A study from 2013 suggested that workers feel better able to talk privately in the workplace when discussing personal matters in a bigger room at a larger desk. We have only just ourselves stumbled across this study, but it makes for really good reading as it could have implications for many of the businesses that we sell office furniture to.
Vanessa Okken at the University of Twente in the Netherlands studied 86 people who were tasked with individually talking to a female Masters student in one of four situations as listed below:
- Small desk (80cm interpersonal distance) in a small (16 square meters)
- Small desk (80cm interpersonal distance) in a larger room (19.8 square meters)
- Large (160cm interpersonal distance) in a small (16 square meters)
- Large (160cm interpersonal distance) in a larger room (19.8 square meters)
The study sessions were all taped to enable deep analysis, and the participants were made to answer questions regarding very personal matters including drug and alcohol use, sexuality and emotions.
The participants were made unaware of the purpose of the study so not to influence the results, and the video camera was positioned so that the people studying the results were not aware of which of the four above office layout scenarios were being used.
Once the sessions were completed, the participants were all asked how at ease or less-inhibited they had felt in the large office space with the two desk arrangements. It would appear they felt more at ease due to a more spacious design.
Further investigation into the results showed that room size only led to feelings of greater openness when participants were sat at a large desk. This led the academics to conclude that it could be possible that the intimacy of a small desk overpowers the liberating effect of a larger room.
Participants also behaved differently in the various physical situations. In the larger room, they leant forward more and had a more open posture. They leant on the larger desk more than they did on the small desk. In the larger room, they also made more eye contact at a large desk compared with a small desk.
For the crucial test of how much the participants revealed in their answers, the results varied according to the interview topics. Sometimes the room size made a difference, sometimes the desk. For instance, participants used more words talking about substance use in the larger room.
Talking about sexuality, participants used more words, talked for longer, and referred to themselves more often at a larger desk. Regarding discussion of emotions, including loneliness, participants’ answers were more intimate in a larger room and this appeared to be because they felt the room was more spacious.
Vanessa Okken had this to say about the implications of the research and study:
"The differences in effects per topic call for adopting a flexible environment (i.e. extendible desks) that can be easily altered to fit the needs of a large variation in conversations."
She went on to say:
"To influence room size, room dividers may be used, when resorting to another (smaller or larger) room is not an option. Furthermore, room layout and positioning of other furniture pieces can influence the amount of space available and in turn possibly influence self-disclosing behaviour."
These are intriguing results but one problem is the lack of any assessment of the interviewer’s behaviour. Although she was blind to the purpose of the study, it’s possible that room and desk changes affected her interview style and that it was this that explained at least some of the results.
As the researchers acknowledged, it was also disappointing that the participants’ greater feelings of openness were associated with so few actual differences in disclosure – most measures such as time spent talking led to null results.
Our Conclusion: How does this study affect your business? Could it lead to you re-designing your office space, or even buying different office desks? If you do decide to make a change then Kima Office Furniture have a wide range of solutions to fit so please explore our store today to see what we can do for you.