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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Architectural enclosure's effect on office worker performance: a comparison of the physical and symbolic attributes of workspace dividers

  • Author(s): Goins, John
  • Jellema, Jon
  • Zhang, Hui, Ph.D
  • et al.

Most studies of offices examine their physical or symbolic attributes independently. Yet office components can contain both attributes. To minimize unintended but potentially negative effects on occupants, researchers must consider both the physical and symbolic attributes of components when making recommendations about their deployment. This study compares the effects of the physical and symbolic attributes of architectural enclosure on worker performance using a survey database that contains workers’ ratings of their office components. The amount of enclosure is determined by the height of the occupant’s workspace divider, with taller dividers offering more enclosure. Divider height is positively associated with ratings of the two physical attributes considered: speech privacy and visual privacy. Divider height, however, does not affect occupants’ ratings of a home-like atmosphere or workplace pride, the symbolic attributes considered. Yet, the occupants indicate that the two symbolic attributes are more important than the two physical attributes in improving their work performance. This might lead to office design choices. An office designed to maximize worker performance might do so by maximizing its symbolic impact. This analysis suggests that an office’s symbolic impact may not always be increased by including more offices with tall dividers like enclosed, private offices.

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