The modern office environment has a clear impact upon our habits and behaviors at work. Most studies into this have focused on things like the impact of open-plan offices on productivity and so on, but a recent study by Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Bedfordshire takes a step back, and examines how moving to a new office impacts employee behavior.
The researchers tracked around 1,000 employees over a three year period as they moved from six separate departmental buildings into a new shared office space.
The new office space was very modern in appearance, with extensive use of glass and large, open-place spaces that were designed to break down hierarchical and departmental boundaries and encourage a more collaborative approach to work.
When the researchers spoke with the employees, they noticed an interesting shift in behavior, and even in the clothes people wore to the new, more visible workspace.
Many revealed that they felt judged by their colleagues on the basis of their clothes, with senior employees increasingly being identified by the smartness of their clothing and the assertiveness of their gait. The mobility of employees was also associated with seniority, with senior staff perceived as covering a much wider span of the office than their lower ranked peers, who tended to stay in their own section.
“When changing from a more closed, compartmentalised office space to a new open-plan, transparent and fluid working space, office workers were more conscious of their visibility and often found this unsettling rather than liberating,” the authors say. “Women in particularly felt anxious about the idea of being constantly watched, and felt they had to dress in a certain way. However, there was also evidence that workers felt more equal as everybody was more approachable in an open space. It was also seen by some as a chance to dress more smartly and fulfil a new identity.”
Suffice to say, this is an examination of a solitary workplace, so we should be cautious about reading too much into things, but it does nonetheless underline the fact that our workplaces are influential on our behaviors, and they may influence us in unintended ways.