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. Evans and Johnson (2000) showed that stress from surrounding noise increases the risk of developing musculoskeletal problems, resulting in increased healthcare and performance costs. These costs are substantial to affect the net productivity of an organization, where productivity is equal to revenue minus the costs. BASEX showed that distractions cost the U.S. economy $588 billion per year (Spira and Feintuch, 2005). Therefore, this research argues that the costs of auditory distractions should be estimated when evaluating the value of a workspace for an organization. However, 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.
Furthermore, research on building technology and environments suggest co-existence of support for individual and collaborative work at any workspace in a given workplace at any given time as a must-have requirement for conducting knowledge work. Brill et al. (2001) report that compromise in either of the two requirements results in real costs to businesses in terms of lost productivity, higher attrition, and difficulty recruiting highly valued intellectual capital.
In view of the above stated costs that are critical to sustainability and development of a business, and the fact that cost-benefit approach is no longer providing consistent results, a more robust decision-based approach to workspace selection is proposed. A 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. The advantages of using a decision-based approach include consideration of a multitude of environmental decision variables, objective or subjective, in a single equation or model 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 it 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 a workspace's adaptability to auditory distractions for office workers, particularly knowledge workers, who are constantly undertaking a range of complex tasks. This study holistically and systematically puts forth the fundamental issues prevalent in state-of-the-art North American open plan office settings, the issue of fulfilling two extremely contrasting requirements, concentration and collaboration, in the same workspace and work environment at a given time.