Auditory distractions in open office settings: a multi attribute utility approach to workspace decision making

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Juneja, Parminder K.
Roper, Kathy O.
Kangari, Roozbeh
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In open office settings, auditory distractions coming from surrounding work environment are shown to be a considerable source of indirect costs to an organization, such as performance costs, behavioral costs, and healthcare costs, to name a few. These costs are substantial to affect the net productivity of an organization, where productivity is equal to revenue minus the costs. This research argues that the costs of auditory distractions should be estimated when evaluating the value of a workspace for an organization. However, since organizational decisions are generally guided by cost-benefit analysis and a precise dollar figure cannot be attached to the stated indirect costs because these are subjective in nature; therefore, these are generally ignored. Costs that are critical to sustainability and development of a business and the fact that cost-benefit approach is no longer appropriate for these decisions, a more robust decision-based approach to workspace selection is proposed. Decision-based approach is seen as an organized approach to select between workspace options under uncertainty and risk wherein the selected workspace is maximized in terms of some expected utility. Here utility is defined as the measurement of strength or intensity of a person's preferences. Decision-based approach include consideration of a multitude of environmental decision variables, objective or subjective, in a single equation and processing of the same in a limited amount of time with rationality and consistency. A multi-attribute workspace choice utility decision model is developed with the intent to facilitate systematic understanding and analysis of workspace alternatives for an organization. This research shows how the decision-making approach to workspace selection simplifies the problem by providing a structure that is easily comprehensible, and allows simultaneous processing of both, qualitative and quantitative conflicting objectives, through a single decision-making model. In doing so, this research firmly establishes the importance of workspace's adaptability to auditory distractions for office workers, particularly knowledge workers, who are constantly undertaking a range of complex tasks. The study holistically and systematically addresses the fundamental issue prevalent in state-of-the-art North American open plan office settings of substantiality of two extremely contrasting requirements, concentration and collaboration, in the same workspace and work environment at a given time.
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