Psychologists have been studying the effects of office environments for decades, and their research influences the spaces we work in today. Even the colours of walls have been studied: red helps us to focus on more detailed tasks, whilst both green and blue are said to make us more creative. High ceilings, too, are associated with feeling of freedom, encouraging a more abstract way of thinking. But it’s the idea of the open plan office that really comes in for special psychological attention.
Originally conceived in Hamburg over half a century ago, the thinking behind open plan was to create a better flow of communication and ideas among workers. The concept spread like rabbits breeding; in part thanks to the psychology, but also because it was cheap.
Now millions of us work in an open plan office. If you’re one of them, some of the following research may sound familiar.
One good thing about open plan, the psychologist Matthew Davis found, was how it often created the sense of a collective mission within an organisation. However, he also saw how the environment lowered attention spans, creativity and productivity. The main problem seems to be the lack of privacy offered by the one-big-room approach. This is particularly true for introverts, who are sensitive to over-stimulation.
Wherever you work, there are simple things you can do to take control over the space around you. Perhaps the easiest is to invest in a plant for your desk (whatever takes your fancy, as long as it has leaves and can survive the weekends). Just this touch of vegetation can help you feel less stressed and give a sense that the space is ‘yours’.
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