Staff in open plan offices are more likely to be active and have lower stress levels during their working day than those in cubicles or in private offices, according to a study.
Workers in offices with no partitions or low partitions between desks were on average 31.8% more active than those who sat in a solitary office and 20.1% more active than those in cubicles, a study involving 231 workers in four office buildings in the US found.
The study – Effects of office workstation type on physical activity and stress, which was published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal – measured physiological stress and physical activity using a small, chest-worn sensor.
Levels of perceived stress were also measured using a smartphone app that prompted participants at a random point every hour to rate how stressed they felt on a scale of 1-7.
It found that staff who sat in “open bench” seating experienced lower levels of perceived stress while at work than those in cubicles – a difference of 9.1%.
Impromptu conversations were more likely to take place in open office environments than at solitary desks. Open plan seating was also more likely to give staff an increased awareness of other people.
It suggested that open-plan offices led to increased physical activity by promoting interaction between colleagues and encouraging staff to take any unplanned meetings or phone calls to another area.
Staff in more open offices might also be more dependent on “shared services”, such as printers and meeting rooms, than those in private offices, which encourage them to move around more.
“This is the first study to show that open bench seating may be an unrecognised positive factor in promoting physical activity levels at work,” the study says.
“Given the importance of physical activity to health, the fact that office workstation type may influence how much people move at work should not be overlooked.”
Esther Sternberg, study author and professor at University of Arizona College of Medicine, was reported on the BBC as having said: “We all know we should be increasing our activity but no matter how we try to encourage people to engage in healthy behaviour, it doesn’t work for long.
“So changing office design to encourage healthy behaviour is a passive way of getting people to be more active.”