The Grapevine

Office Design Could Affect How Active You Are At Work, Study Shows

The design of the office you work at, specifically your workstation, could affect your activity levels during the day. This, in turn, can influence your stress levels during after-work hours. 

Conducted by the University of Arizona (UA) and the Baylor College of Medicine, the new study is believed to be the first one to explore how different types of office workstations affect us on these objective measures. The study titled "Effects of office workstation type on physical activity and stress" was published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a publication of British Medical Journals.

"We all know we should be increasing our activity but no matter how we try to encourage people to engage in healthy behavior, it doesn't work for long," said Dr. Esther Sternberg, research director of the UA Center for Integrative Medicine and senior author on the study.

In the case of office workers, it is known that they are at high risk of sedentary behavior due to the nature of their job. "So changing office design to encourage a healthy behavior is a passive way of getting people to be more active," Sternberg added.

As many as 231 people who work in federal office buildings were recruited by the research team. The participants were asked to wear sensors which tracked their stress and activity levels for a period of three workdays and two nights. They were worn around the clock, which helped in tracking activity and stress levels both inside and outside of the office.

Overall, three types of workstation types were compared — private offices (a private room), cubicles (desks with high-walled partitions), and open bench seating arrangements (seating out in the open next to other workers). It was found that workers in open bench seating arrangements were 32 percent more physically active at work than those in private offices and 20 percent more active than those in cubicles.

Furthermore, these workers who were more physically active went on to experience 14 percent less physiological stress after they left the office compared to the workers with less physical activity.

The findings were limited as the team could not confirm a causal relationship. However, it is suggested that employees are more likely to leave open workstations to seek some privacy.

It is not surprising, given that enclosed private offices are linked to better indoor environmental quality in terms of visual and auditory privacy, decreased noise levels, reduced risk of interruptions or distractions, etc. Cubicle workers might also experience some of these benefits, though to a lesser degree.

"Objective measurements using wearable sensors can inform policies and practices that affect the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of office workers worldwide," said lead author Casey Lindberg, a research associate at the UA Institute on Place, Wellbeing, and Performance.