Productivity & Comfort in the Modern Workplace

I’ve read a couple of similar articles in the news recently regarding employee productivity in a “hot desking” or activity-based working (ABW) environment [1] [2]. Authors and quoted experts seem to regularly make the assumption that employee comfort (or happiness) is proportional to productivity.

Unfortunately, there is not sufficient research to support this theory.

Sure there is research around perceived productivity and employee comfort [3], in different working environments. Which happens to indicate ABW has an improved effect on perceived productivity, health and comfort (or satisfaction) with the work environment. However, there is little evidence to support the idea that employee comfort leads to productivity. Most research around productivity, unsurprisingly, is aimed at employee health, employee management and compensation.

I wonder if some level of discomfort or discord, short term, can improve your overall comfort long term. Certainly it’s been shown that people are attracted to the opposite thermal condition of our internal body state [4], is it possible to extend this theory to a wider mental comfort?

There is strong evidence that trying to find a “one for all” comfortable work environment is a difficult task [5]. So thus the rise of the active work environment, where employees can choose to work where and how they want on any particular day.

I recently started with an organisation that implements activity-based working, we have an enforced work from home day, unassigned desks and are encouraged to work from wherever we will be most effective. So I understand the anxiety and nervousness of not getting your own dedicated space.

However, the technology and procedures utilised by my company seem to make my the normal administrative tasks simpler and leave me with more time to focus on the actual work, thus increasing my work output.

It leads me to wonder if the issue is less about style or ownership of desk and more about the implementation and procedural change, both corporate and individual?

Originally published on LinkedIn


[1] J. Fettes, “Is hot desking actually any good for employee productivity?,” 12 Jan 2017. [Online]. Available:
[2] L. Kaufman, “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.,” 30 December 2014. [Online]. Available:
[3] C. Candido, J. Zhang, J. Kim, R. de Dear, L. Thomas and P. Strapasson, “Impact of workspace layout on occupant satisfaction, perceived health and productivity,” in The 9h Windsor Conference: Making Comfort Relevant, Windsor, UK, 2016.
[4] B. M. R. B. M Cabanac, “Preferred skin temperature as a function of internal and mean skin temperature,” Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 33, pp. 699-703, 1 December 1972.
[5] G. Brager, G. Paliaga and R. de Dear, “Operable windows, personal control and occupant comfort,” ASHRAE Transactions, vol. 110, no. 2, 1 1 2004.




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