a variety of industries, including software, education, healthcare, finance and insurance, government, arts and entertainment, construction and manufacturing.