Psychology of Workspaces

Every week, Americans spend 33 percent of their time at work. The open office, cubicle and private office are the most popular types of workstations, and they can all have an effect on a person’s mental health.

The open office layout, as the name suggests, consists of an open room of desks with little or no divisions. It’s become popular over the past 20 years due to beliefs it would decrease costs and encourage interaction between coworkers. However, according to several studies, the layout’s lack of privacy has led to an increase of distractions and lower levels of concentration, affecting productivity and focus.

The cubicle and private office are signatures of the traditional office model. Cubicles have long been looked down upon, but some studies find that cubicles allow coworkers to interact while still having some privacy, and offer the chance to personalize the space by decorating, which both boost productivity and motivation. Private offices are a separate room, often with a door, and can be beneficial to employees who have a heavier workload and need more space.

Technology and the Internet enable people to work from home, with one 2017 survey finding over 3 million Americans currently telework. An entirely different setup since you are in your own place, working from home can have both positive and negative effects on mental health. Employees can feel more independent, which improves their self-discipline, focus and concentration. However, drawbacks include a lack of balance between home and work life, and feeling “out of the loop” since one is not physically present around their coworkers.

Layouts can be influenced by the type of business or organization. For example, the open office might work better in a newsroom, where constant collaboration between coworkers is normal. This compared to a think tank, where individual project would make private offices and cubicles more feasible.

Regardless of layout, here are some features of workspaces that can affect our mental health and physical health.

Furniture. The rolling desk chair is a popular symbol of the office, but can actually have a major effect on how you work. An improperly adjusted chair can affect posture, cause lower back pain and neck stiffness, leading to stress. Solutions include ensuring your chair is level with your screen or trying a convertible standing desk setup.

Noise. Whether your workstation is at the home or office, there’s going to be noise. Home offices can have traffic, lawn work and other neighborhood noise cause distractions, and a traditional office can have coworker conversations, announcements and more. Noise canceling headphones have become a popular option to deal with this, as has listening to music, although this can depend on personal preference.

Light. Natural light plays a major role in the rhythm of our body’s internal clock, which affects our overall health. One study found that employees that sit closer to a window are much more productive and have a greater satisfaction of their workplace. If windows aren’t available, talk to your office management about installing lights at your workspace or try bringing in a small lamp from home. Tying into the natural concept, having a plant on your desk helps can help employees feel more energized.

Decorations. Studies suggest that employees are more likely to be productive in a space they identify with. A blank office or cubicle wall gives one the chance to personalize it with pictures, photographs and other items. Plants can even improve energy levels. Whatever your workspace is, make it your own!


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