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The Importance Of Work Environment Construction Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Construction
Wordcount: 4879 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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3.1 Introduction

This chapter reveals the importance of work environment and gives an over view on different types of office designs and its applications. Unit also provides an insight in to the evolution of the modern offices.

Workplace and Its Importance

A workplace is the physical work environment and it is very important to a person. The physical work environment is ranked one of the top three factors employees take into account when deciding to accept, decline or leave a job according to research carried out by the American Society of Interiors (ASID, 1999). Employee comfort, flexibility, access to equipments and privacy all depends on the physical work environment. Thus an unsatisfactory physical environment can lead to occupant dissatisfaction.

The prime factors the employees’ value in a work environment (ASID, 2001);

Comfort of the work environment, which includes the climate, ergonomics, lighting, noise, privacy, cleanliness and the overall atmosphere.

Communication, which is the effective means of communicating internally and externally with co-workers and customers.

Easy access to people, equipments and things needed in a workplace.

Functionally Efficient making the employees perform their task in an easy and efficient manner and with the effective utilization of space.

Workplace Productivity

According to Clements-Croome (2000) workplace productivity depends on the following variables;

Personal characteristics- the job itself

Characteristics of indoor climate- lighting, acoustic, temperature, air quality and workplace layout

Social factors- coworkers and the relationships with them

Organizational characteristics- structure of the organization and the management

Office productivity is a composite of the physical environment and the behavioural environment (Barry P. Haynes, 2007). Physical environment of productivity falls into two main categories: office layout and office comfort. The components distraction, interaction and informal interaction points relate more to the behavioural environment of productivity.

Fig 3.3 Validated Theoretical Framework of Office Productivity (Barry P. Haynes, 2007)






Ventilation, heating, natural lighting, artificial lighting, décor, cleanliness, overall comfort, physical security.


Office layout

Informal meeting areas, formal meeting areas, quiet areas, quiet areas, privacy, personal storage, general storage, work area-desk and circulation space.



Social interaction, work interaction, creative physical environment, overall atmosphere, position relative to colleagues,

position relative to equipment, overall office layout and refreshments.



Interruptions, crowding, noise

Table 3.3 Components of Office Productivity (Barry P.Haynes, 2007)

The primary goal in building design is designing spaces that are conducive to the tasks being performed in these spaces and to operate building systems in an efficient manner. The indoor air quality (IAQ) deteriorates and energy is wasted when the building systems that regulate and control indoor environmental conditions do not function properly. Conflict in performance requirements between several attributes, such as ventilation, lighting, or temperature can result from poor building performance. The cumulative effect of less than satisfactory performance culminates in “environmental stresses” perceived by the occupants. Building integrity depends on satisfaction of various factors (Preiser, 1989);

Functional/ Spatial Quality

Thermal Quality

Air Quality

Acoustic Quality

Visual Quality

The researchers have, for the most part, ignored the effects of building indoor environment on productivity and job satisfaction considering the great importance of the workplace, and the stresses related to it. The field studies were usually carried out by industrial organizations to determine the effects of extreme temperature and humidity conditions on workers. Most of the occupants in recent case studies have been highly dissatisfied with an environmental attribute even though some of the technical measurements indicate that current standards are being met. This shows the need to reassess the measurements and standards as they apply to more specific and newly emerging functional requirements.

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3.4 Evolution of Modern Office

Office is where people come to engage in activities for enterprise persevere and prosper. Office buildings in mid 1800s where rooms rented to a single company or to several firms for clerical and executive business. With a single purpose office building the workplace evolved with advances in construction technology, improvements in office equipment, and developments in organization theory. As the workforce grew, they were accommodated in larger general-purpose office spaces. Bullpens were the placement of enclosed offices on the perimeter created sizable interior spaces where hundreds of clerical workstations were placed in these expansive interior spaces.

Fig 3.4 Open bullpen office space in 1926 (Adopted from Denice Jaunzens, 1997, RICS browsed on 09-07-09)

It consisted of a rigid arrangement of desks in rows. With no visual or acoustic privacy, noisy, poorly lit environment they provided individual workers uncomfortable places to work. Ergonomics was not considered. A new office design called the Burolandschaft was developed in the late 1950s in Germany, which provide flexible office. Spacious layouts and high-quality furnishings were used. Space was divided into individual work areas tailoring to the occupants’ needs. Robert Propst, in 1960, developed an unconventional approach to furnishing offices by replacing traditional office furniture as desks and credenzas with furniture components and panels that could be assembled into a wide range of work settings. Storage units, work surfaces and other elements were hung on freestanding panels, which could be arranged as needed to form a complete office work setting. This was the beginning of systems furniture (GSA).

Changes occurring in the organization, communication techniques as well as functional conceptions of office space are presented in table.




Pattern of Work


Individual tasks




Group, project work




Own desk/office

Low utilization

Low density

Shared as needed

High utilization

High density


Status based

Single setting

Task based

Multiple/varied Settings

Table 3.4 Changes in functional concepts of office space (Adopted from Denice Jaunzens, 1997, RICS)

3.5 Types of Office Layouts in Modern Buildings

3.5.1 Closed Plan/Cellular Office

In closed plan, full height walls or partitions divide the space into offices and support space by floor-to-ceiling partitions (walls) with doors. It usually has a desk and chair. The people (one or two) working in a cellular office use the same office everyday and leave their working material there. Private offices are situated along the window wall. Administrative support is housed in workstations along corridors or in shared rooms.

3.5.2 Open Plan Office (“More Working in Less Space”)

Open plan office has a large open space and minimizes the use of small, enclosed rooms such as private offices. An open plan office saves spaces as compared to cellular offices. Cost, efficiency and communication are the major advantage of open plan.

Fig 3.5.2 An open plan office in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Open plan provides greater opportunity to maximize the utilization of space than closed plan and minimizes the circulation space required because workstations can be modified slightly to fit available space. The use of systems furniture in open plan can also improve space utilization because a job function can normally be accommodated in less space in a systems furniture workstation than in a closed-plan office.

Most of the modern buildings in UAE are implementing open plan offices. This design saves money, promotes teamwork and improves flexibility for future renovations. But many employees view this design as a series of compromises in terms of space, prestige and privacy. As employees consider changing from closed plan to open plan cubicles, they often have concerns about their abilities to work productively in what they anticipate to be noisier, more distracting workplace. The most overwhelming complaint about open plan office design is the lack of acoustic privacy.

New Environments for Working

The behavioural component of productivity, interaction signifies the importance of work interaction with the functional spaces such as hive, den, club and cell and link analysis which relates to the position relative to the equipment.

3.6.1 Francis Duffy Theory

Francis Duffy, chairman of international architectural practice DEGW and one of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the field of office design theorized that office design is closely related to increasing productivity at work through work-based layouts. Francis Duffy bases his theory on two organizational needs – privacy and teamwork. This explains the dynamics of change in office design and throws light on the ways in which office layouts are likely to differ and to change. Privacy and teamwork are interrelated with many aspects of office design because they affect worker’s expectations about the layout and work settings. Duffy identified organizational types as hive, cell, den and club in a way to capture the distinct work patterns and distinctive design features of each.

The implications of modern working practices for the specification and performance of building form and environment systems were studied in 1997 by DEGW in collaboration with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) (Laing et al, 1998). This led to the development of a model for ‘design logic in new office’ comprising of four alternative office layout topologies according to the activities they support. These were designated as;


Hive office is characterized by individual routine process work with low levels of interaction and low autonomy. The user sits at the workstations for continuous periods of time. Examples are call centre, customer support offices, BPOs etc.


Den office is associated with group work, interactive but not highly autonomous. This office is for group working in a simple setting, typically arranged in the open-plan or group room example, workstations in Advertising agency, Sales offices etc


Cell offices are for individual concentrated work with little interaction. Individuals occupy the whole office in an intermittent irregular pattern with extended working days, working elsewhere some of the time. This space is highly autonomous for example, CEO’s cabins, lawyers Office etc.


Club offices are for knowledge workers and are highly autonomous and   interactive. Occupancy is intermittent and over an extended working day. For example, conference rooms, meeting area, break-out areas and cafeteria where there are one off meetings, not ongoing interaction between the same people.



Arrangement space based on functionality (Adopted from Denice Jaunzens, 1997, RICS)

Cell Hive

Den Club

Fig:3.6.1b Typical arrangement in modern offices according to functionality

(Source: http://ergo.in/paw_funatwork.html browsed on 08-08-2009 original source: unknown)

3.6.2 Spaces for Performance

For the performance of workers three types of spaces are identified (BCO, 2008);

Spaces to concentrate

This is to provide space for workers for performing tasks, which require high levels of privacy and attention. These can be separate rooms, designated areas or rooms separated from noise and distraction of the office. These spaces are equipped with furniture and adjustable settings.

Spaces to collaborate

A collaborate space is a dedicated area for the teams to work and communicate freely. It should be well equipped with white boards, pen, paper, AV equipment etc. Movable furniture and flexible work settings should be there for personalized use. To suit the task and time of day, the lighting should be adjustable.

Spaces to contemplate

Contemplate space provide a space for the people to recover from stress and noise of the office environment. It should provide calm and noise free environment. Plants and adjustable lighting can make the contemplate space more relaxing.

3.6.3 Integrated Workspace

The result of a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to developing and providing workspace, bringing together the organization’s strategic real property plan with strategic business goals is Integrated Workplace. It provides the people in a workplace the physical space and tools needed for their success. Integrated workplace provides a flexible, efficient and cost-effective office environment that enhances productivity and retains quality work force.

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3.7 Functional arrangement of office space

3.7.1 Link Analysis

Link analysis is a technique used to represent relationships between elements in a design. It assesses the links or connections between areas, such as the frequency of people’s movements between two spaces. Applying this technique to the existing office environment will contribute to a conclusion of “who needs who” for the new office floor layouts. Avoiding any unnecessary movement around the office shall free up any possible hint of congestion. This technique will indicate where links are and most useful, but will not give the frequency. Therefore, an observational study of the current office structure will be concluded to see the frequency of events within the linking system. (Brooks, 1998)

Link Analysis before reorganisation

Link Analysis after reorganisation


Fig 3.7.1 Link Analysis (Adopted from Brooks, 1998)

Avoiding unnecessary journeys around a workplace can ease areas of congestion and reduce annoyance levels for workers seated near walkways.

3.8 Conclusion

The selection of the work place is truly based on the work culture, work style and nature of the job. Workplace selection should be primarily based on the job demands. Each

Job has its own requirements and if the facilitator is not able to meet the job demands that will lead to a decline in the productivity of the office workers.

Chapter-4 Factors Affecting Workplace Satisfaction and Productivity

4.1 Introduction

Before analysing the satisfaction level of the occupants we need to understand the factors related to workplace. This chapter provides and insight to the factors affecting the workplace, sick building syndromes (SBS) and indoor environment quality (IEQ) parameters.

4.2 Common Complaints in a Workplace

Key aspects affecting workplace satisfaction and productivity (Hilary Davies, 2005, RICS ):

Workplace layout: Most of the modern offices are open-plan to increase flexibility and allow changes in organization size and structure. Open-plan was intended to allow more communication among the co-workers. But according to study conducted by Pekala (2001) the work-success ratio for those who worked in open-plan was 74% less than those in enclosed offices. Thus the occupants were not satisfied with their work environment affecting their productivity.

Distractions: In most of the modern offices, noise is more because of workstation density and use of more office equipments. Workplace grids create more distraction. Workers in open plan are 65% more distracted than in private offices (Olson 2000). Increased errors and stress is generated as a result of working in a noisy environment. Thus noise impacts productivity (Leaman and Bordass 1999) and 70% of the occupants agreed that productivity can be increased by decreasing the office noise (Carsia 2002) .

Comfort, Health and Well-being: Air quality and ergonomics are the major areas which affect the occupants health and work environment. Repetitive strain injuries affect the health of the occupants leading to back pain and rehabilitation. Studies conducted by Kruk (1989) showed that an ergonomically designed chair can increase the occupant satisfaction in an office by 15%. Indoor air pollution also affects the occupant productivity which inturn can cause sick building syndrome (SBS).

Indoor Environment: Indoor environmental factors such as insufficient day-light, lighting, smelly air, acoustics causes occupant dissatisfaction and discomfort. Occupant satisfaction and productivity is inter-related. 79% of the employees surveyed in a Steelcase survey (2003) believed that the physical environment had an impact on occupant satisfaction. Frequently reported unfavorable conditions in UK offices were: high/low temperatures, stale air, noise problems, low quality lighting and insufficient day-light (Clements-Croome and Kaluarachchi , 2000).

Personal Control: This is one of the major problems affecting occupant satisfaction. Most of the occupants can be satisfied with individual control over their environment and when they are allowed to participate in the design decisions. Efficiency and morale increases when occupants are allowed to reconfigure their workplaces (Stern, 1991). The difference between a tolerable and intolerable workspace is the ability to fine-tune locally. The ability to control climate, reducing glare by able to move the desk, able to open the window, quiet space, storage space all boost employee satisfaction and productivity according to the survey by Knoll.

Employee Stress: Stress affecting the occupants can be various. This can be work-related stress due to increased workload or inadequate resources or less time, stress from home and life aspirations. High stress office environment can result from unsupportive, monitoring supervisors and low levels of job control (Kaplan and Arnoff, 1996). An open plan office with less privacy, increased noise and disturbances can also lead to low levels of psychological privacy. Thus dissatisfaction with the physical environment lead to decreased job performance.

4.3 Spatial Comfort & Productivity

As the offices shrink in size, dimensions of the office furniture become more important to the worker. Occupant in a building evaluates spatial comfort in terms of the amount of space they have, storage and ergonomic comfort of furniture. Key aspects of office furniture, such as work surface dimension, file storage; partition height and choice of accessories also affect spatial comfort. Smaller offices and workstations at higher densities cause users to be more aware of the amount of work surface they have. All these have a direct impact on the functional comfort and performance of work in an office.

Although modern office furniture is physically comfort, corporate tendency to standardize office and workstation layouts (one size fits all) and to density layouts at the cost of spaces to meet and work together makes a certain percentage of users functionally uncomfortable. Factors such as proximity to co-workers, varying partition height to enable contact with some colleagues and protect from contact with circulation areas and other workgroups, proximity to spaces to meet and work together and convenient access to shared storage and equipment all have a direct effect on how well people work.

Spatial comfort affects productivity of the occupants in a building as workspace size, configuration, storage and shared work areas directly affect the performance of individual and team tasks.

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a term used to describe a situation where the occupants in a building experience acute health or comfort problems during the time spent time in a particular building. The complaints can be widespread in a building or confined to a particular room or zone. The condition is temporary and most of the occupants find relief once they are out of the building. But some buildings can have long-term problems. According to the World Health Organization (1984 Committee Report) 30% of the new and re-modeled buildings may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality (IAQ).

Frequently reported symptoms or complaints of SBS are (Thad Godish, 1995);

Sensory irritation in eyes, nose and throat

Neurotoxic or general health problems such as headache, sluggishness, mental fatigue, dizziness, reduced memory

Skin Irritations

Nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions as running nose, asthma-like symptoms

Odor and taste sensations

4.4.1 Causes of Sick Building Syndrome

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigation, the primary contributor to SBS is inadequate ventilation. Air contamination from sources within the building such as copying machines was reported to be major cause of contamination. Other indoor sources like adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde, which can affect the health of the occupants, and at high concentrations be carcinogens. Chemical contaminants from outdoor sources which can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings and biological contaminants like bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses can also cause sick building symptoms.

4.5 Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ)

The IEQ in a building can affect the health, comfort and well-being of the occupant and intern the productivity of work. Indoor Environment Quality is used to describe air quality and the attributes of enclosed spaces. The key components of IEQ are;

Indoor air quality

Thermal comfort

Acoustic environment quality

Luminous and visual environment quality

4.5.1 Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is a major concern as it can have a major impact on occupant health, .90% of the people spent their time indoor and most of their in an office environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studies show that there can be more indoor pollutant levels than found outside which can increase the risk of illness. Indoor air pollution is ranked the most important environmental health problem. An improved indoor air quality can result in higher productivity.

The factors that affect indoor air quality are;

pollutants or odors;

building ventilation systems;

moisture and humidity

occupant perceptions and susceptibilities

Fig 4.5.1 Under floor air distribution system

(Source:http://www.cbe.berkeley.edu/underfloorair/typicaloffice.htm browsed on 10-07-09)

4.5.2 Thermal Comfort

Thermal comfort is defined as the ‘subjective satisfaction with the thermal environment’ (Bligh and Johnson, 1975). Thermal comfort is the psychological state of mind and affects the overall morale of a person. Productivity decreases in a workplace as employee complaints may increase and in some cases people may refuse to work in a particular environment. Air temperature, radiant heat, humidity and air movement are factors of thermal environment which may also contribute to the symptoms of sick building syndrome.(HSE Guidance)

4.5.3 Acoustic environment quality

An important attribute of commercial office building design is acoustics. One of the most prevalent annoyance sources in offices is noise which can lead to stress for occupants to maintain a high level satisfaction and moral health among occupants a good acoustic environment is very essential. The major sources of dissatisfaction include:

Speech interruptions, such as people talking over the phone, in adjacent areas and corridors

Equipment noise

Excessive background noise from HVAC and lighting systems

Lack of conversational privacy

Lack of personal control over noise levels

Space being acoustically too lively or too dead

Fig 4.5.3 An open plan office with no acoustic privacy

(Source:http://www.rockwool.com/acoustics/acoustical+comfort/acoustic+in+special+buildings/offices browsed 10-07-09)

The levels of background noise and speech privacy and separation between particular types of spaces have important implication for the work environment and productivity of building occupants. Distractions due to the sound of speech have been found to be significantly problematic especially in open plan offices. This is because speech is more distracting than unintelligible speech or sounds with no information content. Conversely, office spaces with low background noise can have poor levels of speech privacy, which can also hinder communication. (Peter Newton, Keith Hampson, 2009)

4.5.4 Luminous and visual environment quality

The luminous and visual environment quality is the totality of the characteristics of a building, which affects the occupants’ visual perceptions.

The occupants’ abilities to perform tasks will be affected by the luminous and visual environment if they are visually intensive. Occupant perceptions can be affected by the following (Peter Newton, Keith Hampson, 2009):

Luminance levels (ambient and task) for different task and their uniformity

Glare levels and reflections in computer screens

Levels of personal control through task lighting, shading or dimmers

Access to daylight and views

Lighting characteristics, such as color temperature and ballast flicker

Visual appeal and color scheme of interior design

Fig 4.5.4 An Office with abundant daylight for the entire office to gather (Source: http://images.businessweek.com/ss/06/12/1201_idea_factory/source/8.htm 12-07-09)

Dissatisfaction with the visual environment can be due to limited access to daylight, inappropriate light levels, glare levels and lack of control over the environment. Appropriate task lighting and integration of day lighting and electric lighting systems for ambient lighting wherever feasible can be introduced for improving the luminous and visual environment and maximizing occupant comfort,.

4.6 Office Ergonomics

Ergonomics incorporates the scientific and engineering disciplines that are concerned with the humans at work. An ergonomically designed workspace enhances people’s well-being, make work easy to do and allow people to perform efficiently (Kroemer, 2001).

The elements of ergonomic assessment include general physical activity, lifting and handling, work postures and movements, accident risk, job content, job restrictiveness, worker communication and personal contacts, decision making, repetitiveness of the work, the need for attentiveness, lighting and vision, thermal environment and noise. Ergonomic parameters which are required in the design of a workstation are (Craig A. Langston, 2003);

seat height with feet flat on the floor

height to top of thigh when seated (for desk height)

eye height above seat level (for use of computer)

height from seat to underside of elbow (for arm rest height)

near reach when seated and far reach when seated, affecting spread of equipment and functions on a desk and adjacent surfaces

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is the common type of injury due to poorly designed workstation. The RSI develops slowly and affects many parts of the body. An ergonomically designed workstation can reduce the possibility of RSI.

Fig 3.8 An Ergonomically designed Workstation (Adopted from David A. Madsen, 1990)

4.7 Conclusion

Every workstation has pros and cones while comparing openness, flexibility, privacy etc. While analysing the workplace satisfaction level the selection of type of workstation is an important factor. Furniture, accessories, flooring, ceiling, HVAC System, lighting, sound insulation, color schemes, interior design themes and corporate identity are the other ]factors affecting the satisfaction level of the occupants. Low Quality building design or interior design and poor maintenance will lead to sick building syndromes (SBS). Next chapter elaborates the method of research conducted to identify the facts.


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