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New Work Environments

Researchers from the PRÄGEWELT project study how open-plan offices affect well-being and work

Freiburg, Jan 28, 2020

New Work Environments

Open-plan work environments are large, open offices that offer various zones or spaces designed for different needs such as focused working, meetings or quiet spaces. Source: Christoph Duepper / Streit Service & Solution

When office buildings are built or redeveloped these days they increasingly provide what are called open-plan work environments. These are large, open offices that offer various zones or spaces designed for different needs such as focused working, meetings or quiet spaces. Academics from the PRÄGEWELT cooperative project which involves the University of Freiburg along with the Institut für Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung e.V. München (ISF Munich) and the two companies RBS München and AECOM München, have studied how this office concept affects the well-being and work of staff there. Researchers from the fields of sociology, psychology, and architecture worked together on the analysis, and conducted case studies in eight businesses which already have open-plan offices. “Our online survey showed that a narrow majority is satisfied or even very satisfied with the new working environment. However the vast majority of those surveyed see advantages and disadvantages there,” says occupational psychologist Cathrin Becker of the University of Freiburg. Unfortunately a quarter of those surveyed were very dissatisfied.

By holding discussions with experts and intensive interviews, making observations as well as using a quantitative online survey, the academics gathered a range of data on a variety of aspects including working conditions, how open-plan offices were rated and their uses. All this will help to create a basis for developing approaches to more healthy design of open-plan offices and finding out what factors influence the satisfaction of people working there. The researchers believe that despite increasing digitization the classic office will not cease to be important, but “will continue to be used as a ‘hub’ that everyone returns to again and again, as what you might call a social home,” explains Becker. And 62.5 percent of those surveyed stated that an office workstation provided by their employer would still be necessary for their work in the next ten years. “This classic office is more likely to be an open-plan office then, despite disadvantages and annoyances,” adds Dr. Nick Kratzer of ISF Munich.

After all, despite the levels of satisfaction that were expressed, the concept has both advantages and disadvantages in the form of three areas of tension, which are experienced by workers as annoying and challenging: on the one hand open-plan offices are supposed to promote cooperation, but at the same time they have to enable focused work. In addition they should offer openness with transparency and visibility, but they must also allow for confidentiality. And finally they should guarantee flexibility, but must provide options for individuality. The researchers believe that in order to successfully maintain the idea of the open-plan office with regard to both health and work performance, resources and options are necessary. These range from an individual ability to focus or preferably shut oneself off, through resources such as dividing walls and headphones as well as different spatial options. These include quiet rooms and telephone cubicles as well as the possibility of using a home office. “Managing the concept isn’t just a question of behavior or of rules, rather, certain learning processes have to be specifically supported on the organizational side,” adds the University of Freiburg occupational psychologist.

“PRÄGEWELT” is the acronym for “Präventionsorientierte Gestaltung neuer Open-Space-Arbeitswelten”, or “Prevention-oriented design of new open-plan work environments”, and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the Program “Innovations for Tomorrow’s Production, Services, and Work” and managed by the Project Management Agency Karlsruhe (PTKA). All the results can be found at



Cathrin Becker
Institute of Psychology / Occupational Psychology department
University of Freiburg
Tel.: +49 761 203-9162

Dr. Nick Kratzer
Institut für Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung e.V. München
Tel.: +49 89 27 29 21 - 0