Research insights

PhD thesis on academic workspaces

Alessandra Migliore’s dissertation “In search of an alternative workspace: Disclosing academics’ spatial practices and productivity within and beyond the campus” explores academic workspaces. Specifically, this PhD research explores academics’ spatial practices for research on- and off-campus and the role of the physical workspaces in influencing the choice to work either on- or off-campus, stimulating academic productivity, and shaping the academic work experience. The research aimed at (a) identifying academics’ location choices for research activities among university, home, and other third spaces; (b) measuring the effects of these location choices on- and off-campus on academic productivity; and (c) understanding key spatial implications of academic work in those multiple locations (university, home, and other third spaces). To reach these objectives, this thesis adopts a mixed-method approach, including econometric analysis of survey data (7,865 responses) on the whole population of Italian tenured academics, secondary data, scraped from public databases on academic productivity (i.e., Scopus Database), and interviews with academics from three public universities in Milan as well as visual data. Drawing upon these analyses, this thesis posits four important scientific contributions.

First, this research brings new empirical evidence about academic location choices by recognizing four clusters: Home-centric, Between home and university, Multi-located and University-centric. Second, this research synthetizes the different determinants of location choices in academia. Each of the four clusters is explained by different determinants. Mostly, work-related factors (i.e., discipline) influence location choices. However, workspace-related factors (i.e., on-campus workspace spatial quality, the need for a laboratory and commuting time) are crucial factors for work location decisions. Finally, private life-related factors (i.e., living with school children or a partner) and demographic factors (i.e., gender) push academics in increasing work-from-home. Third, this thesis finds that working from the university during the Covid-19 pandemic increases academic productivity more than any other location choice, while working from home negatively influences productivity. Noteworthy, the relation between each location choice and academic productivity strongly depends on the characteristics of the workspace at home and on-campus as well as on individual traits such as gender. Fourth, referring to Lefebvre’s spatial theory, this thesis reveals how academics produce their workspace within and beyond the boundaries of their university campuses. Spatial practices across multiple workspaces span from losing the workspace in favour of the accelerated rhythms of academic work and university obligations (i.e., domination of space), towards recovering the workspace through strategies for protecting work freedom and autonomy (i.e., appropriation of space).

From a practical perspective, this thesis identifies some approaches that universities decision makers and academics themselves should consider when designing future policies and future spaces for academic work. The thesis can be accessed here:’_spatial_practices_and_productivity_within_and_beyond_the_campus

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PhD thesis on the influence of physical workplace characteristics on mental health, both at the office and at home

Lisanne Bergefurt’s dissertation “The physical workplace as a resource for mental health” aimed to provide holistic insights in the relationships between the physical office-and home-workplace characteristics and mental health. Using a mixed-method approach, with systematic literature reviews, cross-sectional data analyses, a virtual reality experiment, and a field experiment, these insights were obtained.

The dissertation initially introduces ten indicators of mental health, representing a range of short-term, transient, to long-term, chronic consequences, and from negative to positive feelings and states. Systematic literature reviews show that for both the office and the home, most research has focused on indoor environmental quality (IEQ) aspects (e.g., temperature and ventilation) in relation to productivity, while the more tacit or salutogenic aspects (e.g., views outside or plants), and the chronic consequences (e.g., burnout and depression) received less attention.

Therefore, the VR experiment focused on the potential positive influence of tacit office design aspects (e.g., plants, views outside, and color use) on the workplace experience. Low-cost interventions, such as placing more plants or changing wall colors could already improve the perception of the workplace, and potentially mental health. In the longitudinal field experiment, the influence of implementing sound masking on the speech intelligibility and mental health of office workers is explored, using a control and intervention group. Findings show that sound masking could significantly reduce speech intelligibility and improve short-term mental health outcomes.

In short, this dissertation has shown that, apart from monitoring the indoor climate of the workplace, other design interventions could be used to promote employees’ mental health too. Most importantly, the workplace design should be fitted to the needs of employees. By optimizing the fit, the workplace will be ready for a new era of healthy, and potentially hybrid working.

The thesis can be accessed here and refers to the list of papers published in journals:

20231218_Bergefurt_hf.pdf (

Working paper on employees’ working from home experiences

Andreas Pfnür, Kyra Voll, Martin Christian Höcker und Yassien Bachtal’s working paper “Work from Home: From pandemic necessity to the concept of multi-locational work – an empirical study of employees’ experiences for the future of distributed workplace environments” is a research project supported by German Property Federation (ZIA) and Art Invest Real Estate. It aims at comparing the status quo of work from home, working in the office as well as a third-place location and analyzing how employees’ work success is generated in the different places. The data for this project is collected through an online survey of 1,136 German knowledge workers via SoSci Survey in January and February 2023.

A key finding of this project is the illustration of the gigantic scale of the changes that multi-local work is causing in the world of work and other areas of social life, such as transport and the environment, or in relation to social welfare. For employees, the freedom of mobile working has become indispensable. The project shows how each employee adapts individually to multi-local work and makes the best possible use of the work from home concept, offices and third places. In addition to the great social value, another key finding is that the new concept of multi-local working also has great economic potential, which, however, has not yet been fully realized.

The findings of this project indicate that changing the office space requirements of companies requires adjustments to the business models and strategies in the real estate industry. This project offers a first step to a new concept of the physical organization of work: multi-locality. The return of employees to company offices, the simultaneous continued use of work from home and the experimentation with third places of work are giving rise towards it.

The working paper can be accessed here:

PhD thesis on social and entrepreneurial relevance of flexible office space

Victor Cabral’s dissertation “A look inside the coworking space. The social and entrepreneurial relevance of new flexible office space environments.” is a research project that aimed at opening the ‘black box’ of coworking spaces in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of what coworking spaces are and what they provide their tenants. The data for this project, which focused particularly on coworking spaces in Amsterdam, was collected through semi-structured interviews and observations, as well as through content analysis of coworking space websites and of chat applications of coworking communities.

A key finding of this project is the importance of the organizational set-up and managerial interventions by coworking space management staff that may lead to a variety of benefits for coworking space tenants. These benefits range from business development opportunities to facilitating access to additional social networks. In particular, the role of the physical design of coworking spaces, and the variety of management interventions aimed at encouraging community building contribute to the formation of social capital.

The findings of this project indicate that coworking spaces are becoming increasingly relevant for self-employed individuals, start-ups, and also increasingly for employed workers, who want to be (at least partially) embedded in, or have access to, additional professional social networks. Other outcomes of this project illustrate that coworking spaces must work closely with their tenants in turbulent times (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic) to find new opportunities and maintain a sense of community. This project is another step towards reevaluating both the meaning and value of workplaces and social networks in knowledge-intensive urban economies.

The thesis can be accessed here:

PhD thesis on facilitating the combination of breastfeeding and work

Research has shown that breastfeeding has important long-term health effects on both children and mothers. The World Health Organization recommends that children are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and that breastfeeding is continued thereafter, alongside complementary feeding, until children are at least two years old. However, many mothers experience problems with breastfeeding and stop earlier than they would like. A major reason why women stop prematurely is the often-difficult combination of breastfeeding and work.

In this dissertation Sjoukje van Dellen studied what organizations can do to support breastfeeding employees, both before the return to work and in the period afterwards. Before the return to work, a breastfeeding support programme appears to be an effective way to support mothers. Within the programme, women received structural support from a lactation consultant, from pregnancy until ten weeks after birth. Mothers who received the support programme were on average 66% less likely to stop breastfeeding compared to mothers who did not receive support. After the return to work, the quality of lactation rooms appears to play an important role. Lactation room quality is positively related to satisfaction, perceived ease, and perceived support for milk expression at work. Moreover, experimental research found that mothers in a high-quality lactation room experienced less stress, more control, and more well-being than mothers in a low-quality lactation room.

The results of the study show that organizations can better support breastfeeding employees by offering structural support from a lactation consultant and high-quality lactation rooms.

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PhD thesis on User experiences with flexible offices

Antonio Cobaleda Cordero´s research focus on the experiences of users with flexible offices because to understand the influences that the design qualities of office artefacts and spaces have on such experiences, as well as their design implications. The research angle adopted builds on a UX theoretical background and a practical approach with multiple user studies in real office environments.

The findings show that user experiences with flexible offices are influenced by interrelated design qualities of the spaces and artefacts in use, rather than isolated qualities. These (tangible and intangible) qualities define the nature of an artefact, a space, or constellations of them that users experience, for instance the qualities of an office chair vs. a meeting room. Experiences are subjective, but relate to both individual and collective experiences, for example using an ergonomic workstation vs. sharing such workstations. The findings also suggest that designing for user experiences with flexible offices is a highly complex endeavour, and that emphasis should be placed on designing for the experiences of pleasure, community, autonomy, purpose, and control over the environment.

Utilising this knowledge to develop and test research prototypes allowed for a richer understanding of the experiential process and its relation to more systemic aspects such as the context of use or the temporality of experiences. The tentative SEEX (Stimuli-Evaluation-EXperiential outcome) model of how user experiences take place is presented in the thesis. This thesis contributes knowledge on theoretical and practical levels for academics and practitioners to continue studying office user experiences from a UX perspective, support informed decisions in the planning, operation, and evaluation of offices, and explore design opportunities for office environments.

The PhD can be accessed in this link

PhD thesis examines how to plan, implement, and evaluate workplace transformations in a well-being supportive way

Niina Andrade-Asikainen’s dissertation “Supporting well-being in workplace transformations – Critical Sociomaterial components and their evaluation in a knowledge-intensive organization” identifies the success factors of workplace change in a longitudinal case study. The findings build on survey data complemented by observations, interviews, and document analysis. The data is analyzed abductively from the perspectives of managers, employees, workspace experts, and the researcher.

The dissertation contributes to workplace research by demonstrating that three key mechanisms drive and impact employee experiences and the success or failure of the entire transformation already from the preparation phase of the workplace transformation. These mechanisms are the expected value of the workplace transformation, the latent tensions of activity-based organizing and the sociomaterial support for well-being before, during and after the workplace transformation.

The research shows that during the preparation stage of an opposed workplace transformation, employees considered the workplace change to have a negative value; meanwhile, management and workplace experts anticipated positive outcomes, and the differing expectations cause tensions between the parties. The study recognizes four tensions of activity-based organizing which – if they go unnoticed – augment the risk of workplace transformation failure. These are the tensions of cost efficiency vs. well-being, centralized vs. participatory decision-making, collaboration vs. solo work, and change vs. stability.

The underlying mechanisms impacting the experienced well-being support from the change receivers’ point of view have not been extensively researched within the field of workplace design. This research produces new information on the topic and shows that the ability to generate desired work outcomes, a feeling of mastering the new work environment, participation and autonomy support, and warmth of the social climate all contribute to the experiences of a work environment that is supportive of well-being.

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PhD thesis about coworking space and the member’s social connectivity

Yaoyi Zhou’s PhD dissertation explores how coworking members are socially connected and what environmental factors are related to their social networks formation. This dissertation is composed of two studies. Study #1 is an exploratory study that investigates coworking space characteristics and the members’ social connectivity. Mixed methods were applied to study coworking spaces in New York City.  A total of 12 coworking managers were interviewed, and this qualitative data was complemented by 160 hours of participant observation and surveys finished by 42 coworking members from 7 coworking spaces.  The results suggest that social connectivity between the members was low even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Three major reasons were identified: lack of opportunity, lack of motivation, and a behavioral norm of minimizing interaction in the open-plan environment. Both the type of membership plan and space access time were found to be significantly associated with the members’ social connectivity. 

These findings led the author to explore the nature of flexibility in coworking. Yaoyi proposed that flexibility is about the spatial-temporal relationship between the space and the occupants, which can be described as how much visibility and mobility the space offers, and how much time the occupants are physically present in the space. A follow-up question was raised: are there potential conflicts between flexibility and the members’ social network formation? A 2×2 online survey experiment (Study #2) was conducted to examine whether increased spatial-temporal flexibility negatively affects an individual’s attitudes toward social interaction in the work settings. Based on data collected from a sample of 315 participants recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, results suggested supportive evidence for my hypotheses.  Increased flexibility in space and time negatively affected an individual’s attitude toward social interaction. Increased time flexibility was also negatively associated with social connectivity according to the participants’ previous coworking experience. These results suggest that the nature of coworking may embody a conflicting relationship between the two concepts: “flexibility” and “community.” Overall, this dissertation offers a critical understanding of the coworking environment, the member’s social connectivity, and the relationships between the two. What these findings imply for understanding coworking’s future, and how environment and behavior research could be applied to study emerging design concepts are also addressed.

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PhD thesis on Corporate Real Estate agility and decision-making

Howard Cooke’s PhD thesis reveals whether the stated primary shift of increasing Corporate Real Estate (CRE) agility was evident during the Great Recession and individual decision-makers preferences when making disposal choices.

The research comprised two separate strands. Firstly, an examination of the behaviour of the top 350 companies on the London Stock Exchange through the period 2007 to 2014. Evidence of a dynamic alignment capability in CRE portfolios was missing, with links between CRE metrics and the performance of the firm limited. The second strand identified the variables that individuals’ consider when making CRE decisions. Many CRE alignment models identify maximising shareholder wealth as the sole driver of CRE decisions. This research found a diverse range of variables are considered, including financial stakeholders and risk reduction.

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PhD thesis on workers’ fit with activity-based work environments

Jan Gerard Hoendervanger’s PhD thesis revealed individual differences explaining mixed outcomes of activity-based work (ABW) environments. These work environments, providing workers with a variety of non-assigned work settings, seem heading to become the new normal in the post-COVID-19 world of work. Yet, research has shown mixed results, which call the effectiveness of the concept into question. To find clues for the optimization of ABW practice, the research project was designed to examine how workers’ jobs, tasks, behaviors, psychological needs, and demographic characteristics may be related to their perceived fit.

Two survey-based studies revealed relevant workers’ attributes, which were further examined in experience-sampling field studies and a virtual reality experiment. From the findings, a clear profile arises of workers who best fit with ABW environments, i.e.: high task variety, job autonomy, external and internal mobility, social interaction, and need for relatedness; low need for privacy; few high-complexity tasks, many non-individual tasks; appropriately using open and closed work settings; frequently switching between work settings; relatively young age. Furthermore, lack of privacy for high-concentration work, due to the highly prevalent use of open work settings, appeared to be the single-most important issue in current ABW practice. The ABW concept is clearly not a one-size-fits-all solution and requires careful implementation to provide the right mix of work settings, and to stimulate workers to use them in accordance with their varying and changing needs.

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PhD thesis on work privacy fit

Poor work privacy represents a frequently reported issue in open office environments, yet relatively little is known about its consequences. In addition, prior research has limitations including weak operationalisations and measures of privacy. Therefore, Clara Weber developed in her thesis a new work privacy measure and examined the adverse effects of poor work privacy on workers’ well-being. The roles of coping appraisal and contextual factors in this relationship were explored to inform future preventative steps.

Study 1 (n = 30) qualitatively explored different scenarios of poor work privacy in an open-plan office context for the development of a new measure of privacy fit. Three dimensions of poor work privacy have been identified: acoustical and visual stimulation, interruptions, and confidentiality.

Study 2 quantitatively tested (2.A n = 195) and confirmed (2.B n = 109) the factor structure of the new privacy fit measure in two open-plan office worker samples. Four dimensions were identified: conversation confidentiality, task confidentiality, visual/acoustical stimulation, and interruptions. The measure concluded with 12 items, good model fit, reliability, and construct validity.

Study 3 (n = 220) employed the newly developed measure and quantitatively examined stress-related consequences of poor privacy fit in an open-plan office worker sample. Poor privacy fit was associated with dissatisfaction, stress, and fatigue. Coping appraisal was found to mediate these relationships.

Study 4 (n = 61) quantitatively demonstrated in a longitudinal study that a move to an activity-based office influenced workers’ privacy fit, coping appraisal, and stress-related outcomes (satisfaction, stress, and fatigue).

Study 5 (n = 22) qualitatively explored contextual factors in the activity-based office that support or hinder privacy fit. Four factors were identified: the physical environment (e.g. variety of settings) and the social environment (e.g. social norms), the job (e.g. role conflict), and the self (e.g. self-awareness).

This thesis developed a new measure of work privacy and confirmed that privacy fit has an impact on workers’ well-being. The thesis demonstrated the methodological benefit of considering individuals’ appraisal, and the importance of contextual factors in privacy regulation.”

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PhD thesis about energy-efficient office renovations

Minyoung Kwon’s PhD thesis suggests user-focused design principles for energy-efficient office renovations. The goal of this is to improve the quality and comfort of workspaces without compromising on energy-saving goals. Due to increasing sustainability requirements, new ways of working and changing office user preferences, there is a growing need for office renovations that not only deal with the energy performance and the replacement of building facilities, but also the occupants’ health and well-being. This research demonstrates the relationship between design factors, indoor climate and user satisfaction, without neglecting the fundamental goal of office renovation: reducing the energy demand, upgrading facilities, and improving building performance.

First, the most influential design factors on thermal, visual, and psychological satisfaction are suggested in the design principles. Next, the values of predicted user satisfaction and energy demand can be evaluated by following the flow chart, to find the optimal renovation plan. In this step renovation alternatives are suggested in terms of office variants to create a balance between user satisfaction and energy efficiency. Last, if design limitations occur, the degree of personal control should be included to increase user satisfaction. The comprehensive design principles can help architects, designers, and facility managers to make design decisions in an early stage of office renovations.

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PhD thesis about workplace performance 

Chiara Tagliaro’s PhD thesis proposes a framework of key performance indicators (KPIs) to support decision-making processes in the design, management, and use of next-generation workplaces. Through case study analysis, the main workplace users are identified in the following stakeholder’s groups: Company owner, President, and CEO; Financial administration; Corporate Real Estate Management; Human Resources Management; Facility Management; Engineering and space planning; Information Technology; Executives and managers; Employees; Consultants, collaborators, and interns; and Customers and visitors.

Thanks to a Delphi process participated by all these users, both well-established and newly created indicators are elaborated into a holistic framework, covering (i) financial/organizational, (ii) environmental/spatial, and (iii) social impacts of the workplace. The resulting 33 KPIs include a wide range of complementary areas: environmental quality, building operation and management, space usage, business effectiveness, costs, value/return/yield, productivity/ways of working, user attitude, and staff characteristics. In conclusion, the proposed framework allows for continuous monitoring of workplace performance from an interdisciplinary perspective.

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PhD thesis about knowledge sharing and networking in business centers

Minou Weijs-Perrée’s PhD thesis identifies business center concepts analyzes the influence of characteristics of these business center concepts on networking and knowledge sharing behavior between users of business centers. Four types of business center concepts are distinguished, namely regular business centers, serviced offices, coworking offices and incubators. In addition, the results of this thesis showed positive relationships between spaces, namely a canteen, event space, lounge room and meeting space, and the perceived frequency that people from different organizations socially interact. Also, a negative relationship was found between a cellular office and sharing tacit knowledge. In addition, people who work in an open-plan office have more face-to-face interactions in a meeting space compared to people working in other office concepts. These results will help real estate owners/developers to make well informed decisions about the type of business centers that they want to develop or invest in and to respond optimally to the needs and preferences of the users in terms of knowledge sharing and networking.

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PhD thesis about activity-based offices

Maral Babapour’s PhD thesis examines why some Activity-based Flexible Offices (AFOs) work while others do not, based on five qualitative case studies conducted in Sweden. The thesis concludes that AFOs work provided (i) they match individuals’ personal circumstances and work-related preconditions; (ii) they facilitate shared use of spaces through well-designed rules, workspaces and instruments; (iii) individuals’ appropriation processes reach a stable phase where mismatches are resolved and a fruitful symbiosis is achieved; and (iv) the organisations’ processes of adopting AFOs is successful during the planning and the post-relocation routinising stages, leading to a collective sense of ownership among employees. 

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TWR2018 challenges and learning points – by Rianne Appel-Meulenbroek

During the first TWR conference in 2018, all delegates wrote down challenges/learning point and contributions of the papers that were presented at the end of the paper sessions. Analyses of all these notes, gives a clear summary of the challenges that the workplace research field still has to face. TWR intends to take up these challenges with the network and present relevant studies at TWR2020 in Weimar (call for papers will be sent in June 2019).

Challenges/learning points for workplace research

A first challenge for the field is to provide more input for evidence based design. Several researchers wrote down that, despite our best attempts, the evidence base is still relatively limited, particularly for papers with objective measures. Workplace research is still fragmented – the reason why the TWR network was created – and in some subareas in a nascent state. Clearly, more evidence is needed to support business cases of end-users for investing in workplace quality. Additionally, it was identified that we need to increase awareness of users to how buildings affect them and discover how to deal with personal differences.

A second challenge is the need to perform more meta analyses. Communication between different groups and sciences is challenging. Can we combine the many case studies on workplace concepts into a meta-analysis? How can we deal with the difficulty in extracting important information from individual papers and the fact that different papers have different definitions for office types and employee outcomes (e.g. health, productivity). There is no consistency in how databases are set up. In the least it is important that all papers clearly describe the type of office they studied. Perhaps the field is also ready to start working towards more coherence in methods and adopting each others’ list of measures, to be able to create valid and tested scales like in other more developed research fields (e.g. psychology). Another relevant question posed was whether we have access to the right journals once we start seeking outside our own discipline. What happens if we start comparing experimental results with contextual real-life situations and find conflicting evidence? How can we combine quantitative and qualitative methodologies for a contextual and comprehensive understanding?

Third challenge is the need for more holistic models. It is a challenge to work with holistic models, while at the same time containing the amount of variables to measure limited (especially in surveys). For example, gender, age, job character, personality and the social work environment are powerful predictions that should be controlled for, and more and more control variables are being identified. It appears that personalities might even be more important than generations, which is focused on in practice now. If all measures meet requirements for rigorous analysis, such models can be important in identifying the most relevant variables to include in future research and in decision making in practice.

Several detailed methodological challenges were posed as well, regarding how to study people, place and how to deal with data:

And last, some specific research gaps were written down, such as individual differences in the necessary balance between concentration and communication, studying mood and reasons for certain behavior, how to manage paradoxical emotions, territoriality and the role of emotions in the workplace. And also, how to change habits and how to manage the process of change (user participation, user engagement).

Contributions at TWR2018

Logically, not all challenges above were addressed fully at TWR 2018. But steps were made and important knowledge and experiences was shared across disciplines. Regarding methodological challenges, we saw interesting studies in Tampere where some were able to use very large datasets, showed findings of extensive literature reviews to increase confidence relative to individual studies and/or used multivelel modelling to test both individual-level and building-level characteristics in one analysis. We saw some very rigorous analyses and promising research tools such as space syntax, stated choice modelling and technology/apps to measure space or personal preferences and behaviour. And we also saw the value of qualitative approaches to study tacit topics more in depth and interesting combinations of methods.

Regarding building design, some contributions and new insights were that open plans make people sit less, but that this was the only positive thing found about them in a literature review. It was claimed that the office is never finished (work in progress) and that buildings are predictions and predictions can be wrong. Also, it again became clear that different kinds of work require different kinds of spaces and awareness needs to be built to set the right standards.

Regarding the study of people in their environment, studies at TWR2018 showed the importance of psychology on productivity and employee satisfaction. The perception of workplace quality is very important, especially regarding aspects such as control and territoriality. We also saw interesting behavioral studies regarding group behaviour and differences between rational and emotional behaviour.

To be continued at TWR2020 in Germany.

Blog on TWR2018 – by Nigel Oseland