Human responses to the office work environment

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  • Human responses to the office work environment

    This project assessed personal preference of an environ- ment through interviews and observations of each individual employee and his or her work task. The architect, Sam Sloan aimed to apply the principles of proxemics or the study of positions and distances between people to the redesign of the office at the Australian Mutual Provident Insurance Society (AMP) with the existing furniture so that the relationship between staff members and the environment would be improved.

    An attempt was also made to visually articulate the office space and enhance it in comparison with the open spaces which existed before. Twelve months after the spatial modifications a team from the Architectural Psychology Research Unit at the University of Sydney investigated this changed office arrangement. The results were compared with an identical office in the same building that had not been changed thus proving that certain aspects of increased satisfaction could be attri- buted to the physical design change.

    PROJECT

    This project, conducted in Sydney, Australia, entailed the modification of an office layout based on personal preference in order to achieve increased staff satisfaction and performance. A follow-up evaluation was conducted of the clerical staff's attitudes and performance and was compared with a similar office layout that had not undergone any spatial modification.

    The project was undertaken by Sloan as part of the Australian-American Fullbright study programme in conjunction with the University of Sydney. ~ The post- occupancy evaluation study was conducted by the I.B. Fell Research Centre, University of Sydney. 2

    CLIENT

    The Australian Mutual Provident Insurance Society of

    Sydney, Australia, was interested in the effectiveness of applying personal satisfiers to the determination of the working environment. The New South Wales Branch allowed the testing, observation and modification of three departments in their Sydney Cove Office Building. The Department of Group and Collector New Business, Department of Agency Accounts, and Department of Ordinary Statistics provided 97% of their clerical staff for the initial study. The Agency Accounts Department was chosen for the office modification.

    PROCESS

    The Australian Mutual Provident Insurance Society employs 1,400 people in numerous floors of open plan offices. In the Agency Accounts Department Sloan observed and recorded over 2,000 conversations, most of which (65%) took place within the work station and the majority (94%) within the department, suggesting a high degree of internal interaction. Based on the study of proxemics developed by Hall, people's activities in the immediate environment in terms of interactions, posi- tioning and distancing were observed and documented through the use of the data notation sheets shown in Figure 1.3 The results of these observations indicate that the body orientation preferred by most AMP workers during conversation is quite close and directly facing the conversant. Many of the interactions took place with only 18 inches separating the conversants while for the majority of the time the two conversants were directly facing each other.

    In the office environment 62% of the conversations occured when individuals were seated at their desk while business conversations were conducted at a closer range than social conversations. In most conversations observed, both conversants used direct eye contact to reinforce communication with very few indications of body or tactile contact between conversants. It was observed that Australian business people seldom shake

    Vol 6 No 4 October 1985 0142-694X/85/04203-06 $03.00 (~ 1985 Butterworth & Co (Publishers) Ltd 203

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    hands when they part company and only during formal introductions will they shake hands when they are introduced.

    Territoriality in the workplace refers to the proper spacing and orientation of work stations or desks in order to protect against over-exploitation of that part of the environment belonging to each worker. Quite often

    office workers will use charts and equipment such as typewriters to define their territory although many are bothered by external noise and visual activity as they attempt to work. While many of them expressed an interest in small group territories, 30% indicated a strong individual requirement for definition of their own territory.

    204 DESIGN STUDIES

  • Observations charting the degree of friendliness of each office worker to others measured their degree of sociability which was highly correlated with the frequen- cy and duration of interactions. Office staff were also asked to indicate with which people in the department they most enjoyed working or conversing, from this the social leaders emerged.

    Graphs were then prepared (see Figure 2) to establish average ratings in each characteristic. It was observed that the requirements for territoriality, sociability and aggressiveness varied widely from person to person where the patterns varied considerably as well.

    The challenge to develop a work environment that reflected personal preferences and social requirements influenced the development of a categorization system based on the range of personal characteristics. It was also

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    evident that there existed a need to identify pertinent environment requirements that matched personal charac- teristics before attempting to alter the environment. Therefore, a categorization of administrative and clerical staff was developed for the case study with two adminis- trative categories and eight clerical categories.

    Personal characteristics Environmental require- ments

    (A1) Unsociable, territorial

    (A2) Sociable, territorial

    (C 1) Sociable, aggressive territorial

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    Vol 6 No 4 October 1985 205

  • (C2)

    (C3)

    (C4)

    (C5)

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    (C7)

    Sociable, unaggresive territorial Sociable, unaggressive non-territorial Sociable, aggressive non-territorial Unsociable, aggressive territorial Unsociable, unaggres- sive territorial Unsociable, unaggres- sive non-territorial

    active desk, secluded entry, defined limits active desk secluded entry, undefined limits active desk, open entry, undefined limits passive desk, controlled entry, defined limits passive desk, secluded entry, defined limits passive desk, secluded entry, undefined limits

    (C8) Unsociable, aggressive non-territorial

    passive desk, controlled entry, undefined limits

    PROGRAMME

    Designing with the developed categorical requirements, cloth fabric panels were suspended from the ceiling to subdivide the open space of the department into smaller identifiable spatial entities relating to work groups and social enclaves, (Figures 3 and 4). A wide carpet strip was

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    ~~~ Figure 3. Before arrangement of desks and working spaces in Department of Agency Accounts

    206 DESIGN STUDIES

  • BEFORE

    The arrangement of desks and working spaces in the department of Agency Accounts was typical of all major departments visited in the Sydney Cove Office Building. Desks were arranged in straight rows facing one direction. The department manager was located at the front of the rows with a glass partition wall viewing the clerical area. The deputy depart- mental manager was t'ocated at the back of the department also viewing the clerical area. Files were scattered around the perimeter of the space; and the department had three separate small entrances.

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    AFTER

    Desks were arranged in the Agency Accounts Department to satisfy per- sonal preferences and social requir~ ments of each clerk. Cloth dividers were hung to sub-divide the major space into smaller areas relating to work and social groups. The major aisle was carpeted and the corner room (previously the department manager's office) was made into a workroom for noisy equipment as well as a department lounge. Files were relocated to accommodate the location of those persons who used them. The files were also used to close minor entrances giving definition of territory to the depart- ment.

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    ~. Figure 4. After arrangement of desks and working spaces in Department of Agency Accounts

    applied over the vinyl floor to provide a sense of entry and to define the main artery access in the office. Secondary aisles were developed with the desk arrange- ments and entry requirements of each office worker. Zones were established where the action might occur and socially extroverted individuals were grouped in the active zones. Filing cabinets were arranged in an effort to discourage interaction and privacy was developed in perimeter zones for the passive less sociable and territor- ially oriented workers. A public use room was arranged in the corner with a view of Sydney Harbour and office workers were encouraged to devote some portion of their

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    working day in this relief environment. During the year that Sloan's plan existed prior to the

    assessment, the staff were able, and did, change the drape hangings occasionally and thus were able in a minor way to manipulate their environment. There had also been some turnover of staff and new staff would consider that environment as being the norm for that office.

    EVALUATION

    An unchanged office similar in layout and colour scheme

    Vol 6 No 4 October 1985 207

  • was selected for comparison with the changed office. Comparisons were made between the two office environ- ments based on a questionnaire consisting of a number of scales ranging from five point verbal scales to those where a score of 10 is obtained to discern any differences in responses. To establish which aspects of the two office environments account for the differences between the two groups, it was necessary to examine specific differ- ences between responses to each item on the question- naire.

    It appeared from an examination of the patterns of satisfaction and dissatisfaction that the manipulation of the environment had a consistent and coherent effect on the individuals in each location. The individuals in the changed office perceived themselves as being nearer their group leaders and the work environments most frequent- ly used, have their desks in a better and more convenient position and find them easier to get to, and they appear to be less troubled by people passing and by other people in their immediate area, in comparison to the unchanged group. This was reinforced by the finding that those in the changed office consider the size of the space they work in to be adequate and their departmental area as a whole satisfactory while the unchanged group are dis- satisfied with both of these aspects.

    Both groups were dissatisfied with the space between furniture, however, the changed group was less dissatis- fied than the unchanged group. It can be seen from both

    floor plans in Figures 3 and 4 that even after the alteration, the space between desks is minimal in both conditions which accounts for the dissatisfaction. While there appeared to be more space between desks in the changed zone, in terms of the users' responses it was still not adequate.

    Finally, the responses to the items that were common to both groups where no difference between the groups was found (lighting, air conditioning, cafeterial and building as a whole) indicate that the differential responses to the other items are related to the office environment.

    REFERENCES

    Sloan, S 'Translating psycho-social criteria into design decisions' in Evironmental Design: Research and Practice Proceedings of EDRA 3, ed. W. Mitchell, University of California, Los Angeles (1972)

    Purcell, T, Metcalfe, R., Thorne, R., and Haft, R. Office Environments Comparison of users responses to two clerical office spaces of different layouts in the one organization and building. Architectural Psychology Units, University of Sydney, N.S.W (1972)

    3 Hall, E T The hidden dimension Doubleday & Co., Inc. Garden City, New York (1966)

    208 DESIGN STUDIES

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