Workers in open plan offices who face the room, are next to a window and have few or no desks behind them are more productive, according to a new study by UCL researchers.
Smaller open-plan offices with fewer desks in also help workers to feel more focused and productive, the researchers found.
For the study, published in PLOSONE, researchers studied four floors of the London headquarters of a large international technology company, collecting a staff survey on workspace satisfaction as well as specific information on office seating positions of all participants and a marked floorplan.
Staff with higher numbers of desks in their field of vision were less likely to rate their workplace environment favourably, possibly due to distractions and difficulty talking to co-workers without disturbing others.
Those whose desks faced away from the main area of the room with co-workers out of sight behind them also rated the environment less favourably, which was linked to a lack of visual control over their environment. Workers at window desks felt more productive and focused than those sitting next to walls.
Lead author Dr Kerstin Sailer (Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL) said: "Our findings raise important questions regarding the current popular practice in workplace design of providing large open-plan offices for technology companies.
"In addition, in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations are wondering how to make workplaces attractive to staff. Our research offers insights into staff preferences on offices, where bigger is not always best."
The study focused on the effect an open office layout has on staff perceptions of teamwork, focused work and productivity, along with a detailed analysis of spatial qualities of specific desk locations.
Overall, staff with more visual control over their environment were up to 40 times more likely to report higher levels of productivity, focus, teamwork and team bonding.
The researchers suggest that designing smaller and more intimate areas within a large open-plan office design may be advisable, as well as giving workers visual control by facing as many desks forward as possible.