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Work environment

Activity-based offices

Today, the open-plan office is the most common form of office. The higher education sector is also moving towards more open office solutions for all employees

What are the advantages of open-plan offices?

New activity-based office environments and flexible working methods are expected to help employees become more innovative and solution-oriented. They are also believed to lead to increased employee well-being.
Technological developments enable us to work from different places today and to plan our working time differently than previously. This leads to reduced occupancy at offices. Employers are therefore reviewing and trying to optimise office space in order to make savings. In an open-plan office, there is room for around 70-75 per cent of staff at the same time

Types of office

The most common types of office are cellular offices, (individual or shared rooms for 1-3 people), different kinds of open offices such as open-plan or activity-based workplaces. The big difference between activity-based workplaces and open-plan offices is that open-plan offices specific places for employees. The activity-based workplace consists of a number of zones or rooms to accommodate different types of work performed during the day.

For the activity-based workplaces to work best, the idea is that staff move between different work environments during the working day. The work environments must meet the employees' needs for different types of workspace, for example quiet rooms. Spaces for relaxation and recovery are also important.

Open offices and work environment

There is not a great deal of research into how open office solutions impact employees' health, job satisfaction or performance. The research that does exist often shows that perceived health, job satisfaction and performance are poorer in open-plan offices than in traditional cellular offices. High noise levels affect memory negatively and lead to increased fatigue and lower motivation and performance. Of course, it also depends on how the open offices are designed and whether they are large or small.
Open offices are not adapted to tasks that require high levels of concentration where people need to focus for long periods. A research study conducted by Stockholm University shows that both memory and the performance are affected negatively when people work with tasks that require high levels of concentration in open-plan offices. A cellular office is the best kind of workspace for this kind of task.

Preparation is key

In order to succeed with a move to an open office that enables flexible working methods, it is crucial to work with the creation of conditions for a good working environment right from the planning stage.
Consult the union health and safety representative and involve employees early in the planning stage. Discuss the operational needs of the organisation. The needs may look different depending on the work of different categories of employees.

Vital to create a good working environment

  • Create different rooms and spaces based on the needs of the organisation and the employees. Do not forget about spaces for recreation and recovery.
  • Noise can spread over large areas if you do not work with the acoustics in an open office. Use sound-absorbing materials such as textiles and acoustic panels to reduce noise. You may need to introduce rules for disturbing noise, for example that the ring tones on mobile phones are to be muted.
  • It is also important to consider light when furnishing and building open offices. Being close to windows and views is linked to better performance.

Further reading

Saco – Working environment and the design of activity-based offices (in Swedish).

Karlstad University, Hanne Berthelsen, Tuija Muhonen and Susanna Toivanen – What happens to the work environment when activity-based offices are introduced in academia? (in Swedish).

The Swedish Work Environment Authority - report 2018:1
Work Without Borders – a research anthology on work environment challenges in connection with borderless working life (in Swedish).