Spacing Out: Does Office Space Affect Working Women Differently?

The design of your office affects how working women work. I once supervised a new employee who insisted that she spend her workday lying on her stomach on the floor in the center of the open office as she typed on her laptop, feet kicking. She also insisted she needed to be barefoot in order to concentrate.This is not what you might call an optimal use of communal office space.But does the layout of your office affect how you work?According to Fast Co. Design, the answer is yes.“While some argue that unlocking engagement from millennial workers lies in playground-like offices, CityLab highlights a new survey that says that it’s peace and quiet that’s the real key. Carried out by Oxford Economics (a spin-off organization of Oxford University), the results revealed that uninterrupted work time was at the top of most of the 1,200 respondents’ wish lists. Meanwhile, none said that free food was the most important,” writes Diana Budds.Some of the slick office spaces many of us have worked in lately with open layouts, free kitchen access, removable walls, standing desks and privacy pods seem futuristic and aimed at productivity. But the truth is people just want a quiet spot and a chunk of time to get the work done.Others contend that the design of office spaces and office products has traditionally been for men by men. Azeem Azhar writes in Financial Times that there is a male bias demonstrated in how offices look, feel and perform.What is the effect of male-designed office spaces? “First, let us deal with the common office phenomenon of chilly women and sweltering men. Women may feel cold at work because office thermal standards are based on a standard model of the occupant. But that standard model assumes a 40-year-old man, according to Boris Kingma of Maastricht University. The typical woman generates 35 per cent less heat than that and, according to Kingma’s study, she needs the temperature as much as 3 degrees centigrade higher than her male counterpart to feel as comfortable.”This is not to mention that many offices may not offer availability of private rooms for breast pumping, or even easy access to restrooms for women. The latest discussions at the corporate, community, state and federal level about gender identity and bathrooms is a separate conversation; but recently President Barack Obama declared that national parks will no longer have single sex bathrooms.The design of individual office as well as communal spaces at the workplace have traditionally been skewed male. Azhar adds, “To remedy this, an important starting point is, perhaps, to accept that if things are designed by a particular dominant group, they will also be designed for that dominant group. Is that desirable for a multicultural, diverse workforce? Probably not.”Yes, how offices are designed, how programs train and how companies recruit must adhere to federal standards, according to a recent letter to all educational institutions offering career and technical programs from The Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. Programs must be gender-inclusive, according to cnsnews. and cannot discriminate by gender.The American Society of Interior Design recently unveiled the ideal office of the future in Washington, D.C. From what we see, there are lots of plants, environmentally friendly materials in the office products, standing desks, open spaces and windows. There is no mention of gender differences in design needs.But do working women and men have different work space needs?Companies that sell office furniture and products, like Houzz, for instance, may claim designs are for women’s offices, but look gender neutral. Sites like Stylish For Eve, however, have what some may see as flamboyantly feminine design.But no matter the configuration of your office physically, you have to promote harmony or at least at a minimum get along with your coworkers who physically share your space or are nearby.Alison Green writes in Daily Worth: “While you’re hard at work, slackers spend their time texting endlessly, running a fantasy football league, and watching every YouTube video maybe ever. It’s obvious to you and your coworkers that they’re not pulling their weight, but somehow they’re getting away with it.”Her response?“You’ve got two choices here: You can ignore it or you can speak up about it. In most cases, ignoring it is the better choice. For one thing, while it’s possible that your boss is just overlooking the slacker-y behavior, it’s also possible that she’s addressing it behind the scenes — and you likely wouldn’t know about it if that’s the case. Plus, if it’s not affecting your work, it’s ultimately not your business.”Discussing gender office space differences can be more complicated than it seems. Yes, this final frontier of office space consideration for many working women is the web that is office politics.[bctt tweet=“The final frontier of office space consideration for women is the web that is office politics.”]Lollie Barr writes in “There is also an awful double standard when it comes to becoming visible in an organization,” says Emma Isaacs, CEO of Australia’s largest network for career women, Business Chicks. “Men are encouraged to talk up achievements, ambitions and career goals, whereas if women do, it can be perceived in a negative way,” she says. “It’s also a sad fact that women are often forced to make a choice, either to be universally liked or to take the tough decisions, get promoted and be seen in the workplace.”Whether or not the office environment is a pleasant one, a new study from the Department of Labor shows that women work just 42 minutes per day less than men do. And that includes working out of the home as well as working in a home office.According to the Chicago Tribune: “This difference partly reflects women’s greater likelihood of working part time,” the authors explained. “However, even among full-time workers (those usually working 35 hours or more per week), men worked longer than women-8.2 hours compared with 7.8 hours.“But working women made up for the work day at home, logging in 2.6 hours per day in housework, compared to men, who did 2. 1 hours per day in the home.Where are American workers these days? In an office outside the home or in a home office? According to the the Labor Department, “On the days they worked, 82 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work at their workplace and 24 percent did some or all of their work at home.”The report continues, “In 2015, 38 percent of workers in management, business, and financial operations occupations, and 35 percent of those employed in professional and related occupations, did some or all of their work from home on days they worked, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.”It seems there are more working women now than ever who are rolling out of bed and getting to work right there in their house or apartment – maybe still in their PJ’s. “The share of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19 percent in 2003 to 24 percent in 2015,” the study showed.And if you don’t like the look and feel of your home office? Maybe a solution is as simple as making your bed.