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Effects of acoustic environment on work in private office rooms and open-plan offices - longitudinal study during relocation

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The aim was to determine how the perceived work environment, especially acoustic environment, and its effects differed in private office rooms and in open-plan offices. The subjects consisted of 31 workers who moved from private office rooms to open-plan offices and who answered the questionnaire before and after the relocation. Private office rooms were occupied only by one person while open-plan offices were occupied by more than 20 persons. Room acoustical descriptors showed a significant reduction in speech privacy after relocation. The noise level averaged over the whole work day did not change but the variability of noise level reduced significantly. Negative effects of acoustic environment increased significantly, including increased distraction, reduced privacy, increased concentration difficulties and increased use of coping strategies. Self-rated loss of work performance because of noise doubled. Cognitively demanding work and phone conversations were most distracted by noise. The benefits that are often associated with open-plan offices did not appear: cooperation became less pleasant and direct and information flow did not change. Nowadays, most office workers, independent of job type, are located in open-plan offices without the individual needs of privacy, concentration and interaction being analysed. This intervention study consisted of professional workers. Their work tasks mainly required individual efforts, and interaction between other workers was not of primary concern, although necessary. The results suggest that the open-plan office is not recommended for professional workers. Similar intervention studies should also be made for other job types.
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Keywords: acoustics; indoor environment; irrelevant speech effect; landscaped offices; office noise; office satisfaction; open-plan offices; private office rooms; productivity; speech; speech intelligibility; work performance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Indoor Environment Laboratory, Turku, Finland 2: Department of Psychology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland

Publication date: November 1, 2009

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