A new study about workplace satisfaction dives below the surface of common office building complaints in an attempt to develop a wider picture of indoor environmental quality (IEQ).
Though the results frequently indicated dissatisfaction, particularly with acoustic and thermal issues, the depth of the study provides a clearer understanding of how to address such problems.
Occupants of 192 U.S. office buildings drawn from a building survey database at the University of California, Berkeley, were asked to rate satisfaction on building comfort factors. Researchers focused on general comments, thermal complaints by dissatisfied respondents, and acoustic complaints by similarly dissatisfied respondents.
Washrooms top the list of common comment themes, appearing in 15% of the categorized responses. Rounding out respondents’ top five office complaints are:
- Cleaning: Insufficient, incomplete, disruptive, recycling issues, praise for staff
- Temperature: Too much air conditioning, temperature variation, too little or too much heat, limited opportunities to compensate for discomfort, building design
- Air quality: Dust, fresh air, mold, ventilation systems, smokers, odor
- Carpet, walls, and furniture: Dirtiness, need for more or better chairs, aesthetics and size of furniture, leaks or debris from ceilings
“Many of the comments on restrooms might seem irrelevant, one-off, or trivial in terms of building design implications, e.g., overstuffed paper towel dispensers or floors that reflect too much,” the authors write. “But a restroom is a basic comfort and typically the most private place at work.”
Roughly 37% of respondents report that air movement is too low, making it the top thermal complaint. Over one-third complain that their area is hotter or colder than other areas; inaccessible thermostats and thermostats controlled by others were a problem for about 30%.
Many answers revolve around adaptation to ill-adjusted temperature, such as opening windows or dressing in layers. Respondents often deduce that nothing can or will be done and that they could create new problems, like the air conditioning being turned off completely in response to overcooling, the study says.
“Much of the thermal adaptation that is going on in buildings could be in response to systematic over-provision of cooling and heating rather than under-provision,” the researchers note. “Reducing air conditioning levels could save energy while improving occupant comfort and requiring less adaptation.”
The acoustic environment is a frequent target of complaints due in part to the popularity of open office design. Respondents describe attempting to adapt by playing music, lowering their voices, and taking calls elsewhere or scheduling them for when colleagues are away, but these strategies are only moderately effective at best.
Overhearing people talking was the most common response, with 61% of acoustically dissatisfied respondents mentioning it. Text responses showed clear patterns of frustration, dismay, and subsequent coping mechanisms, especially regarding what respondents perceived as preventable noise.
The study was conducted by John Goins of the Center for the Built Environment at UC Berkeley and Mithra Moezzi of Portland State University.