Sitting with your back to the wall is the best seat in the office, study finds

In bad news for those set to return to work, open-plan offices may make people less productive and satisfied.

Having a desk looking out on too many other people makes it harder to concentrate and work productively, a study has found.

People lose out when sitting next to a wall rather than a window. And those assigned a desk with too many people behind them also appear to lose focus and feel less like one of the team.

The results suggest that, in offices just as in restaurants and pubs, people prefer to sit with their back to the wall rather than out in the middle.

Researchers at University College London surveyed 172 people working for a London tech firm in a large open-plan office and looked at their desk position.

Open-plan offices may make people less productive and satisfied, according to a study which surveyed 172 people working in a large open-plan office (file photo)

Open-plan offices may make people less productive and satisfied, according to a study which surveyed 172 people working in a large open-plan office (file photo)

Open-plan offices may make people less productive and satisfied, according to a study which surveyed 172 people working in a large open-plan office (file photo)

They asked people to rate their workplace satisfaction based on factors including their ability to concentrate on tasks, their team identity and cohesion and productivity.

Dr Kerstin Sailer, lead author of the study at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, said: ‘Open-plan offices are extremely common in the UK.

‘It isn’t the open-plan style itself which causes difficulty for people, it seems, but instead having many people within view.

‘Lots of people in your line of sight is very distracting and really doesn’t help, in terms of having to try to shut out conversations and phone calls.’

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, found the average person in the open-plan London office could see 66 others from their desk.

However one unlucky person could see 223 other desks when they were facing forward.

Someone who could see 223 other colleagues was almost three times less likely to say their office space had a positive effect on their concentration than someone who could see only 66 other colleagues.

They were 3.6 times less likely to say the office set-up made them more productive.

People who could see many other desks were also less likely to say the office space helped with sharing information, team identity or cohesion.

Researchers also looked at people’s sense of ‘control’ based on how many of the people surrounding them in the office sat behind their desk.

Having a desk looking out on too many other people makes it harder to concentrate and work productively, a study has found (file photo)

Having a desk looking out on too many other people makes it harder to concentrate and work productively, a study has found (file photo)

Having a desk looking out on too many other people makes it harder to concentrate and work productively, a study has found (file photo)

People with too large a percentage of their colleagues sitting behind them were also more likely to say the office layout caused issues with concentration, information-sharing, teamwork and productivity.

That may be because a lot of work and activity they needed to know about was happening behind their back.

Office workers next to windows had more focus at work, but only compared to those siting next to walls, the study found.

One office worker interviewed by researchers on the open-plan environment told them: ‘Can we have offices with walls and doors, please? The open-plan layout is extremely noisy and distracting.

‘I work primarily with my immediate team – most people do.

‘A range of office sizes from four to 10 people would allow many teams to sit together without distraction from other people they don’t actually work with.

‘This would improve productivity, allow people to stop wearing headphones all day long, and form a stronger team identity because they have a more clearly defined space.’

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