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The Personality of the Environment Published: Sunday, October 18, 1998 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

The effects of physical conditions on social behavior is an important issue for organizations and management sciences. These days, it is impossible to ignore the significance of work environments or the effects of physical design on organizational behavior, particularly when it seems clear that physical settings provide contexts for behavior. Consideration of physical environments is consistent with the emphasis on the social ecology, which is useful for developing understanding of organizations. Environments are themselves changing, which bears explanation, and have potent effects on behavior.

Since the mid-1990`s, there has been a growing interest in the subject of design, both architectural and product design, and systems design. However, considering organizational design and new work arrangements (such as self-managed teams) without pondering the physical design implications is incomplete, because a work setting, an effective organization is best managed as a total integrated system. And that includes the physical facilities, information technology, organizational policies and practices, people and management styles. Moreover, there is a set of reliable research findings with respect to the physical design issues and its social effects.

An interior (an artificial construction that encapsulates or surrounds an occupant) influences behavior by virtue of its ambient qualities, in its perceived purpose. We can best gauge the influence of the built interior by examining the ways in which impedes, constraints, alters, or facilitates purposive behavior. Let us summarize the findings of three recent and mayor studies of the effects of the built environment on performance. The dimensions of the environment, including acoustics (noise), visual (lighting and glare) and thermal (temperature and variability) aspects, air quality, appearance, and spatial arrangements, floor, layout, amount of personal storage, work surface, and ease of circulation have direct impact on the quality of performance. The clear point is that enhancements to workplaces have shown consistent performance improvements of between 15-25 percent. One aspect of the physical space that should receive attention inside organizations is the effect of distance on interaction. Empirical verification of the role played by proximity in regulating interpersonal attraction establishes that one`s friends are drawn from the population of persons one has met and that meeting requires the cojoint occupation of space. There are more than 50 studies working with distance and choice of interaction partners. All of them found an inverse relationship between the distance separating employees and the likelihood of communication occurring between them. The effect of distance on interaction affects certain forms of interaction, such as face-to-face, telephone calls and even written communications. Also, there is sufficient evidence to make the point that certain amount of privacy and personal space are useful on building relationships and holding meetings, and that an absence of privacy actually reduces interaction and teamwork! The physical environment influences the structure of human affect, the mild temporary shifts in current moods that human resources experience.

In short, physical and organizational design share the hoteling imperative on human performance, the capacity of the built room to influence the quality of behavior. During the next months and years we will have a splendid opportunity to manipulate the mechanisms by which the environment acts on human beings. It was Toynbee who proposed challenge and response as a force for stimulating the evolutionary process. The role of the external factor is to supply the inner creative factor with sufficient challenge to evoke creative responses.


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