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Open-space offices can be better for the health, suggests study



Office managers should remove partitions between employees' desks to improve employee health, a study states.

Examining partitions, working in cabins or in private offices could affect workers' stress levels.

Employees in open workplaces are also more likely to engage in physical activity – which affects a person's health – researchers said.

The study, published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, concludes that open-plan offices are a healthier option compared to other types of workstation configurations.

A team of US researchers said that office environments were previously associated with work-related illness and stress, but little is known about whether office workplaces affect physical activity or stress.

They examined data from 231

US government employees who worked at four different locations.

Workers reported working in open-plan offices, high-walled cabins that can not be seen sitting down, or private, walled-up offices.

Participants carried heart sensors and physical activity monitors that recorded the intensity of movement of each type of activity over three consecutive working days and two nights.

Those who have worked in open-plan offices have 20% more physical activity than workers in cubicles and 32% more than in offices.

Increased physical activity in the office was again associated with a lower physiological burden – measured by cardiac monitors – outside the office.

Open-seated workers felt less stress in the office than in the cabins.

While the authors warned that the study was an observational study so that no cause and effect link could be established, they suggested that their findings show "how office design, powered by office workplaces, could be a health-promoting factor" ,

They added, "This study suggests that in some cases design modifications can be used to overcome the negative health effects of different types of office workstations."

The authors, led by experts from the University of Arizona, said open-plan offices could lead to increased physical activity by promoting "interaction and mobility, including movement to rooms for unplanned meetings and telephone conversations when available".

"People in open-bench sitting can also be aware of others and be more dependent on shared services (eg meeting rooms, print and storage areas, social spaces) as such in private offices," they wrote.

They concluded, "Given the importance of physical activity to health, the fact that office workplaces influence the way many people move around at work should not be overlooked in the health sector."


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