Jobs and the Future of Work

This is the latest on whether open plan offices are a good or bad thing

A cup of tea is seen on an office table at the Tregothnan Estate near Truro in Cornwall January 15, 2013. Tregothnan is bucking an historic trend by growing tea in England and exporting almost half of it abroad, including to tea-growing nations like China and India. Owned by a descendant of 19th century British Prime Minister Charles Grey, after whom the Earl Grey tea blend was named, the Tregothnan estate has been selling tea since 2005 and currently produces around 10 tonnes a year of tea and infusions. Picture taken January 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN - Tags: SOCIETY FOOD BUSINESS)ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 20 OF 26 FOR PACKAGE 'SELLING BRITISH TEA TO CHINA'. SEARCH 'BRITISH TEA' FOR ALL PICTURES

The impact on stress and productivity. Image: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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Workers in open office seating experience less daytime stress and greater daytime activity levels compared to workers in private offices and cubicles, according to a new study.

That greater physical activity at the office is related to lower physiological stress during after-work hours outside the office, researchers say. This is the first known study to investigate the effects of office workstation type on these objective measures.

“…office design, driven by office workstation type, could be an important health-promoting factor…”

The researchers evaluated 231 people who work in federal office buildings and wore stress and activity sensors around the clock for three workdays and two nights. The intent was to evaluate the workers’ activity and stress levels both inside and outside of the office environments.

Workers in open bench seating arrangements were 32 percent more physically active at the office than those in private offices and 20 percent more active than those in cubicles, according to the study. Importantly, workers who were more physically active at the office had 14 percent less physiological stress outside of the office compared to those with less physical activity at the office.

“This research highlights how office design, driven by office workstation type, could be an important health-promoting factor,” says senior author Esther Sternberg, research director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

Image: Occupational and Environmental Medicine Journal

Office workers are at a particularly high risk for low levels of physical activity and the associated poor health outcomes. According to a 2015 report that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published, workplace-related illnesses cost the US economy more than $225 billion a year.

“Objective measurements using wearable sensors can inform policies and practices that affect the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of office workers worldwide,” says lead author Casey Lindberg, a research associate at the Institute on Place, Wellbeing, and Performance.

Bijan Najafi, director of Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in Texas, says it is satisfying to know that his work on wearable devices to measure stress and activity can help improve health and well-being for millions of office workers.

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The study adds an objective voice to an ongoing debate about how best to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of open seating designs to optimize worker health.

Researchers from Aclima Inc. and the Baylor College of Medicine contributed to the work.

The US General Services Administration, which owns and leases more than 370 million square feet of space that houses more than 1 million federal employees, funds the program under which the researchers completed their work.

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