Colloquium: November 5, 2013

Open Plan Offices? Yes, No, and It Depends

Tonya Smith-Jackson

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium


The term Open Plan Office, or OPO, is a label that describes a category of office layouts using either an open bay space with multiple workstations or open spaces separated by cubicles or paneling. The common element is the “open-ness” of the space, which leads to a reduced sense of privacy, perceptions of crowding, and reports of visual, auditory and cognitive distraction when compared to private offices with doors and walls. This layout remains controversial due to conflicting and sometimes biased reports of media and researchers on the benefits and costs of OPOs. It is also challenging to conduct empirical research on OPOs due to the difficulty of balancing internal, external, and ecological validity. This discussion will focus on peer-reviewed empirical research on various aspects of work performance in OPOs or scaled experimental settings used to mimic OPOs. The collective results are complex, but reveal interesting patterns based on types of work, types of workers, and individual differences. These patterns will be discussed as a “systems problem” requiring the systems engineering approach and systems-focused solutions. Research-based guidelines to support decision making and further exploration will be discussed.


Tonya Smith-Jackson, PhD, CPE, is the Chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She is also founder and director of the Human Factors Analytics Laboratory. Dr. Smith-Jackson was formerly on the faculty of the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, where she earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 2005, and full professor in 2011. Dr. Smith-Jackson chaired and co-chaired over 50 doctoral and masters committees in ISE since 1999, and served as a member of many committees in ISE, Building Construction, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering, Computer Science, Sustainable Biomaterials, and Engineering Education. Her recent book, Cultural Ergonomics: Theory, Methods, and Applications (Taylor and Francis), focuses on design, analysis, and measurement challenges and solutions when designing systems for diverse users and workers. She has authored and co-authored 137 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters.

Dr. Smith-Jackson’s research focuses on the application of cognitive and cultural ergonomics to the design, analysis, and evaluation of systems, with a specific focus on safety and risk, systems design, work system analysis, inclusive design, human-systems integration, and mixed-methods data integration and analytics. She graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 1982, earned a B.A. in Psychology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and earned her MS and PhD degrees from NC State University in Psychology/Ergonomics (Interdisciplinary ISE) in 1989 and 1998, respectively. She was certified by the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics in 2009. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Army Research Office, United Parcel Service, Toshiba Corporation of Japan, ITT, Carilion Clinic, Carilion Biomedical Institute, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Dr. Smith-Jackson has also worked in industry (IBM, Ericsson Mobile Communications, and Forensics) and government (Consumer Product Safety Commission, Army Community Services). She has taught as an adjunct faculty member in community colleges and universities in New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Germany. She served in leadership positions to facilitate diversity and broaden participation of minorities and women in STEM fields. She is a member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the American Society of Safety Engineers, and the Association for Psychological Science.