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Abstract

Purpose – The aim of this paper is to evaluate the impact that office comfort has on office occupiers' productivity. Design/methodology/approach – The author evaluates the literature that claims to make a linkage between the physical comfort of the office environment and the effect on the productivity of the office occupiers. Office comfort will initially be discussed as a generic concept and subsequently be broken down into sub‐components. Findings – The review of the literature reveals that the evaluation of office comfort is a complex one. There appears to be no universally accepted definition of office comfort, and there is a clear lack of agreement as to how office comfort should be measured. This paper establishes that, there is enough evidence to support the claim that office comfort can affect productivity. Originality/value – This paper adds to the debate by identifying the need for a common and universally accepted measurement of office comfort. It is proposed that this can largely be achieved by evaluating office comfort with a multi‐item scale, and adopting an office occupier perspective to any future research.
The impact of office comfort
on productivity
Barry P. Haynes
Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK
Abstract
Purpose The aim of this paper is to evaluate the impact that office comfort has on office occupiers’
productivity.
Design/methodology/approach The author evaluates the literature that claims to make a
linkage between the physical comfort of the office environment and the effect on the productivity of
the office occupiers. Office comfort will initially be discussed as a generic concept and subsequently
be broken down into sub-components.
Findings The review of the literature reveals that the evaluation of office comfort is a complex one.
There appears to be no universally accepted definition of office comfort, and there is a clear lack of
agreement as to how office comfort should be measured. This paper establishes that, there is enough
evidence to support the claim that office comfort can affect productivity.
Originality/value This paper adds to the debate by identifying the need for a common and
universally accepted measurement of office comfort. It is proposed that this can largely be achieved by
evaluating office comfort with a multi-item scale, and adopting an office occupier perspective to any
future research.
Keywords Workplace, Office management, Productivity rate
Paper type Literature review
Introduction
This paper aims to review the literature that claims to link the comfort of the office
environment to the productivity of its occupants. Whilst the general concept of comfort
will be addressed, specific attention will be given to the air quality, sick building
syndrome (SBS) and lighting.
Office comfort
Office evaluations have traditionally been post occupancy evaluation surveys that
assess how satisfied occupiers are with their working environments ( McDougall et al.,
2002). However, whilst this form of survey establishes an assessment of the quality of
environment, it does not establish if the environment affects the occupiers’
productivity. Leaman (1990) presented the idea that a possible relationship exists
between the quality of the office environment and the productivity of its occupiers.
Subsequently, Leaman (1995) adopted a survey method, in an attempt to establish if
the occupiers who were dissatisfied with their indoor environmental conditions were
also less productive in their work. He concluded that:
People who are unhappy with temperature, air quality, lighting and noise conditions in their
offices are more likely to say that this affects their productivity at work ( Leaman, 1995, p. 13).
The questionnaire adopted consisted of eight main sections (Table I).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/1472-5967.htm
Impact of
office comfort
on productivity
37
Journal of Facilities Management
Vol. 6 No. 1, 2008
pp. 37-51
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1472-5967
DOI 10.1108/14725960810847459
The measure of productivity was achieved by adopting a self-reported measure,
presented in a nine-point scale ranging from ,240 to . þ 40 per cent (loss/gain),
based on the question:
Does your office environment affect your productivity at work? (Leaman, 1995, p. 16).
Leaman (1995) suggests that a correlation exists (r ¼ 0.92), between people who report
dissatisfaction with their indoor environment and those that report the office
environment to be affecting their productivity; and the finding is reported to be
significant ( p ¼ 0.0034). However, Leaman (1995) acknowledges that no statistical
association exists between self-reported productivity and satisfaction with the office
environmental conditions. These results must be interpreted with care, as correlation
between variables does not prove causality. Moreover, the self-reported productivity
measure adopted only consists of a single question.
Whereas, Leaman (1995) could only offer support for a relationship between
dissatisfaction and productivity, Oseland and Bartlett (1999) evaluated occupiers
across ten office buildings and reported a correlation between productivity and
satisfaction (0.93 , r , 0.99). They acknowledge that the high correlation could be
partly explained by the way the questions were asked:
Considering the effect on your performance, how satisfied are you with the office facilities and
services? (Oseland and Bartlett, 1999, p. 92).
One of the key findings from Leaman’s (1995) analysis is that people’s perception of
their ability to control their own working environment is reported as being an
important element of their productivity. This is a result supported by Oseland and
Bartlett (1999), claiming that a correlation exists between perceived control over
environmental conditions and productivity (r ¼ 0.49).
An interesting concept put forward by Leaman (1995) is “forgiveness”. This relates
to how forgiving the occupants are of the shortcomings of the building. It is proposed
that “forgiveness” can be increased if the occupants:
Know that every effort is made to overcome them, and they will usually tolerate problems
which they understand are hard to solve (Leaman, 1995, p. 150).
Establishing the factors that should be included when assessing the office environment
is a complex area, although Oseland (1999) concluded, having undertaken an extensive
literature review, that occupiers’ satisfaction with their environment, i.e. how
Environmental comfort 36 questions
Health symptoms 10 questions
Satisfaction with amenities 5-15 questions
Time spent in building 1 question
Time spent at task 1 question
Productivity 1-3 questions
Perceived control 5 questions
Background data 3-10 questions
Source: Leaman (1995)
Table I.
Survey questions
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comfortable they were, was instrumental in their productivity levels. Oseland (1999)
establishes that comfort with the environment includes both physiological and
psychological components as well as the physical environmental conditions (Table II)[1].
Although Oseland (1999) acknowledges the role of physiological and psychological
components in office occupiers’ productivity, the review largely concentrates on the
environmental conditions of the office environment, which are broken down (Table III).
The breaking down of the environmental conditions into four dimensions is a useful
way of operationalising the concept of the physical environment. Although it could be
argued, that the behavioural component of the office environment is not identified
(Haynes, 2005).
The debate relating to the use of occupier satisfaction with the office environment as a
surrogate measure of office productivity has been developed by Fitch (2004). He adds to
the debate with an evaluation of serviced office environments, and claims that a
relationship exists between satisfaction with the office environment and the reported
productivity levels of the office occupiers (Fitch, 2004). Clark et al. (2004) attempt to present
a unifying model that links building performance, user satisfaction and self-reported
productivity techniques. As a general model communalities exist between the three areas,
however on a detailed level the different techniques provided specific detail that would
have been lost in a totally unified model of evaluation (Clark et al., 2004), and this therefore
demonstrates the benefits of different approaches. The challenge to find a validated
method of measuring and reporting office productivity remains to be achieved, with some
authors referring to this area of research as the “search for the Holy Grail” (Mawson, 2002).
Leaman and Bordass (2000), in their seminal work, aim to address the question “What
features of workplaces under the control of designers and managers significantly
influence human productivity”. This is an appropriate stance as it puts delimitations on
the research, concentrating on areas that can be directly affected by designers or
facilities managers, and therefore does not attempt to address issues such as stress,
management attitudes and job satisfaction. In this work, Leaman and Bordass (2000) use
the term “killer” variables, which are defined as variables having a “critical influence on
the overall behaviour of a system” (Leaman and Bordass, 2000, p. 171).
Environmental satisfaction (comfort)
Environmental conditions Physical conditions, space, ergonomics, and aesthetics
Physiology Gender, age, and ethnic group
Psychology Personality, expectations, experience, etc.
Source: Oseland (1999)
Table II.
Components of
environmental
satisfaction
Environmental conditions
Physical conditions Temperature, light, noise, air quality, etc.
Space Plan, layout, and privacy
Ergonomics Work-station and controls
Aesthetics Colour and quality
Source: Oseland (1999)
Table III.
Elements of
environmental conditions
Impact of
office comfort
on productivity
39
The “killer” variables are arranged into five clusters. The clusters are: personal control,
responsiveness, building depth, work groups (Leaman and Bordass, 2000) and design
intent (Leaman and Bordass, 2005). Each cluster will now be discussed.
Personal control
Leaman and Bordass (2000) present results from 11 UK buildings, and claim that seven
out of the 11 buildings had a significant association between self-assessed productivity
and perception of control. Leaman and Bordass (2000) develop this claim by stating
that in their research the lack of environmental control is the single most important
concern for office occupiers. This finding is supported by Whitley et al. (1996), who
identified people that have an internal “locus of control” feel productive when they
perceive they have control over their physical environment.
Responsiveness
The responsiveness dimension relates to how quickly the facilities management (FM)
team can respond to a complaint about their environment. This probably links back to
Leaman’s earlier work, which established the “forgiving” nature of people. If office
occupiers are kept informed of events relating to their environmental comfort, then
they are more likely to be more responsive and forgiving (Leaman, 1995).
Building depth
Leaman and Bordass (2000) present evidence that air-conditioned buildings (usually,
but not always deeper than 15 meter) have a more negative effect on perceived
productivity than naturally ventilated buildings (less than 15 meter across). The
connection is made between increased dependency on environmental systems, such as
air-conditioning, and ill-health symptoms.
Work groups
In evaluating the fourth cluster of variables, which relates to workgroups, Leaman and
Bordass (2000) acknowledge that they have only been able to get both productivity and
workgroup data on rare occasions. However, they maintain:
That perceptions of productivity are higher in smaller more integrated workgroups (Leaman
and Bordass, 2000, p. 183).
Other researchers have proposed that a relationship exists between the number of
people working together, and their corresponding productivity levels (Olson, 2002;
Fitch, 2004). Olson (2002) ultimately concludes that productivity improvements can be
achieved by moving away from open-plan environments, and back to more private
cellular type offices.
Design inte nt
Leaman and Bordass (2005) have added another “killer” variable, which they call
design intent. This relates to the potential mismatch between the design intention of an
office environment and the actual use of the office environment. This means that, there
is a greater emphasis placed on the designer to clearly communicate their vision of how
the office space is to be used. In addition, designers should aim to design office
environments to be as intuitive as possible. To ensure that the optimum work
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environment is created, consideration needs to be given to the range of occupiers’ work
activities (Haynes, 2007a). Clearly this is an area that requires further research.
Leaman and Bordass (2005) conclude that offices work best for human productivity
when:
.
There are opportunities for personal control.
.
There is a rapid response to environmental issues.
.
There are shallow plan forms, preferably with natural ventilation and less
technical and management-intensive systems.
.
Enough room for people to work in, and appropriate zoning and control of
heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation.
.
Office occupiers are given clear instruction of the design intent. Occupiers are
shown how things are intended to work. In addition, any changes are rapidly
communicated to the occupiers.
Support for improved FM, as a means of increasing office productivity, is presented by
Clements-Croome (2003). He maintains that both greater energy savings and increases
in productivity can be achieved by ensuring that healthy buildings are produced. He
also acknowledges that, it is not just the design and construction of the building, but
also the way the building is managed through its FM provision that can impact on
occupier productivity. Clements-Croome (2003) identifies that the most frequent
complaints relate to thermal problems, stuffiness, SBS and crowding. It is therefore
suggested that by improving the office environmental conditions, occupier
productivity could be increased by 4-10 per cent.
The Office Productivity Network (OPN) assesses office productivity with two
occupant feedback tools. The tools proposed are the OPN survey and the OPN index
(Oseland, 2004). The OPN survey is a questionnaire that can be administered in both
paper and web based formats. Oseland (2004) reports to have administered the
questionnaire in 60 buildings and has over 6,500 responses[2]. Whilst the office
occupiers complete the OPN survey, the data collected for the OPN index is established
by interview with selected staff using an interview pro-forma, since knowledge of the
building design and operation is required[3].
The OPN survey consists of a number of sections and can be seen below (Oseland,
2004):
.
Satisfaction with facilities. About 19 questions enquiring whether the
respondents are satisfied with how the various design and operational factors
(e.g. workspace, meeting areas, technology) support their work activities; note
that although the question asks the respondents to rate their satisfaction, the
emphasis is actually on supporting work activities which relate to productivity.
.
Satisfaction with environment. About 15 questions asking whether the
respondents are satisfied with how the environmental conditions (e.g.
temperature, noise, privacy) support their work activities.
.
Importance. Two questions which ask the respondents to identify which of the
facilities and environmental conditions they consider the most important to “get
right” so that they can work well.
Impact of
office comfort
on productivity
41
.
Self-assessed productivity. Two questions which ask respondents to estimate the
impact of the facilities and environment on their productivity.
.
Downtime. About 18 questions which ask the respondents to estimate the amount
of time per week wasted due to a range of poor design and operational issues; these
questions were developed as a direct result of feedback during the focus groups.
.
Satisfaction with work activities. About 11 questions asking whether the facilities
and environment support various work activities (e.g. quiet work, teamwork,
meeting deadlines).
.
Work duties. About 12 questions to estimate the time spent carrying out the
various work activities (e.g. PC work, telephone usage, formal meetings).
.
Work time. Seven questions to estimate the time spent working in and out of the
office.
.
Background details. Questions to identify sub-groups whose responses to the above
questions may be compared (e.g. grade, location in building, and business unit).
Oseland (2004) includes two questions specifically relating to productivity. One relates
to the facilities and productivity, and the other relates to the environment and
productivity. Oseland (2004) adopts the same nine-point scale for self-assessment of
productivity as Leaman (1995) and Leaman and Bordass (2000). However, in contrast
to Leaman (1995), Leaman and Bordass (2000) and Oseland (2004) evaluates the
facilities as well as the environment. It could be argued that this is an improvement in
measuring productivity, i.e. from one question on productivity to two questions,
although it does not allow the subcomponent of facilities and environment to be
evaluated with regards to productivity. In analysing the data, Figure 1, Oseland (2004)
proposes, using multiple regression analysis (weighted means), that change in
productivity and overall satisfaction with the environment and facilities are highly
correlated, i.e. facilities (r ¼ 0.94) and environment (r ¼ 0.91).
Figure 1.
Correlation between
productivity and
satisfaction
20
10
0
–10
–20
–30
40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Facilities
(r = 0.94)
Environmen
t
(r = 0.91)
Productivity (%)
Satisfaction (%)
Source: Oseland (2004)
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The concept “downtime” is introduced and defined as effectively time wasted due to
poor design and management of the office environment. Oseland (2004) presents
evidence, Figure 2, to suggest negative correlations between downtime and satisfaction
with the environment and facilities, i.e. facilities (r ¼ 0.69) and environment (r ¼ 0.78).
The more time wasted due to poor office design and management the more dissatisfied
the occupiers are with their office environment. Some of the downtime elements defined
by Oseland (2004), i.e. waiting for lifts, walking between buildings, interruptions,
waiting at fax and copier machines, could actually be opportunities for ad hoc
conversations and knowledge transfer (Haynes, 2005).
The conclusions that Oseland (2004) draws from the analysis of the database, is that
office occupiers are mainly dissatisfied with temperature and ventilation, commonly
called the “hygiene factors”. An explanation offered for this is the requirement for more
individual control, an issue previously acknowledged by Leaman and Bordass (2000).
Also since the results evaluated are largely from open-plan offices, it could also be
concluded that the disadvantages of open-plan environments are not really being
addressed (Oseland, 2004).
Finally, Oseland (2004, p. 7) concludes that:
The environmental conditions which are considered most important to “get right” to support
the respondents’ work activities are: winter and summer temperature, ventilation, people
noise, privacy and daylight.
Roelofsen (2002) drew similar conclusions to Oseland (2004), having undertaken a
review of the literature pertaining to the impact of office environments on employee
performance. He concluded that in the office environment it was the thermal
environment (temperature) and the air quality (ventilation) that had the most influence
on people’s productivity Roelofsen (2002) calls for a validated unifying human model,
Figure 2.
Correlation between
downtime and satisfaction
Dowtime (hours)
Satisfaction (%)
Source: Oseland (2004)
7
6
5
4
3
2
30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Facilities
Environment
(r = 0.69)
(r = 0.78)
Impact of
office comfort
on productivity
43
which allows the concept of comfort, i.e. temperature and air quality, to be evaluated in
terms of loss of productivity. Haynes (2007b) responds to the call for a unifying human
model by presenting a validated theoretical framework for office productivity, which
includes a multi-item scale measurement of office comfort.
Whilst authors such as Oseland (2004) and Leaman and Bordass (2005), have
attempted to evaluate occupier satisfaction against a range of environmental and
facility issues; other authors have attempted to restrict their evaluation to one specific
component and its effect on productivity. The following sections will review these
specific pieces of research.
Air quality
Dorgan and Dorgan (2005) argue that, due to the amount of time that employees spend
in their offices, it is important to ensure that the indoor environment is of an
appropriate quality. They propose that a linkage exists between the quality of the
environment and the health and productivity of the occupants. They attempt to
establish the appropriate components of the environment:
The indoor environmental quality (IEQ) is composed of factors such as space, temperature,
humidity, noise, lighting, interior design and layout, building envelope, and structural
systems. A subset of the IEQ is indoor air quality (IAQ). The factors that define IAQ are
temperature, humidity, room air motion and contaminants (Dorgan and Dorgan, 2005, p. 113).
Dorgan and Dorgan (2005) maintain that if the IAQ is not at the right level, then there
will be an impact on the occupant’s health and productivity. They base their proposals
on three studies, funded by the National Contractors’ Association, which investigated
the health costs and productivity benefits of improved air quality. The original study
was undertaken in 1993, and was further developed in 1995. The third study was
restricted to the hospitality industry. The studies concentrated on reviewing over 500
research reports that attempted to link IAQ and productivity. Ultimately, Dorgan and
Dorgan (2005) conclude their review by establishing:
A majority of the research studies indicate an average productivity loss of 10 per cent due to
poor IAQ. Therefore, by improving the IAQ, a conservative benefit of 6 per cent could readily
be achieved (Dorgan and Dorgan, 2005, p. 128).
Dorgan and Dorgan (2005) argue that whilst most of the IAQ research has focused on
offices and schools, IAQ has potentially a greater impact on hospitality facilities and
workers. The additional factors to be included are; cooking, high density of people in
halls, bars, restaurants and potentially a higher proportion of people smoking.
In an attempt to quantify the effect IAQ has on productivity Wargocki et al. (2000a)
adopted a traditional experimental approach to three independent studies including 90
subjects. The change of air quality was established by interventions, and the effects on
the occupiers were assessed using a perceived air quality acceptability scale. The
productivity measures adopted were measurable, i.e. not self-reported, since the
activities undertaken in the office were simulated office tasks such as typing, addition
and proof-reading. Wargocki et al. (2000a) concluded that a relationship exits between
good air quality and office productivity:
It confirms that good air quality improves the performance of text typing (P ¼ 0.0002), and a
similar tendency is seen for addition (P ¼ 0.056) and proof-reading (P ¼ 0.087). A positive
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correlation between the air quality, as it is perceived by occupants, and the performance of
typing (R
2
¼ 0.82, P ¼ 0.005), addition (R
2
¼ 0.52, P ¼ 0.07) and proof-reading (R
2
¼ 0.70,
P ¼ 0.08) (Wargocki et al., 2000a, p. 635).
It could be argued that one limitation of the results presented by Wargocki et al.
(2000a) is that they only relate to repetitive tasks, such as typing, addition and
proof-reading. Wyon and Wargocki (2005) evaluate two field intervention experiments
in call centres in an attempt to validate previous laboratory experiments. The field
research evaluated consisted of a call centre in Denmark a temperature climate
(Wargocki et al., 2004) and a call centre in Singapore a tropical climate (Tham et al.,
2003). Both studies adopted a 2 £ 2 design with one repetition over eight weeks, each
condition being maintained for a full week. In addition, both studies adopted talk-time
as an index for productivity. A reduction in talk-time was deemed to be an indication
of improved productivity. Wyon and Wargocki (2005) conclude that the field studies
evaluated demonstrate that IAQ has a larger impact on actual productivity in the call
centres than was predicted in previous laboratory experiments.
Developing research in the field is to be encouraged as this allows research to
be developed in its true context. However, not all office workers have a clear
productivity measure like the call centre workers. Some offices are places of
knowledge exchange, with people constantly moving around. In this context, the issue
of providing appropriate IAQ becomes a more complex one (Laing et al., 1998;
Haynes, 2005).
Establishing the thermal comfort of office occupants is a challenging area. This is
compounded by the fact that human beings produce a range of heat output which is
dependent on variables such as; amount of clothing they are wearing, the activity they
undertake in the office and a number of other extraneous variables (Dwyer, 2006).
Dwyer (2006) accredits Ole Fanger’s work relating to predicted mean vote (PMV) and
percentage population dissatisfied, as being fundamental to the development of
standards such as ISO 7730 and the ASHRAE Standard 55. The PMV can be used to
predict the percentage of people dissatisfied with the thermal comfort in their office
environment. The thermal comfort is deemed to be a success if 80 per cent of occupants
are comfortable in their office environments (Dwyer, 2006). Clearly, with potentially
20 per cent of office occupiers dissatisfied with their thermal comfort this is an area
that requires continuing research.
Health: sick building syndrome
An attempt to broaden the debate with regard to office evaluation was undertaken by
Whitley et al. (1996). They proposed that occupiers’ satisfaction with the indoor
environment could be influenced by the climate of the organisation and the occupiers’
satisfaction with their jobs. Their research aimed to investigate SBS, and its effects on
occupiers, both in terms of health and productivity. They collected over 400 responses
from two buildings. An occupational and organisational psychology questionnaire was
adopted to assess job satisfaction, organisational climate and job characteristics. The
environmental satisfaction was assessed using a seven-point user perception scale.
Productivity was self-reported, using a perceived productivity scale. It is interesting to
note that the self-assessed productivity scale adopted, with slight modification, was the
same one originally proposed by Leaman (1995) and subsequently adopted by Oseland
(1999, 2004).
Impact of
office comfort
on productivity
45
Whitley et al. (1996, p. 5) concluded that:
Office satisfaction is seen as a primary predictor of sick building syndrome and self-reported
productivity. Office satisfaction is significantly associated with job satisfaction and
environmental control.
Whilst this research adds to the debate by acknowledging that the office environment
is more than just the physical comfort elements, and alludes to a behavioural
environment which links to organisational culture, the limitations of the research must
be acknowledged. Firstly, the research was undertaken between two buildings in the
same organisation, therefore the possibility of generalisation is reduced, and secondly
the measure of productivity adopted is only a single item self-assessed scale.
Wargocki et al. (2000b) attempted to evaluate the effects of outdoor air supply rate
on perceived air quality, SBS and productivity. The evaluations were conducted in a
normally furnished office:
Five groups of six female subjects were each exposed to three ventilations rates, one group
and one ventilation rate at a time. Each exposure lasted 4.6 h and took place in the afternoon
(Wargocki et al., 2000b, p. 222).
The subjects were assessed, at intervals, for perceived air quality and SBS symptoms
and evaluated whilst performing simulated office work. The results indicate that when
ventilation was increased the subjects reported feeling generally better (P , 0.001).
Also, for all the simulated work tasks, such as addition, text typing, proof-reading and
creative thinking, improvements were reported with increases in the ventilation, and in
the case of text-typing the results reached significance (P , 0.03). The inclusion of the
creative thinking component into the assessment of simulated office tasks is an
improvement in modelling the work processes of the modern office (Wargocki et al.,
2000b). Since, creative thinking is one of the main assets of the modern office
environment, the results suggest that increased ventilation leads to the subjects
reporting less difficulty in thinking (P , 0.001). Therefore, the ventilation
requirements of the office occupiers become an important ingredient in creating a
productive workplace. Whilst the rigour of the research conducted by Wargocki et al.
(2000b) is acknowledged, a limitation is that the evaluation was undertaken in one
office environment, therefore generalising the results would be questionable. Also, the
subjects used were female and therefore may include a gender bias.
Lighting
Abdou (1997) suggests that significant improvement in office lighting can be a
cost-effective way of increasing productivity. He maintains that office occupiers
believe that lighting is an important aspect of their office environment, with daylight
being of particular importance. Support for linking day lighting to human performance
is presented by Heschong and Wright (2002). They present a re-evaluation of a
previous piece of research to investigate the effects of day lighting on the grades of
children in schools. The research concluded that a statistical relationship existed
between students access to daylight and student performance. Daylight was assessed
using a five-point scale (0 non-existent to 5 highest quality of daylight).
To establish the performance metric, only students that were exposed to highly
standardised tests were used, including students from second to fifth grade in
elementary schools. Whilst this research relates to improvement in grades of children,
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it is similar to the evaluation of office productivity, as the aim of both is to enhance
human performance:
If day lighting enhances the performance of children in schools, it is not too large a stretch to
suppose that it might also enhance the performance of adults in office buildings or other
workplace settings (Heschong and Wright, 2002, p. 8.91).
Given a choice, it appears that people prefer to have natural lighting in their workplace
rather than electric lighting (Veitch, 2005). Veitch (2005) proposes that people who have
access to a window are more satisfied with their lighting than the people who do not
have access to a window.
Veitch (2005) proposes that the lack of research, by psychologists, in lighting and
performance was probably a consequence of the Hawthorne experiments relating to
illumination (Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939). The Hawthorne illumination
experiments demonstrated that irrespective of increasing or decreasing lighting
levels, the work output of the employees increased. The conclusion drawn by the
investigators was that the physical environment was relatively unimportant when
considering productivity improvements (Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939). Veitch
(2005) therefore suggests that, the research that has been undertaken tends to evaluate
lighting in economic terms rather than from the human perspective.
Boyce et al. (2003) conducted a field simulation study to investigate lighting quality
and office work. The study consisted of two separate field simulations and in both
cases “Best Practice” office lighting conditions were compared with a “Base Case”
lighting condition that was thought to be representative of modern office practice.
The office occupiers’ task performance was measured, and their perceptions of health
and well-being were obtained over a full working day.
Boyce et al. (2003) established that people’s preference for lighting conditions are
wide ranging. This result clearly indicates that one set lighting level in an open plan
office environment is not going to satisfy all of its occupants.
Veitch (2005, p. 213) supports the need for individual control:
Individual lighting controls can address the problem of individual differences in lighting
preferences. When one does not know which conditions will create positive affect, individual
controls allow people to self-select their preferred conditions.
This need for people to feel they have control of their environment links to the “locus of
control” proposed by Whitley et al. (1996), and one of the “killer variables” proposed by
Leaman and Bordass (2005).
Boyce et al. (2003, p. 4) conclude that:
People with dimming control report higher ratings of lighting quality, overall environmental
satisfaction, and self-reported productivity.
An advantage of the study undertaken by Boyce et al. (2003) is that it is in an actual
office environment with office workers undertaking real office tasks, specifically
knowledge-based tasks. However, a limitation of the study is that the research is
restricted to only two field simulations. An additional limitation is that whilst the office
workers undertook office work, they were only temporary office workers and therefore
the office environment was not their normal work environment. It should also be noted
that the evaluations were undertaken over a complete working day, and the results
Impact of
office comfort
on productivity
47
should be interpreted within this context. Further research over a longer period of time
would increase the reliability of the research findings.
Veitch (2005) acknowledges that linking lighting to improved organisational
productivity is a challenging one. Therefore, Veitch (2005) identifies a requirement to
develop a lighting quality model that acknowledges the economic and architectural
requirements for lighting, but also identifies a need for lighting to influence social
behaviour, communication, mood and ultimately individual well-being. It is these later
elements that offer opportunities for further research (Haynes, 2007c).
In conclusion
This paper has reviewed literature that addresses the physiological elements in the
office environment. The aim was to evaluate claims that productivity is affected when
office occupiers are not physically comfortable in their office environment. Defining the
term office comfort is a complex area in its own right, as there are a number of different
variables that could impact on office occupiers’ comfort levels. A review of the
literature reveals that there does not appear to be a unifying model of office comfort,
evidenced by the different approaches adopted by researchers to measuring office
comfort. Whilst an agreed definition of office comfort does not appear to exist, there are
clearly some common variables that should be included in the concept of office comfort;
such as temperature, air quality and lighting. Future research that attempts to create a
unifying model would be a considerable development, as it would allow the creation of
a multi-item measure of office comfort, which could include variables such as noise,
humidity and crowding. A possible analytical approach for such a model could be
factor analysis (Haynes, 2007b).
Each of the research approaches evaluated have advantages and disadvantages.
There appear to be three different approaches adopted with regards to measuring
office occupiers’ productivity, which are: measurement of simulated tasks,
measurement of actual productivity output, or self-assessed measurement of
productivity. The measurement of simulated tasks is normally undertaken over a
short period of time and therefore raises concerns of reliability over a longer period.
Actual measurements of productivity are clearly the most desirable, although not all
types of office work can be easily classified into productive output. Call centres appear
to be a notable exception. The complexity of measuring the productivity of office
workers has led some researchers to adopt occupier satisfaction with the office
environment as a surrogate for productivity. This approach needs to be considered
with care; whilst there is evidence to suggest a correlation between productivity and
satisfaction exists, it raises issues of research validity. Increased research validly can
be achieved if the research includes measurement of the actual variables under
investigation. It could therefore be argued that in the absence of a quantifiable
productivity measurement, a self-assessed measure is a justifiable consideration.
The context in which research is undertaken is a very important factor. Clearly
simulated tasks undertaken in laboratory type conditions have a value during the early
stages of research, as they allow the researcher to develop their ideas and thinking.
However, if increased validity is to be achieved then research has to be undertaken in
the field. The ultimate in research design would be actual office workers, working
in their normal office environment, undertaking real office tasks evaluated with a
quantifiable measurement of office productivity. Add to this research that analyses
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different office environments with occupiers undertaking different office work, and an
appreciation for the scale of research required can be achieved.
This does not mean that small-scale research projects do not have a role in
establishing meaning and understanding in office environments. In fact, it is probably
this approach that would lead to the identification of the variables that should be
included in a unifying model. Since, office comfort is a relative term it is clear that any
research methodology should include a “people-centric” approach to evaluate user
perceptions, along with any other observations and measurements. Taking the view of
the office environment from the occupier perspective opens up an appreciation of office
comfort to include concepts such as health and well-being.
It is clear that the FM profession can have a significant impact in creating
high-performance workplaces by placing greater emphasis on office environment
comfort systems and their respective control systems. In addition keeping office
occupiers informed of any issues that affect their comfort can be an important element
in managing office user perceptions. The managing of office occupier expectations
offers another avenue for further research, as it allows the concept of occupier
“forgiveness” to be evaluated with the aim of establishing appropriate protocols and
communication channels.
Notes
1. It should be noted that Oseland (1999) actually proposes a broader theoretical framework for
the evaluation of performance and productivity. He includes the concepts of job satisfaction
and motivation. However, this analysis will concentrate on the environmental components.
2. The size of this database would make it probably one of the largest that relates to occupier
productivity.
3. Oseland (2004) reports to have data for 20 buildings using the OPN index.
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About the author
Barry P. Haynes is a Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University where he teaches Real
Estate and Facilities Management. He has published articles relating to the productivity of the
working environment and has presented papers at a number of conferences. He is active in the
British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) where he is a member of two national
committees. He also performs the role of External Examiner for the University of Reading.
Barry P. Haynes can be contacted at: b.p.haynes@shu.ac.uk
Impact of
office comfort
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51
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