Active Design Building

Do active design workplaces improve health and safety?

An Australian study has found employees who work in a new “active design building” spend less time sitting and have less lower back pain, but are more concerned by noise levels.

Researchers from the University of Sydney found that while the employees believed the new building was “more stimulating” than their previous workplaces, productivity remained mostly unchanged.

“Active design is a new concept that includes levels of environmental design, workplace culture and policy,” the researchers said.

“It addresses features of the built environment that can support daily physical activity,” they said.

“When new office and research buildings are designed, they often include central staircases, light and attractive walkways, communal areas and toilets adjacent to central areas that can increase incidental physical activity.”

The study involved a number of University of Sydney employees who moved from four different locations into one active design building. Sixty per cent were placed in an open-plan office (compared to 16% before) and some were provided with sit-stand desks.

After the move, participants reported reducing sitting time by 1.2 hours per day, the researchers said.

“The new building provided more opportunities for incidental activity, given the stairs are accessible and distances to kitchens and bathrooms longer than in any of the old buildings,” they said.

The participants also reported less lower back pain after the move, which “could be related to less sitting or better ergonomically-designed office furniture”.

Further, perceptions of the office environment changed, with participants reporting more light and air quality.

But they reported less satisfaction with noise after the move, despite noise levels being similar in the new and old buildings.

“The noise level was higher in the open-plan than in the shared offices and this could explain the decreased noise satisfaction. This is in line with previous research that found dissatisfaction with noise and privacy in open-plan offices,” the researchers said.

“The new work environment was perceived as more stimulating but no significant changes were seen on the self-rated quality or quantity of work,” they said.

“Employers opt for open-plan offices as an economic measure, with the hypothetical argument that they are conducive to communication and collaboration and hence productivity and creativity.

“Some studies have found that ‘increased interaction’ facilitated by open-plan office configuration was outweighed by increased noise levels and decreased privacy.”

However, participants didn’t report “significant negative effects” on productivity after the move, the researchers stressed.