August 28th, 2018
Judging by the media attention, our recent British Medical Journal: Occupational Environmental Medicine study (Casey Lindberg et al. & GSA’s “Wellbuilt for Wellbeing” Team, 2018) clearly struck a chord. It seems that workers – at least those who commented online, viscerally hate their open office settings. But what we found, using objective measures collected from wearable devices, was that office workers in open office settings were 32% more active than those in private offices, 20% more active than those in cubicles, and the more active workers were less stressed during after work hours. Such differences, especially when cumulative over a working lifetime, are well within the medically relevant range. A 2018 report summarizing ten studies’ research findings of more than 17,000 people (American Journal of Preventive Medicine) found that simply replacing 30 minutes of sedentary activity daily with 30 minutes of even mild activity significantly reduced BMI (Body Mass Index = weight/height), risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. Imagine – your office could be part of your daily exercise regime – without any effort at all on your part. And yet people complain of noise, distraction, feeling watched. Indeed, other studies using different measures have reported negative effects (Philosophical Transacations of the Royal Society B). The open offices we studied were designed purposefully to give workers many choices for different kinds of work activities, including quiet areas for individuals, private conversations or small meetings. Although, without more research, we won’t know the reasons, it may be that people in the open offices moved more in order to get to those different spaces. We are entering a new era, where fewer people need to go to an office to work. More are telecommuting, working from home, or wherever they happen to be – coffee shops, the beach. Indeed, at an upcoming summit “RETHINK: Office of the Future: New York“, where I will be speaking, building owners and industry leaders will be grappling with how to design offices to adapt and stay ahead of the times. So, employers, if you want to keep your workers healthy, work with experts to get the objective measures you need to design your offices thoughtfully. In the meantime, workers, you can think of your office as your new gym!