Office landscaping effects in the public sector: where you sit matters




Pollard, Craig

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Offices are undergoing a transformation around the world. The archetypal office design – the familiar combination of cubicles and corner offices – is diminishing in dominance. As real estate costs rise and technology enables new ways of working, organizations are responding with offices designed to facilitate the new reality of office work. While each office arrangement is unique, these designs inevitably involve reducing space, removing walls, and creating open-plan landscapes. These new designs may also necessitate changes in work behaviour as organizations implement strategies transforming personal space into public space while requiring employees to share more in general and specifically, occupy shared spaces. Implementing a new office design usually brings with it a corresponding change in office culture. The new landscape plays a role in shaping the behaviour of employees as they interact with each other and their new space. The direction of the change in behaviour, however, is contested. Proponents of designs with more openness often invoke notions of increased collaboration and interaction between employees; critics point out issues of privacy and personal space being areas of contention. Both arguments have traction and contribute to discussion on the impact of office designs on employee experiences and the broader office culture they create. The purpose of this project is to examine these issues in the context of public sector offices. Innovative office designs are often thought of as the exclusive domain of modern, private sector corporations; accordingly, the literature, both academic and professional, slants heavily towards private sector settings. The public sector, however, is embracing new office designs with equal interest and for similar reasons. Governments, including those of Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, are implementing office design programs with increasing frequency. This rush to transform public offices is concerning for various reasons. Studies of private sector redesigns have revealed inconsistent results and the interaction between new office designs and unique public sector factors is understudied. This project seeks to address this gap in the literature and produce applicable, actionable recommendations for public sector organizations interested in developing and implementing new office landscapes. These recommendations are designed to facilitate effective office design while creating conditions for positive employee experiences.