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This research seeks to find out how physical design of the work environment affects employees emotionally, socially, and physically. In a modern day working environment, the arrangement of offices and places of work in general is very critical. For most firms, the organization of work place constitutes the second largest item in financial overheads after the expenses on compensation on human resources for its services. This clearly demonstrates how vital the physical environment of a work place is to the management of any firm. The physical design of an office is usually composed of the two types of office layout: the closed, or traditional office layout, and the open plan layout.

The latter has gained a lot of popularity in the modern work environment. Most of the firms prefer the open office layout because of its various merits such as maximum space utilization, cost saving advantages, enhanced interaction and communication between the employees that boost their productivity and motivation. The office environment plays a powerful role in shaping a diverse range of psychological and behavioral outcomes, including individual work motivation, job satisfaction, and patterns of interaction. For the employees in any organization to be very productive and motivated, it is beyond any reasonable doubt that the environment within which they are working should be designed or arranged in such a manner that stimulates psychological stability. As such, it should not in any way torture them psychologically in the course of their work, Anonymous (n.d.),(2009)

It should also appeal to them emotionally. It should be designed in such a style that gives them the feeling of liking of the office, which is very vital when it comes to productivity. In the light of the above mentioned factors I do agree in this research that indeed the physical design of work environment has profound social, emotional, and physical effects.

However, the design of the office layout may also affect the employees negatively in the mentioned parameters, i.e., emotionally, physically, and psychologically. This is whereby the factors such as reduced concentration occasioned by noise, movement, and also lack of psychological privacy may hinder optimal work performance of employees while in their working environments.

The Emotional, Psychological and Physical Effects of Physical Design on Employees

The physical design of a work environment refers to the arrangement of an office where employees work. It refers to how the furniture and work equipment are arranged. For employees to work effectively and efficiently, their places of work have to be arranged in a manner that provides a conducive for work environment. As indicated above, in many organizations today, the organization of the work place constitutes the second largest overhead cost. This is because managers have realized that for employees to be very productive in their work places, the offices must be arranged and maintained in such a manner that workers feel very comfortable while working.

Most employees also feel motivated when they are working in a properly designed office. If their offices are cozy, they tend to perceive management as having employee interests at heart. The office environment plays a critical role in shaping a diverse range of psychological and behavioral outcomes, including work motivation, job satisfaction, and the pattern of interactions in the work areas. The issue of physical design of work places has been given too much emphasis by managers in modern work places. The managers have tried to come up with and implement various innovative architectural designs in the way offices are arranged and designed. There has also been an increased activity by academicians and scholars who undertake various research to find out if, indeed, there is any positive correlations between the productivity motivation and job satisfaction and the way work environments are arranged. Many papers have been published and this confirms the fact that, indeed, the arrangement of the work environment in one way or another actually affects employees emotionally, psychologically, and physically.

The importance of proper arrangement of environment emanated from the realization that employee salaries, wages, and remuneration do not have a significant effect as far as employee motivation is concerned. Physical design of the work place directly affects productivity and how workers interact with each other. Various studies have shown that work is increasingly collaborative. The three different types of work spaces should be assembled to ensure team work and collaboration: the first type allows for individual expertise, concentration, and focus; the second allows for small group or one-on-one interaction; and the third encourages collaboration across larger multidisciplines, multi-locations, and multi-technology and represent interdependent element systems.

Any office design should initiate and support open and collaborative working practices to integrate business functions and to reflect a lack of hierarchy. Properly refurbished offices yield positive changes in the employee compared to those in non-refurbished offices. Those in the refurbished offices will see their organization centre as being more innovative, less formal, providing more professional control, and fostering greater collaboration than their counterparts in non-refurbished work stations. The former will be seen to report greater co-workers satisfaction and more effective organizational commitment, (Hartman, 2009).

A proper physical design ensures there is a smooth flow of work, as well as efficiency and effectiveness of employees. For instance, an office that is properly arranged in a manner that facilitates quick access to documents ensures that such documents are easily retrieved. It helps in a proper and speedy delivery of services to the customers and other important stakeholders in any firm. In addressing the questions of physical design of an organization, a close attention is given to the two categories of the office layout that exist in modern organizations. These layouts are the traditional or closed office layout and the open office layout. Any organization today features either one of these layouts. However, in many business organizations today an open office layout has become very popular. Its importance in improving the environment of the work areas is undisputed and therefore this paper shall look at its positive and adverse effects on employees. A closed office layout is also popular among some organizations (Smith, 2006).

Under an open plan layout, the employees in an organization work in one room, whereby they can interact with each other and share office equipment. This kind of layout is preferred to the closed layout by many organizations, notably in the banking and insurance industry. Many managers in organizations today prefer it because of the cost saving advantages that it has over the closed office layout. However, its effect on employees psychologically, emotionally, and physically lies in its advantages and disadvantages that are discussed within the scope of this research. Due to the increased cost of doing business in the modern times, many organizations have come up with cost minimization strategies with the aim of reducing operational costs. Implementation of open office is one of the measures employed by managers in order to reduce the cost of running the organization and economize on space.

The main advantage of open office when it comes to affecting the employees is that the open office layout fosters intra-group communication. The proponents of the social relations approaches have argued that the physical environment is able to affect the frequency and nature of the interactions and communications of employees. It has been suggested that offices that facilitated greater communication and interactions, e.g., those that placed individuals close to one another and removed physical  barriers to communication, as open plan do, allow individuals to share tasks, relevant information, promote feedback, and create friendship opportunities. This will lead to increased interpersonal relations, reduced conflicts, increased job satisfaction and motivation. In Hawthorne experiments, where the illumination in the area where employees were working in a control experiment varied, its effect on productivity was found insignificant as far as the performance and motivation of employees were concerned.

This made the researchers conclude that in work places interactions between the employees were very significant as far as performance in their job was concerned. The social relations approaches bring out the essence of the open office layout as an arrangement of work environment that has considerable effects on the employees in any organization. However, this type of layout has its own inherent setbacks.  

First, it lacks psychological privacy. Psychological privacy concerns the amount of control individuals perceive they have over regulating their social contact with others. Personal and low confidential discussions and work-related feedback have been found to decrease under the open office layout. This may adversely affect the employees’ performance, whereby they feel that they are not free to interact with their workmates, bearing in mind that under the social relations approach, the performance of workers was found to be positively correlated with the amount and level of interactions taking place between the employees (Chapman, 2010).

Secondly, there is the reduced level of environmental satisfaction. Environmental satisfaction refers to the degree to which an individual is satisfied with their immediate workspace. Offices with the high density or increased proximity among employees reduce their environment that results into reduced levels of environmental satisfaction.

Thirdly, open office leads to reduced levels of concentration by the employees. This is mainly because there are a lot of distractions due to noise from fellow colleagues occasioned by discussions and constant movements by employees in the course of their work.

In the closed office layout, the office occupants are much likely to concentrate on their work because there are very few distractions in their offices. This leads to improved work performance and motivation. It also addresses the problem of psychological privacy and reduced levels of environmental satisfaction associated with the open office layout. Many managers prefer closed offices to open layout. Most managers would like to have some privacy when conducting their day-to-day activities in the organization. They would like to have exclusive control over their places of work, especially due to the sensitive nature of some information under their auspices, which if ended up in the wrong hands may give their competitors an advantage. However, the organization’s management cannot afford to ignore the issue of safety and security in the work places.

This problem is normally very sensitive when it comes to the heavy industries dealing with some modern sophisticated equipment that may be very risky. Many employees do their job satisfactorily when they perceive that the environment they are working in is very safe and secure. For instance, workers in a business organization dealing in explosives may not be productive if they feel that their employer has not put enough safety measures in place to protect them from an explosion occasioned by fire outbreaks. Such employees are likely to be demotivated, as each and every day they tend to feel that they risk their lives in such firms. Such workers are likely to be more psychologically affected by their work places and hence their job performance would also be affected greatly Duffy, (1976).

The architectural design in most organizations does have some effects on employees emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Workers feel proud and happy to be associated with organizations that employ a modern architectural design that they perceive to be very innovative progressive and magnificent. Being in such work areas gives such employees the sense of pride and motivation. This will automatically lead to increased job performance in various duties that are assigned to them. They view the organization as having their interests at heart because when workers are doing their day-by-day activities in obsolete and non- refurbished offices, this creates a feeling that the employer neglects them and hence they cannot optimally utilize their potential since their level of motivation is very low. The other factors that employers should always put into considerations are the lighting, heating, and ventilation of the working environment. Though the advocates of the human relations approach have downplayed the significance of these factors in the performance of these workers, they cannot be written off completely.

The employees should work in well-ventilated rooms, which enable them to be more productive, because stuffy and overcrowded areas hinder concentration. Properly lit and illuminated rooms are also vital when it comes to work places that should always be nicely illuminated so that the employees do not strain so much when reading documents. Factors such as illumination, however, depend on some other factors such as the age of an employee. An older employee would require a room to be illuminated better compared to a young worker, because the latter may have better eyesight as compared to the former.

In an organization, there are various categories of employees depending on the nature of an employee. One such category of workers is those that would always like to exercise power and authority over others. These people by their very nature derive their satisfaction from the feeling of being in a position of power. To these people, feeling bossy may derive from the favorable placement in the office. To such kind of people, the design that allows individual employees to serve customers from their own distinct and enclosed offices with their names and title engraved in the door would really motivate them. When such employees are made to be psychologically calm, their productivity goes up and hence they tend to be more productive in their very work areas (Lee, 2006).

When such employees are made to work with the rest, especially in establishments with an open office layout, these people feel ordinary and subordinated. Hence, their motivation is low and this translates into compromised productivity and low job performance. So the management should always try to design a work place that caters for the needs of such employees so that they are able to perform optimally in their work places. Offices should always be designed so as to promote and enhance cohesion in work places. In most business organizations today, the spirit of team work cannot be overemphasized. However, team work is built when the employees are able to constantly interact with each other, especially on matters that pertain to performance of their individual work activities. Constant communication is equally significant. This means that when a work environment is arranged, priority must always be given to the pattern of interactions with the organization. If interactions and communication breed a cohesive work force and team spirit, then such a design would be highly desirable in modern work areas.

In the light of the factors explained in this work on the phenomenal effects of the physical design of work environment on employees, it becomes crystal clear that any manager, who is concerned with the high job performance, increased productivity and motivation of workers, must continuously improve the working environment by implementing a modern and innovative physical design in the offices. The modern work force is normally very dynamic, hence the need for changes in the work areas to accommodate this holistic dynamism. There is also a need to incorporate the modern efficient technology when designing the work areas so that employees can be both effective and efficient in their jobs, (Gordon, 2009).

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