Finnish Institute of Occupational Health media release, 6 February 2023
The long-term well-being effects of activity-based offices have only been studied to a limited extent. The topic is relevant, as many workplaces are updating their space solutions in the era of hybrid work.
– The idea behind an activity-based office is that the employee can choose a suitable location for themselves and their task. It can be changed according to the situation and need. The number of open-plan offices is decreasing and multispace offices are becoming more common. “The pandemic made remote work more common, which has accelerated this development,” says Chief Researcher Virpi Ruohomäki from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
The implementation of activity-based offices is based on the assumption that people change work stations according to the requirements of their task, for example, by moving to the premises designated for concentration or co-operation. Previous research has shown that very few people actively operate in this manner.
New research results show that in a best-case scenario, non-designated work stations guide people to use the space more diversely, but the choice of work spaces is influenced by various individual and situation-specific factors that need to be taken into account in the design of the premises.
The research project of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has published two new scientific articles on the subject. The data was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study was carried out in an expert organization’s activity-based office where the personnel had moved from their own offices less than a year earlier. There were no designated work stations in the workplace.
The various workspaces of the activity-based office were used most actively by employees wo estimated their work ability to be good, young employees, men and supervisors. Finding a work station was most challenging for people who worked less often in the office, who had a significant workload and who were dissatisfied with how individual ergonomic needs had been taken into account in the design.
“There are great differences between employees in how they utilize an activity-based office. When designing the premises, attention should not only be paid to the demands of the work, but other factors as well. For example, individual needs arise from age, work ability and ergonomics,” says Chief Researcher Annu Haapakangas.
According to the study, the activity-based office best served those whose work focused on different co-operation situations. On the other hand, if the work contains little interaction but emphasizes concentration requirements and brainwork, an activity-based office may not be the ideal setting.
The research results were published in an article in the Ergonomics.
The well-being effects of changes in work spaces must be monitored
In a public-sector organization, the personnel moved from their own offices to an activity-based office. They had access to designated work stations, but little opportunity for remote work. The effects of the change in the work space were monitored for almost two years.
As a result of the change, the experience of privacy, support for individual tasks (such as peaceful working conditions for work requiring concentration), and work engagement (which reflects well-being at work) all deteriorated. On the other hand, the change had no impact on job satisfaction or how the office was perceived to support co-operation and interaction.
The results indicate that it is important to monitor the experiences and well-being of the personnel after moving to activity-based offices.
“Organizations should carefully consider whether designated work stations support the personnel's work tasks. The model does not always encourage active use of the premises, and, therefore, does not necessarily provide suitable conditions for individual tasks that require concentration,” says Senior Specialist Pia Sirola from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
The research results were published in an article in the Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies.
The ActiveWorkSpace research project
- The ActiveWorkSpace project has studied activity-based offices’ space solutions that support the employees’ environmental satisfaction, well-being at work and work engagement.
- The project is funded by the Academy of Finland
- The press release is based on the following articles:
- Haapakangas, A., Sirola, P., & Ruohomäki, V. (2022). Understanding user behaviour in activity-based offices. Ergonomics, 1–13. Full article: Understanding user behaviour in activity-based offices (tandfonline.com)
- Sirola, P., Haapakangas, A., & Ruohomäki, V. (2022). Perception of Work Environment and Well-being in Activity-based Office – Three-wave Longitudinal Study. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies. https://doi.org/10.18291/njwls.135181
- Learn more about the project page and the publications implemented in the project on the website of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
- Pia Sirola, Senior Specialist, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, tel. +358 43 825 9202, pia.sirola [at] ttl.fi (pia[dot]sirola[at]ttl[dot]fi)
- Virpi Ruohomäki, Study Co-Ordinator, Principal Investigator, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, tel. +358 30 474 2941, virpi.ruohomaki [at] ttl.fi (virpi[dot]ruohomaki[at]ttl[dot]fi)