The eﬀect of oﬃce concepts on worker health
and performance: a systematic review of
EINAR M. DE CROON*, JUDITH K. SLUITER,
P. PAUL F.M. KUIJER and MONIQUE H.W. FRINGS-DRESEN
Coronel Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health, Academic Medical
Center, Research Institute Amsterdam Center for Health and Health Care Research
(AmCOGG), Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Conventional and innovative oﬃce concepts can be described according to
three dimensions: (1) the oﬃce location (e.g. telework oﬃce versus
conventional oﬃce); (2) the oﬃce lay-out (e.g. open lay-out versus cellular
oﬃce); and (3) the oﬃce use (e.g. ﬁxed versus shared workplaces). This
review examined how these three oﬃce dimensions aﬀect the oﬃce
worker’s job demands, job resources, short- and long-term reactions.
Using search terms related to the oﬃce concept (dimensions), a systematic
literature search starting from 1972 was conducted in seven databases.
Subsequently, based on the quality of the studies and the consistency of
the ﬁndings, the level of evidence for the observed ﬁndings was assessed.
Out of 1091 hits 49 relevant studies were identiﬁed. Results provide strong
evidence that working in open workplaces reduces privacy and job
satisfaction. Limited evidence is available that working in open workplaces
intensiﬁes cognitive workload and worsens interpersonal relations; close
distance between workstations intensiﬁes cognitive workload and reduces
privacy; and desk-sharing improves communication. Due to a lack of
studies no evidence was obtained for an eﬀect of the three oﬃce
dimensions on long-term reactions. The results suggest that ergonomists
involved in oﬃce innovation could play a meaningful role in safeguarding
the worker’s job demands, job resources and well-being. Attention should
be paid, in particular, to eﬀects of workplace openness by providing
acoustic and visual protection.
Keywords: Oﬃce; Health; Performance
*Corresponding author. Email: email@example.com
Ergonomics, Vol. 48, No. 2, 10 February 2005, 119 – 134
ISSN 0014-0139 print/ISSN 1366-5847 online #2005 Taylor & Francis Ltd
With the introduction of Information and Communication Technology and more ﬂexible
ways of organizing work processes, the work environment of oﬃce workers has changed
substantially in the last decades. The changing nature of the oﬃce worker’s environment
is exempliﬁed by the growing number of organizations that move from conventional
oﬃces with ﬁxed workplaces to more open and transparent oﬃces with shared
workplaces (Vos and Van der Voordt 2002). Another example is the increasing number
of organizations that allow oﬃce workers to work at home as a teleworker (Standen et al.
The introduction of innovative oﬃce concepts may allow organizations to save oﬃce
space, reduce general and technical service costs and increase ﬂexibility of oﬃce use.
From a cost-eﬃciency point of view, therefore, the introduction of these oﬃce concepts
seems advantageous. However, new oﬃce concepts may aﬀect oﬃce worker health as well
as oﬃce worker performance. An oﬃce concept characterized by an open and transparent
lay-out, may, for instance, increase distraction and irritability and, as a consequence,
threaten the health and performance of the oﬃce worker in the longer term. Potential
eﬀects of oﬃce concepts on health and performance, therefore, should also be considered
in the development and introduction of new oﬃce concepts (Pullen and Bradley 2004).
2. Conceptual model
Building on architectural nomenclature (Vos et al. 1999), social relations approach,
cognitive overload theory (Desor 1972; Geen and Gange 1977; Oldham et al. 1991; Evans
and Lepore 1992), privacy theory (Sundstrom et al. 1980), the demand-resources theory
of occupational stress (Demerouti et al. 2001) and the model of workload and capacity
(Van Dijk et al. 1990) a general conceptual model was constructed for this study. This
model depicts the relationship between oﬃce concepts and worker health and
performance (see ﬁgure 1). For the purpose of this study, oﬃce concepts are deﬁned in
the model by three oﬃce dimensions, namely, the oﬃce location, the oﬃce lay-out and
the oﬃce use (albeit the relevance of other oﬃce aspects such as oﬃce furniture and oﬃce
climate is recognized). According to the model, oﬃce concepts in terms of these three
dimensions inﬂuence work conditions in terms of job demands and job resources. These
work conditions, in turn, may result in (un)favourable psychophysiological short-term
reactions. Oﬃce concepts may also inﬂuence these short-term reactions independently of
job demands and job resources. In the longer run, short-term reactions may aﬀect oﬃce
worker health and performance, termed long-term reactions in the model. The concepts
of the model are described below.
2.1. Oﬃce concepts: location, lay-out and use
Three dimensions can be used to describe oﬃce concepts (Vos et al. 1999): the oﬃce
location; the oﬃce lay-out; and the oﬃce use. The oﬃce location refers to the place at
which the oﬃce worker carries out his/her activities. The oﬃce worker may work in the
conventional oﬃce, or he/she may work in the telework oﬃce at home. The oﬃce lay-out
refers to the arrangement of workplaces and type of boundaries in an oﬃce (Oldham et
al. 1995). Two core features of the oﬃce lay-out are included in the conceptual model,
namely, the workplace openness and the distance between workstations. The oﬃce use
refers to the manner in which workplaces are assigned to oﬃce workers. One single
120 E. M. de Croon et al.
workplace may be assigned to one single oﬃce worker (i.e. the ﬁxed workplace), or one
workplace may be assigned to a range of oﬃce workers, hereafter termed desk-sharing.
2.2. Work conditions: job demands and job resources
Job demands are work conditions that require physical, mental or emotional eﬀort
(Demerouti et al. 2001). Oﬃce concepts may impact on several job demands. In the model
two demands are distinguished: (a) cognitive workload, i.e. the extent to which oﬃce stimuli,
such as noise, place an elevated demand on cognitive-attentional processes; and (b) working
hours, such as irregular working hours due to desk-sharing. Job resources are work
conditions that are supportive in achieving work goals, reduce job demands at the associated
physiological and psychological costs, or stimulate personal growth and development.
Oﬃce concepts may also inﬂuence job resources. The conceptual model diﬀerentiates four
resources: (a) communication (e.g. desk-sharing may stimulate communication); (b) work
autonomy (e.g. teleworking may increase autonomy over work scheduling); (c) psycholo-
gical privacy (e.g. an open oﬃce may reduce psychological privacy); and (d) interpersonal
relations at work (e.g. teleworking may reduce social support from co-workers).
2.3. Short-term reactions
According to the conceptual model, oﬃce concepts may directly or indirectly, via job
demands and job resources, result in physiological and psychological short-term
reactions, such as crowding stress, i.e. the psychological state of inadequacy of space
(Stokols 1972), occupationally induced fatigue, job satisfaction, the excretion of cortisol
and increased levels of blood pressure.
Figure 1. Conceptual model that depicts the hypothesized relation from oﬃce concepts
in terms of oﬃce location, oﬃce lay-out and oﬃce use (via) demands and resources to
short- and long-term reactions.
The eﬀect of old and new oﬃce concepts on health and performance 121
2.4. Long-term reactions
Accumulation of short-term reactions may, in the long term, result in more serious
reactions. These long-term reactions include decreased performance (Cotton and Hart
2003) and negative health outcomes, such as psychosomatic health complaints including
chronic fatigue, burnout and musculoskeletal disorders (De Lange et al. 2002; Sluiter et
3. Research aims
Narrative reviews of research on oﬃce eﬀects have provided us with useful information
(Wineman 1982; Davis 1984; Oldham et al. 1995; Giﬀord 1997; Standen et al. 1999;
Brennan et al. 2002). However, to the authors’ knowledge, an updated review in which
the evidence is searched and synthesized in a systematic and critical manner has not been
conducted. This study, therefore, systematically reviewed the scientiﬁc literature on
eﬀects of oﬃce concepts. To this end, the relations depicted in the conceptual model were
translated into three research questions.
1. What is the eﬀect of oﬃce location on work conditions (demands and resources),
short- and long-term reactions?
2. What is the eﬀect of oﬃce lay-out on work conditions (demands and resources),
short- and long-term reactions?
3. What is the eﬀect of oﬃce use on work conditions (demands and resources), short-
and long-term reactions?
4.1. Literature search and selection
A literature search was conducted with a range of search terms in the title and/or abstract
(see table 1). The search was conducted in: 1) Picarta (Dutch research reports) 2);
OSHROM (1970 – 2003); 3) PsycINFO (1970 – 2003); 4) Biological abstracts (1972 –
2003); 5) Sociological abstracts (1970 – 2003); 6) Embase (1980 – 2003); and 7) Ergonomic
Abstracts (1985 – 2003). Furthermore, to ﬁnd additional publications a reference check of
the identiﬁed studies was performed and conversations with four Dutch experts in the
ﬁeld of oﬃce innovation were conducted.
Study selection was carried out in two stages. In the ﬁrst stage, studies were included on
the basis of title and abstract using four inclusion criteria: (a) original study (no review or
opinion article); (b) the study examines oﬃce location, oﬃce lay-out or oﬃce use as
independent variables; (c) the study is conducted among individuals who perform paid
oﬃce work in an oﬃce environment; and (d) analogous with the conceptual model, the
study examines work conditions, short- or long-term reactions as dependent variables. In
the second stage, studies were included on the basis of the whole manuscript using the
same four criteria.
4.2. Methodological quality assessment
Using generally accepted criteria as the point of departure (Altman 2001), the quality of
the included studies was evaluated on the basis of: (a) the response percentage ( 450%):
122 E. M. de Croon et al.
(b) the adequacy of the statistical tests that were used; and (c) the quality of the study
design (see Table 2 for an explanation). Studies were classiﬁed as high quality studies
when they met all three quality criteria. Studies that met one or two quality criteria were
classiﬁed as medium quality studies. Studies that did not meet any quality criterion were
labelled low quality studies and were excluded from further review in spite of their
4.3. Synthesis of the evidence
On the basis of the quality and consistency of the ﬁndings in the literature (Arie
¨ns et al.
2001; Lievense et al. 2002), the information on oﬃce eﬀects was synthesized into four
levels of evidence: (1) insuﬃcient evidence: less than three studies are available; (2) limited
evidence: consistent ﬁndings in one or two high-quality studies and at least two medium
quality studies; (3) strong evidence: consistent ﬁndings in at least three high quality
studies; and (4) inconsistent evidence: the remaining cases. It should be noted that only
statistically signiﬁcant ﬁndings were taken into account in the evidence synthesis.
The search in the databases and the reference lists, as well as the conversations with the
experts, resulted in 1091 publications. After the ﬁrst inclusion stage, 80 publications were
withheld. After the second inclusion stage, 49 of these 80 publications remained in the
study for review.
Table 3 gives information on the independent and dependent variables, the country in
which the study was conducted, the occupational setting, the response percentage, the
Table 1. Terms in title or summary used for the search.
Activity-related oﬃce Landscape oﬃce Virtual \oﬃce
Lean oﬃce Oﬃce renovation Telework \oﬃce
Clean desk New oﬃce Working at home \oﬃce
concept Innovative workplace Private \oﬃce
Cocon oﬃce New oﬃce layout Open(ness) \oﬃce
Combi-oﬃce Non territorial oﬃce Closed \oﬃce
Concentration workplace Non-territorial oﬃce Density \oﬃce
Conventional oﬃce Open oﬃce Dense \oﬃce
Desk-sharing Open plan oﬃce Crowding \oﬃce
Wireless oﬃce Team oﬃce Enclosures \oﬃce
oﬃce Traditional oﬃce Spatial \oﬃce
Experimental oﬃce Variety oﬃce Boundaries \oﬃce
Flexible oﬃce Oﬃce transformation Distance \oﬃce
Flexible workplace Virtual oﬃce Accessibility \oﬃce
Shared oﬃce Innovative oﬃce Visibility \oﬃce
Group oﬃce Workplace innovation Partitions \oﬃce
Hotel oﬃce Shared workplace Noise \oﬃce
Innovative oﬃce Oﬃce innovation Privacy \oﬃce
Innovative workplace concepts Flexible \oﬃce
Cocon oﬃce is derived from the terms communication and concentration and is characterized by
separate and small workstations destined for carrying out individual tasks and a large communal room
reserved for consultations.
Dynamic oﬃce concerns an oﬃce concept that allows oﬃce workers to search
for a workstation that is ﬁtted to the very task at hand. At oﬃce management the oﬃce worker may book
a workstation in advance.
The eﬀect of old and new oﬃce concepts on health and performance 123
adequacy of statistical testing, the study design and the quality rating. Inspection of table
3 reveals that twelve studies met all three quality criteria (high quality studies); 35 studies
met one or two criteria (medium quality studies); and two studies met no criteria
(excluded low quality studies). Three, seven and 37 studies investigated the oﬃce location,
the oﬃce lay-out and the oﬃce use, respectively, as the independent variable.
Furthermore, the eﬀect on work conditions, short- and long-term reactions was
examined in 25, 26 and 17 studies, respectively. Please note that several studies examined
more than one dependent variable.
5.1. Eﬀects of oﬃce location on work conditions and short- and long-term reactions
5.1.1. Eﬀect of oﬃce location on work conditions. Three studies (references 1, 2, 3 in
table 3) examined the eﬀect of oﬃce location, namely, teleworking at home, on work
conditions. One study (reference 3 in table 3) established no eﬀect of teleworking on
working hours, communication, autonomy and interpersonal relations. The second study
(reference 2 in table 3) showed that teleworking was associated with more overwork as
compared to working in the conventional oﬃce. Furthermore, this study demonstrated
that teleworkers perceive more work autonomy as compared to oﬃce workers in the
conventional oﬃce. The third study (reference 1 in table 3) did not show evidence of an
eﬀect of teleworking on working hours and interpersonal relations. In short, there is
insuﬃcient evidence to conclude about the eﬀect of teleworking on work conditions.
5.1.2. Eﬀect of oﬃce location on short-term reactions. Two studies (references 2, 3 in
table 3) looked into the eﬀect of teleworking at home on short-term reactions. One study
(reference 3 in table 3) failed to ﬁnd an eﬀect of teleworking on job satisfaction. The other
study (reference 2 in table 3) found that, as compared to working in the conventional
oﬃce, teleworking at home slowed down adrenaline recovery after work. In short, there is
insuﬃcient evidence to make a conclusion about the eﬀect of oﬃce location on short-term
5.1.3. Eﬀects of oﬃce location on long-term reactions. One study (reference 2 in table 3)
investigated the association between teleworking at home and performance. This study
Table 2. Description and evaluation of the four study designs
Type of design Description
(0 – 1)
Design in which a speciﬁc oﬃce environment is simulated and potential
eﬀects on work conditions, health and well-being are examined under
Design in which work conditions, health and well-being of the same oﬃce
workers are observed before and after an oﬃce transformation
Design in which oﬃce workers who occupy a new oﬃce are asked to compare
work conditions, health and well-being in the current oﬃce environment with
work conditions, health and well-being of their former oﬃce
Design in which work conditions, health and well-being of two groups of
oﬃce workers in diﬀerent oﬃce environments are compared
Note. 0 = design is of low to medium quality; 1 = design is of high quality.
124 E. M. de Croon et al.
Table 3. Description of the 49 studies.
Setting of study Follow-up Independent
variable Statist. Study Total
Reference number (reference) population Country in months N variable W S L Response test design score Quality
1. (Hill et al. 1998) Marketing US – 246 Location 3360% 1 CFD 2 MQ
2. (Lundberg and Lindfors 2002) Government Sweden 51 26 Location 33 46% 1 PFD 2 MQ
3. (Olson 1989) IT US 6 32 Location 33 100% 1 PFD 3 HQ
4. (Banburry and Berry 1997) Clerical UK – 48 Lay-out 3100% 1 LAB 3 HQ
5. (Banburry and Berry 1998) Clerical UK 48 Lay-out 3100% 1 LAB 3 HQ
6. (Becker et al. 1983) University US – 100 Lay-out 397% 1 CFD 2 MQ
7. (Block 1989) Clerical US 169 Lay-out 33 100% 1 LAB 3 HQ
8. (Brasche et al. 2001) Diverse Germany NA Lay-out 370% 1 CFD 2 MQ
9. (Brennan et al. 2002) Petrol company Canada 6 21 Lay-out 333 26% 1 PFD 2 MQ
10. (Brookes 1972) Retail ﬁrm US 9 100 Lay-out 383% 1 PFD 3 HQ
11. (Carlopio and Gardner 1992) Bank Australia – 228 Lay-out 33 60% 1 CFD 2 MQ
12. (Cosijn and Den Hertog 1972) Electronics Netherlands 36 365 Lay-out 382% 0 RFD 1 MQ
13. (Crouch and Nimran 1989) Government Australia – 51 Lay-out 3329% 1 CFD 1 MQ
14. (Duvall-Early and Benedict 1992) Secretary US – 130 Lay-out 365% 1 CFD 2 MQ
15. (Evans and Johnson 2000) Clerical US – 40 Lay-out 3100% 1 LAB 3 HQ
16. (Fried 1990) University US – 152 Lay-out 33 62% 1 CFD 2 MQ
17. (Fried et al. 2001) University US – 93 Lay-out 33 NA 1 CFD 1 MQ
18. (Hedge 1984) Government US – 1,332 Lay-out 3365% 1 CFD 2 MQ
19. (Jaakkola and Heinonen 1995) Government Finland – 122 Lay-out 371% 1 CFD 2 MQ
20. (Keller 1986) R&D US – 221 Lay-out 33 90% 1 CFD 2 MQ
21. (Kupritz 1998) Designers US – 89 Lay-out 3100% 1 CFD 2 MQ
22. (Kurvers et al. 2001) NA US – 7,822 Lay-out 3NA 0 CFD 1 MQ
23. (Marans and Yan 1989) Diverse Australia – 1,000 Lay-out 380% 0 CFD 1 MQ
24. (O’Brien and Pembroke 1982) Government Australia – 195 Lay-out 33 76% 1 CFD 2 MQ
25. (O’Neill 1994) Diverse US – 541 Lay-out 333 77% 1 CFD 2 MQ
26. (Oldham and Brass 1979) Publisher US 5 128 Lay-out 33 91% 1 PFD 3 HQ
27. (Oldham and Rotchford 1983) University US – 114 Lay-out 33 100% 1 CFD 2 MQ
28. (Oldham and Fried 1987) University US 24 109 Lay-out 33 96% 1 PFD 3 HQ
The eﬀect of old and new oﬃce concepts on health and performance 125
Table 3 (continued)
Setting of study Follow-up Independent
variable Statist. Study Total
Reference number (reference) population Country in months N variable W S L Response test design score Quality
29. (Oldham 1988) Insurance US 3 65 Lay-out 333 51% 1 PFD 3 HQ
30. (Oldham et al. 1991) Government US – 298 Lay-out 33 100% 1 CFD 2 MQ
31. (Rishi et al. 2000) Bank India – 85 Lay-out 33 100% 1 CFD 2 MQ
32. (Sundstrom et al. 1980) Diverse US – 213 Lay-out 333 74% 1 CFD 2 MQ
33. (Sundstrom et al. 1982b) Diverse US – 228 Lay-out 33 76% 1 CFD 2 MQ
34. (Sundstrom et al. 1982a) NA US 2 70 Lay-out 354% 1 PFD 3 HQ
35. (Sutton and Rafaeli 1987) University US – 109 Lay-out 33 100% 1 CFD 2 MQ
36. (Szilagy and Holland 1980) Petrol company US 4 96 Lay-out 33 100% 1 PFD 3 HQ
37. (Wollmann et al. 1994) University US – 293 Lay-out 359% 1 CFD 2 MQ
38. (Zahn 1992) Industry US – 45 Lay-out 348% 1 CFD 1 MQ
39. (Zalesny and Farace 1987) Government US 11 247 Lay-out 352% 1 PFD 3 HQ
40. (Zhou et al. 1998) University US – 75 Lay-out 362% 1 CFD 2 MQ
41. (Allen and Gerstberger 1973) Product engineers US 12 10 Use 333 41% 1 PFD 2 MQ
42. (Barten 2001) Bank Netherlands 11 72 Use 33 33% 0 RFD 0 LQ
43. (Beunder 2000) Bank Netherlands 12 30 Use 3375% 0 RFD 1 MQ
44. (Boerstra and Raue 2000) Government Netherlands 6 19 Use 358% 0 RFD 1 MQ
45. (De Jonge and Rutte 1999) Insurance Netherlands 24 122 Use 333 20% 1 PFD 2 MQ
46. (Heerink and Vermeulen 2001) Accountancy Netherlands NA 211 Use 333 53% 0 RFD 1 MQ
47. (Van den Brink 2000) Bank Netherlands 13 159 Use 363% 0 RFD 1 MQ
48. (Van Wijk 1999) NA Netherlands 5 257 Use 330% 0 RFD 0 LQ
49. (Vos and Dewulf 1998) Government Netherlands 24 152 Use 366% 0 RFD 1 MQ
Note. NA = information is not available; Follow-up = duration of follow-up in months; N = number of participants; Independent variable: location = workplace location;
lay-out = workplace lay-out; use = workplace use; Dependent variable: W = work conditions (job demands or job resources); S =short-term reactions; L = long-term
reactions; Response = percentage of oﬃce workers who participated; Statist. test = the adequacy of the statistical test that was used in the study (0 = insuﬃcient;
1 = suﬃcient); Study design: LAB = laboratory design; PFD = prospective ﬁeld design; RFS = retrospective ﬁeld design; CFD = cross-sectional ﬁeld design; Total
score = the number of quality criteria that were fulﬁlled (0– 3); Quality: HQ =high-quality study, MQ = medium-quality study, LQ= low-quality study (excluded from the
126 E. M. de Croon et al.
failed to establish an association between teleworking and performance. Thus, there is
insuﬃcient evidence to conclude on the eﬀect of oﬃce location on long-term reactions.
5.2. Eﬀects of oﬃce lay-out on work conditions and short- and long-term reactions
5.2.1. Eﬀects of oﬃce lay-out on work conditions. Twenty-four studies examined the
eﬀect of workplace openness, or distance between workplaces on cognitive workload,
communication, interpersonal relations, autonomy, or psychological privacy (references
6, 7, 9 – 14, 17, 18, 21, 24 – 27, 29, 31 – 34, 36, 38 – 40 in table 3). Table 4 indicates there is
strong evidence that working in open workplaces reduces the oﬃce worker’s psychological
privacy and there is limited evidence that working in open workplaces intensiﬁes cognitive
workload and worsens interpersonal relations. As is also shown in table 4, inconsistent
Table 4. Results of the synthesis of evidence with regard to the eﬀect of oﬃce lay-out
(workplace openness and distance between workstations) on work conditions (cognitive
workload, communication, interpersonal relations, autonomy and privacy).
Studies, ﬁrst author
Eﬀect of workplace openness on:
Cognitive workload 2 HQ: Block (7), Oldham (26) Positive (7, 26) Limited (positive)
5 MQ: Becker (6), Crouch (14),
Kupritz (21), O’Neil (25), Oldham (27)
No (25, 27);
Positive (6, 14, 21)
Communication 3 HQ: Oldhdam (26), Sundstrom (34),
No (26, 34);
3 MQ: Cosijn (12), O’Neil (25),
Negative (12, 25)
Interpersonal relations 1 HQ: Oldham (26) Negative (26) Limited (negative)
3 MQ: Brennan (9), Fried (17),
Negative (9, 27)
Autonomy 2 HQ: Oldham (29), Zalesny (39) No (29, 39) Inconsistent
2 MQ: Oldham (27) Negative (27)
Psychological privacy 4 HQ: Brookes (10), Oldham (29),
Sundstrom (34), Zalesny (39)
Negative (10, 29,
10 MQ: Becker (6), Carlopio (11),
Crouch (12), Duvall-Early (14),
Kupritz (21), O’Neil (25), Oldham (27),
Rishi (31), Sundstrom (32, 33)
Negative (6, 11, 12,
21, 25, 27, 31, 32,
Eﬀect of distance between work stations on:
Cognitive workload 2 MQ: O’Neil (25), Oldham (27) Negative (25, 27) Limited (negative)
1 HQ: Oldham (29) Negative (29)
Communication 1 HQ: Szilagyi (36) Negative (36) Inconsistent
2 MQ: Oldham (27), Zahn (38) No (27);
Autonomy 1 HQ: Szilagyi (36) Negative (36) Inconsistent
1 MQ: Oldham (27) No (27)
Psychological privacy 1 HQ: Oldham (29) Positive (29) Limited (positive)
4 MQ: Duvall-Early (14),
Oldham (27), Rishi (31),
Positive (14, 27, 31)
Note. HQ = high-quality study; MQ = medium-quality study.
The eﬀect of old and new oﬃce concepts on health and performance 127
evidence was found for an eﬀect of workplace openness on communication and
autonomy. Moreover, there is limited evidence that a close distance between workplaces
intensiﬁes the oﬃce worker’s cognitive workload and reduces his/her psychological
privacy. Finally, there is inconsistent evidence for an eﬀect of distance between
workstations on communication and autonomy.
5.2.2. Eﬀects of oﬃce lay-out on short-term reactions. Twenty-one studies examined
the eﬀect of workplace openness or distance between workstations on short-term
reactions (references 7, 9, 11, 15 – 17, 20, 23 – 33, 35 – 37 in table 3). From table 5 it can be
seen there is strong evidence that working in open workplaces reduces job satisfaction.
Table 5 also shows there is inconsistent evidence for an eﬀect of close distance between
workstations on job satisfaction and for an eﬀect of workplace openness and distance
between workstations on crowding stress.
5.2.3. Eﬀects of oﬃce lay-out on long-term reactions. Sixteen studies examined the
eﬀect of workplace openness or distance between workstations on long-term reactions
(references 4, 5, 8, 9, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 28 – 30, 32, 35 in table 3). The evidence
synthesis shows there is inconsistent evidence for an eﬀect of workplace openness and
distance between work stations on performance and health.
5.3. Eﬀects of oﬃce use on work conditions and short- and long-term reactions
5.3.1. Eﬀects of oﬃce use on work conditions. Seven medium quality studies examined
the eﬀect of oﬃce use on work conditions (references 41, 43 – 47, 49 in table 3). Synthesis
of the evidence shows there is limited evidence that desk-sharing improves communication
Table 5. Results of the synthesis of evidence with regard to the eﬀect of oﬃce lay-out
(workplace openness and distance between workstations) on short-term reactions (crowding
stress and job satisfaction).
Studies, ﬁrst author
Eﬀect of workplace openness on:
Crowding stress 1 HQ: Oldham (29) Positive (29) Inconsistent
5 MQ: Carlopio (11), Oldham (27), Rishi
(31), Sundstrom (32), Zhou (34)
No (11, 27, 34);
Positive (31, 32)
Job satisfaction 4 HQ: Block (7), Oldham (26, 28, 29) Negative (7, 26, 28, 29) Strong
6 MQ: Oldham (27, 30), Rishi (31),
Sundstrom (32, 33), Sutton (35)
No (27, 32, 33);
Negative (30, 31, 35)
Eﬀect of distance between work stations on:
Crowding stress 1 HQ: Oldham (29) Negative (29) Inconsistent
5 MQ: O’Brien (24), Oldham (27), Rishi
(31), Sundstrom (32), Zhou (34)
No (24, 31, 32, 34);
Job satisfaction 2 HQ: Oldham (29), Szilagyi (36) Positive (29),
9 MQ: Fried (17), Keller (20), O’Brien
(24), Oldham (27, 30), Rishi (31),
Sundstrom (32, 39), Sutton (35)
No (20, 27, 31, 32, 39);
Positive (17, 24, 30, 35)
Note. HQ = high-quality study; MQ = medium-quality study.
128 E. M. de Croon et al.
between oﬃce workers. In addition, inconsistent evidence was found that desk-sharing
intensiﬁes cognitive workload.
5.3.2. Eﬀects of oﬃce use on short-term reactions. Three studies investigated the eﬀect
of oﬃce use, i.e. desk-sharing, on short-term reactions (references 41, 45, 46 in table 3).
Due to the small number of studies the evidence is insuﬃcient to make inferences about
the eﬀect of oﬃce use on short-term reactions.
5.3.3. Eﬀects of oﬃce use on long-term reactions. Four studies examined the eﬀect of
oﬃce use, namely, desk-sharing, on long-term reactions (references 41, 43, 45, 46 in table
3). Due to insuﬃcient evidence no inferences about the eﬀect of desk-sharing on long-term
reactions can be made.
6.1. Eﬀects of oﬃce innovation
This review failed to provide evidence for an eﬀect of oﬃce location, namely, teleworking
at home, on work conditions, short- and long-term reactions. In contrast, evidence was
provided for an eﬀect of oﬃce lay-out on work conditions and short-term reactions. In
particular, strong evidence was found that working in open workplaces reduces the oﬃce
worker’s privacy and job satisfaction. Also, limited evidence was found that close distance
between workstations intensiﬁes cognitive workload and reduces psychological privacy. In
accordance with the conceptual model (see ﬁgure 1), therefore, oﬃce concepts do aﬀect the
oﬃce worker’s job demands, job resources and short-term reactions. More speciﬁcally,
consistent with overload theory (Desor 1972; Oldham and Fried 1987), open workplaces
and high-density oﬃces increase cognitive workload, it is thought, due to too many people
and interactions and too close proximity to others. Consequently, oﬃce workers have
diﬃculty concentrating, react negatively to interactions and become dissatisﬁed with their
job. Furthermore, compatible with privacy theory (Sundstrom et al. 1980), the lack of
acoustic and visual isolation in open workplaces diminishes the control over interaction
with others and hinders workers in discussing personal topics in conﬁdence.
Also in agreement with the conceptual model, oﬃce use, in terms of desk-sharing, was
found to stimulate communication between oﬃce workers. In particular, the evidence
synthesis provided limited evidence that desk-sharing improves this job resource.
Presumably, oﬃce workers who share desks need to change workplaces repeatedly. This
increases the opportunity to interact and, as a consequence, improves communication
(Vos and Van der Voordt 2002).
In contrast to the conceptual model’s propositions, inconsistent evidence
was provided for the eﬀect of oﬃce lay-out on communication, autonomy, crowding
stress, performance and health. Possibly, person-, work-, or environment-related
variables moderate eﬀects of the oﬃce lay-out. Indeed, person-related variables such as
low need for privacy (Oldham 1988), high screening ability (Fried 1990; Oldham et al.
1991) and low organizational tenure (Fried et al. 2001) have been found to buﬀer harmful
oﬃce eﬀects. Furthermore, work-related variables, such as low task complexity (Block
1989), and environment-related variables, such as favourable lighting and air conditions
(Hedge 1984; Adams and Zuckerman 1991), may protect oﬃce workers from negative
oﬃce lay-out eﬀects. Integration of these variables into the conceptual model may
improve its predictive validity.
The eﬀect of old and new oﬃce concepts on health and performance 129
6.2. Scientiﬁc considerations
Four aspects of this review should be commented upon to appreciate the practical
implications of the ﬁndings. First, as mentioned brieﬂy in the introduction, other aspects
of the oﬃce plan may inﬂuence oﬃce worker health and performance. These aspects
include characteristics of desks and chairs (de Looze et al. 2004), computers, monitors
and keyboards (Briner and Hockey 1994; Hedge and Powers 1995), lighting conditions
(Hedge 2000), colour and material use (Carlopio 1996; Giﬀord 1997), thermal conditions
(Vasmatzidis et al. 2002) and the indoor air quality (Menzies and Bourbeau 1997;
Kolstad et al. 2002; Burge 2004). To obtain a full picture of oﬃce eﬀects, these
characteristics should also be considered.
Second, although a large number of publications about eﬀects of oﬃce concepts were
found, the number of scientiﬁc studies with a prospective or laboratory design and
adequate response was small. This restricted the opportunity to make inferences about
several hypothesized oﬃce eﬀects. Research that addresses the eﬀects of oﬃce location
(i.e. telework) and oﬃce use (i.e. desk-sharing), as well as research that examines health
eﬀects of oﬃce innovation in particular, is scarce. Considering the popularity of telework
and desk-sharing and the high prevalence of stress-related health complaints such as
fatigue and musculoskeletal complaints among oﬃce workers, this gap in knowledge is
Third, this review examined the eﬀect of innovative oﬃces on work conditions and
health and performance of oﬃce workers without taking the implementation process into
account. Conversations with experts involved in the development of new oﬃce concepts,
however, reveal that oﬃce concepts are often implemented without the participation of
the oﬃce worker. Research has demonstrated that low participation during implementa-
tion of innovations may negatively aﬀect the worker’s attitude (Baruch and Hind 2003).
Presumably, the involvement of oﬃce workers will promote the successful implementa-
tion of innovative oﬃces.
Fourth, the integration of the study quality in the synthesis of the evidence (Slavin
1995) allowed more weight to be given to results obtained in high-quality studies when
reaching conclusions, as compared to results obtained in medium quality studies. The
best-evidence-methodology, therefore, is considered a strong aspect of this review.
6.3. Practical implications
The ﬁndings of this review carry practical implications for ergonomists involved in the
development and implementation of innovative oﬃces. First, the unfavourable eﬀect of
workplace openness implies that, to safeguard the well-being of the oﬃce worker,
innovative oﬃces should provide suﬃcient shelter from unwanted acoustic and visual
stimuli. To this end, innovative oﬃces should be supplied with an adequate number of
enclosed, sound-insulated workstations. In addition, tall, enclosed or frosted glass sound-
insulating partitions between open workplaces, textile ﬂoor covering, acoustic ceiling tiles
and printer cabinets might be applied for this purpose. Second, the moderating eﬀect of
person-, work- and environment-related variables implies that detrimental oﬃce eﬀects
might be diminished by the application of measures directed at these variables.
Ergonomists might, for instance, prevent unfavourable eﬀects of open and crowded
oﬃces by improving lighting and climate conditions. In addition, attention might be paid
to the workplace lay-out of high tenure oﬃce workers who have a higher need for privacy
and low screening-ability, and are engaged in complex work. Third, the observed limited
130 E. M. de Croon et al.
evidence for an eﬀect of desk-sharing on communication suggests that companies might
improve organizational eﬀectiveness by application of this oﬃce concept.
Strong evidence was established that working in open workplaces reduces the oﬃce
worker’s psychological privacy and job satisfaction. Additionally, some limited evidence
was found that: (a) working in open workplaces intensiﬁes cognitive workload and
worsens interpersonal relations; (b) a close distance between workstations intensiﬁes
cognitive workload and reduces the oﬃce worker’s psychological privacy; and (c) desk-
sharing improves communication. These ﬁndings indicate that innovative oﬃces may
aﬀect the organization’s cost-eﬃciciency as well as the oﬃce worker’s work conditions
and well-being. Therefore, the eﬀect of innovative oﬃces on the oﬃce worker’s work
conditions and well-being should be considered during the development and introduction
of innovative oﬃces.
We would like to thank Jaap Hanekamp of the Heidelberg Appeal Netherlands
Foundation, Chris Kuiper, Lector at the Institute for Work and Health, Academy of
Rotterdam and Wim Pullen, Managing Director of the Center for People and Buildings
at the University of Delft for their support during this study. We are also grateful to John
Bergs of BenR advisers, Atze Boerstra of Boerstra Indoor Climate Consultancy, Ernst
Koningsveld of TNO Work and Employment, Professor Annelies van Bronswijk of the
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