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Distractions and workplace angst: Are shared workspaces all they're cracked up to be?


Abstract and Figures

The prevalence of flexible and shared office spaces is increasing significantly, yet the socioemotional outcomes associated with these environments are under researched. Utilising the job demands-resources (JD-R) model we investigate both the demands and the resources that can accrue to workers as a result of shared work environments and hot-desking. Data were collected from work experienced respondents (n=1000) assessing the extent to which they shared their office space with others, along with demands comprising distractions, uncooperative behaviours, distrust, and negative relationships, and resources from co-worker friendships and supervisor support. We found that, as work environments became more shared (with hot-desking being at the extreme end of the continuum), not only were there increases in demands, but co-worker friendships were not improved and perceptions of supervisory support decreased. Findings are discussed in relation to employee well-being and recommendations are made regarding how best to ameliorate negative consequences of shared work environments.
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Distractions and workplace angst: Are
shared workspaces all they're cracked
up to be?
(The demands and resources arising from shared
office space)
Dr Rachel L. Morrison (corresponding author)
Management Dept., School of Business and Law, AUT
Dr Keith Macky (AFHRINZ)
HR & Research Consultant
Shared office space
Offices have altered
dramatically in recent years
Until recently, even if
people were in “open plan”
offices, they were securely
bound to their desks…
(and could “personalise”)
High cost of office space
Mobile technology has enabled a
significant change in the physical
spaces and places that work is
carried out.
Desire for tele-work and to use
physical office space more
Enter: Hotdesking
Benefits of shared spaces?
It turns out that may be wrong… if you
don’t have your own space (or perhaps
just share with a couple of colleagues),
perhaps you are better off working
remotely with your cat for company.
While many workers protest at what they hate about shared offices and
hot-desks (distraction, noise, lack of privacy, and not being allowed to
“personalise” their workstation, etc.); many maintain the benefits (cost
savings and increased collegial communication and cooperation) made
up for it.
Theoretical framework: Job demands and resources
Job Demands-Resources model (JD-R) (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007)
Within the JD-R model of stress, job demands are the aspects of a job
that require cognitive and/or emotional effort; incurring physiological,
psychological “costs”
While job resources are the aspects of a job that help in achieving work
goals, reduce the impact of demands, or stimulate growth
We focus on those demands outlined by Bakker
and Demerouti (2007) which have been found to
be associated with shared work environments.
Measure Employee Social Liabilities (ESL) An
umbrella construct comprising four sub
constructs (Morrison & Macky, 2015; Morrison & Macky, In press).
Negative interactions / relationships
Uncooperative behaviours
Our focus here is on the
specific resources which have
been posited to come from
working in shared spaces:
more collegial friendships
increased support from
managers and others
(Chigot, 2003; Elsbach & Bechky, 2007; Irving &
Ayoko, 2014; McElroy & Morrow, 2010)
H1-H4: Those in shared office environments (with hot-desking
being at the extreme end of the continuum) will report higher
levels of ESL from colleagues.
H5-H6: Those in shared office environments (with hot-desking
being at the extreme end of the continuum) will report higher
quality co-worker friendships and increased supervisor support
The study
1000 Australian participants in permanent employment, aged
18 and over, were recruited in 2014 using a Qualtrics survey
Representative of workforce.
I mainly work at
home or on the
I have my own
I share an office
with one or two
I work mostly at
clients workplaces
in whatever space
they give me
I work in an open
plan office but
have my own
I work in an open
plan office and
Negative interactions and behaviours Distrust of others
Social demands and distractions Uncooperative behaviours
Supervisor support Co-worker friendship
H1 to H4 supported
The differentiating factor is
working in open plan office
Consistent with the JD-R model
When in shared open plan office
workspaces (hot-desking or not)
the four liability variables are
likely to place additional
demands and increased load on
workers (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007).
H5 and H6 not supported
Results showed that co-worker friendships are actually of worse
quality in hot desking and open plan office arrangements, when
compared to those with their own offices or who share offices.
They are even significantly lower than those who mainly work at
home or on the road!
In addition… perceived supervisor support decreases as work
environments become more shared
Why are workers not accruing
expected resources?
Although proximity = more/better friendships…
TOO MUCH proximity may have the opposite effect.
Open plan offices have been found to not only
increase distraction and reduce privacy, but also to
increase employees’ use of coping strategies such as
withdrawal (Kaarlela-Tuomaala et al., 2009).
If we have no PHYSICAL privacy
or distance perhaps we attempt
to create our own distance
Perceptions of supervisor support worsen in
shared environments
Perhaps when workers do not see their supervisors every day, the time
they do have with them is perceived to be of higher quality.
It is possible that ESLs at work impact on supervision relationships also.
The employee, the supervisor, or both, may be irritated, distracted, and
attempting to combat this by withdrawing, thereby damaging the
supervisory relationship.
What to do?
Have your own office!
It is unlikely that the general move towards shared office space will be reversed however…
A systematic approach should be taken.
Individual differences
We have yet to ascertain if there are particular roles, jobs,
professions, or industries whereby the adverse effects of
shared office work are greater.
Perhaps, for example, there are particular aspects of work that
make some employees more vulnerable.
But for now…
If you're going to do it, do it right
Review clear desk” policies, banning the personalisation of
work spaces.
Panels, living wall systems, shelves etc. for privacy
Noise cancelling headphones
Provide alternate spaces in addition to hot desks:
touchdown areas
bookable offices”
collaborative workspaces”
“break-out workspaces(Pitt and Bennett, 2008)
To conclude…
We are not suggesting workers should be afforded unlimited
privacy and solitude.
There needs to be a “critical density of spontaneous interaction”.
Too much, and the distractions will outweigh any potential
collaborative benefits. Too little and the benefits are not evident.
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