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Working in open workspaces increases the risk of interruptions and disturbances.

Cellular offices contribute to job control

Employees in cellular offices experienced a higher level of percieved job control than colleagues with shared or open offices. 

Moving from shared or open office designs to a cellular office has its advantages.

This is revealed in a new study from the National Institute of Occupational Health (STAMI), where 3,415 Norwegian workers were followed over four years.

The researchers examined associations between different office designs – cellular offices vs. shared or open offices – and employees’ ability to control work decisions and work intensity. 

They also investigated whether moving from one type of office to another leads to changes in perceived control.

“We found that employees working in cellular offices consistently reported higher levels of control over work pace and decision-making than workers who worked in a shared or open workspace. We also saw that transitioning from a shared or open setup to a cellular office resulted in a clear and sustained increase in the perceived control over work intensity,” Morten Birkeland Nielsen explains.

He is a professor of psychology and a researcher at STAMI.

Autonomy at work

Previous research has shown that a high perceived level of job control promotes health, well-being, and productivity among employees. 

An important aspect of job control is autonomy, meaning the employee’s ability to influence decisions regarding their own work, such as planning how or when to perform a task.

“In addition to affecting health and well-being directly, the experience of control can serve as a buffer against the negative effects of high job demands, and thus contribute to higher job satisfaction and motivation as well as better work ability,” Nielsen explains.

Job control and health

Studies of the Norwegian working population indicate that a low level of perceived job control increases the risk of both back pain and mental health problems. These results align with findings from systematic reviews which conclude that low levels of job control is a well-documented risk factor for sick leave, disability, and withdrawal from working life.

(Source: STAMI)

“Due to the favourable effects of job control, office solutions that increase such control among employees will likely be an important workplace intervention,” he adds.

Working in open workspaces increases the risk of experiencing interruptions and disturbances. 

According to the researcher, a higher level of distractions and noise in shared or open offices is a possible explanation for the differences in perceived control between office designs. This may affect concentration and workflow, thus diminishing the sense of control over working conditions.

Cellular offices are disappearing

Many workplaces are currently renovating their workspaces and removing cellular offices in favour of open or activity-based designs.

“Our results show that preserving employees’ sense of control over work intensity and decisions is important in such transitions,” Nielsen says.

He adds that companies which introduce open or shared offices should identify and implement measures to help their employees maintain job control in the new surroundings. Such measures may include the use of partitioning walls, desk dividers, noise-cancelling headphones, and having quiet spaces available. 

However, whether these measures will provide the same sense of control as experienced in individual offices is uncertain.

“Some employees simply do not thrive in open office solutions. In such cases, employers should consider the possibility of allowing them to keep their cellular offices or facilitate other workplaces, such as remote work,” the researcher suggests.

Nielsen also remarks that previous studies have indicated a positive effect from change-oriented leadership in relation to office transition processes.

Must consider both employees and tasks

The study shows that the level of perceived control varied within the different office designs, suggesting that some employees thrive better than others in open or shared offices.

“All office designs can present both benefits and challenges. Overall, the adaptation of office solutions has to do with meeting the needs of employees so they can perform their tasks in the best way possible. As employees have different preferences and needs, there is likely no one-size-fits-all office solution,” Nielsen says.

He therefore concludes that companies should consider the characteristics of their employees in addition to analysing their work and tasks when determining office design.


Nielsen et al. The contribution of office design to the appraisal of job control: A longitudinal studyScandinavian Journal of Psychology, vol. 64, 2023. DOI: 10.1111/sjop.12933

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