Office accommodation, the campaign builds




Last week we reported on recent research into the deleterious effects of open plan working. But there is also a long history of hard evidence which add weight to our campaign to save access to proper office accommodation.

In their 2012 research “The Open-Plan Academy: Space, Control and Undermining of Professional Identity", (published in the Journal Work, Employment and Society) academics, Chris Baldry and Alison Barnes cite research on the negative impacts of open plan office in Universities.

They found academic staff reported a decline in communication because for them, good communication meant the ability to hold confidential conversations.

The authors found that while open-plan space may suit creative and design offices, the evidence equally suggests that it does not suit professional and “think" work, where open-plan spaces may hinder rather than facilitate effective working. They also found that academics needed a private office to enable confidential consultation with students.

A salient point made by the authors is that the design of the work environment is never a one-size-fits-all process, something NSW Health should listen to.

One of the driving forces for open plan offices was the corporatisation of universities and the budget driven push for space efficiency. The traditional respect shown for many academics, allowing them a space for solitude, the stimulus for thought-provoking papers and ground-breaking research has been eroded.

Swedish research from 2014 found most workers complained that open plan offices are noisy, distracting and lack privacy, and they also make workers sicker, with women particularly at risk. The Stockholm University study of nearly 2000 workers found their office layout had a ''significant'' bearing on the amount of sick leave they took.

Employees in open plan offices were the most likely to have taken days off. And when it came to extended bouts of sick leave, women in large open plan offices were far more at risk than workers in private offices, while men who were hot desking tended to record the highest number of total annual sick days.

''The evidence indicates that traditional open plan offices are less good for employee health,'' said the researchers whose study was published in the journal Ergonomics.


They suggested the risk of infection could be higher among people sharing a workspace and that workers in open plan offices were more exposed to environmental stress agents such as noise


The Swedish findings support earlier research that shows people in open plan offices are more likely to have elevated stress levels, higher blood pressure, get the flu and struggle with the lack of privacy.

A 2014 University of Sydney study found the disadvantages for employees far outweigh the benefits.

The survey of 42,000 workers in the US, Finland, Canada and Australia found open plan offices scored ''considerably low'' for satisfaction of visual privacy, noise and space. Meanwhile, workers in open plan offices were not any more satisfied than those in private offices with the ease of interaction with colleagues.

However, we can push back, and we can win. Several years ago, Melbourne University’s faculty of education staff celebrated a win after management backed down over open-plan offices for most academics in two new and refurbished buildings.

So please join us in our campaign and help us push back against this attack on your professionalism.