Who sits next to whom and where might not be at the top of your priority list when it comes to running your office. But maybe it should be. According to an analysis by Harvard Business School, putting a little more thought into your seating chart could increase company profits by up to 15%.
The research was performed in collaboration with Cornerstone OnDemand and consists of an analysis of data from more than 2,000 employees over a two-year period. The study originally aimed to uncover how the distance between two employees’ desks affects their performance at work, but ended up with an arguably even more interesting finding.
“Placing the right type of workers in close proximity to each other has been shown to generate up to a 15% increase in organisational performance”, the study states. According to the researchers’ estimation, for an organisation of 2,000 workers this could add up to an extra $1 million (HKD 7.75 million) of profit per annum.
“For organisations looking to increase their returns on the human capital of their workforce, simply rearranging employee seating may be one of the most cost-effective resources at their disposal”, they conclude.
The key to optimising your employees’ performance lies with knowing what kind of workers they are and pairing them up with the most beneficial counterparts. In the study, employees were found to fit into one of three categories: productive, generalist or quality workers.
Productive workers operate at high speed, but can lack in quality. Quality workers deliver high quality, but do so slowly. Generalists perform average in both categories.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out that pairing up a productive but sloppy employee with a slow employee who delivers high quality can have a positive effect on both. Thanks to what the researchers call “spill-over”, sitting in close proximity to another type of worker can influence someone’ own personal work style.
Conveniently, the spill-over only applies to someone’s area of weakness, meaning productive workers’ productivity won’t suffer when sitting next to a slower quality worker.
To fully optimise your employee’s performance with a potential increase of up to 15%, productive and quality workers should be matched together, while generalists sit with other generalists.
While you’re rethinking the seating plan, you might also want to consider whether that open office layout is doing your business any good. According to an Oxford Economics study, the noise and distraction associated with open office plans are a bigger threat to productivity and worker peace of mind than most executives realise.
Over half (53%) of employees reported that working through ambient noise made them feel less satisfied and less productive, but only 35% of executives felt the same way.