career

Look around you. Who you sit next to at work controls your work performance.

Open-plan office workers who are patiently waiting for the work-place trend to die would be better off learning to live with it because they are definitely here to stay. In Australia nine out of every 10 offices are now open-plan and workers are doing their best to adjust to the radical office model.

Companies however keep on making the same mistake when it comes to the open-plan office model. They aren’t paying enough attention to where they are placing their employees.

New research has shown that a worker’s productivity is greatly influenced by who they sit next to or near at work. Harvard Business School and services company Cornerstone OnDemand found that companies are better off grouping workers together who have complementary skills.

Companies need to to rethink how they seat workers in open-plan offices. Image: He's Just Not That Into You, New Line Cinema

The influence workers can have on each other is called "spillover" and management intervention "strategic seating".

Placing the right type of workers in close proximity to each other has been shown to generate up to a 15% increase in organizational performance. For an organization of 2,000 workers, strategic seating planning could add an estimated $1 million ($1.3 AUD) in per annum profit.

First, companies have to identify what type of worker each of their employees is:

HIGH: Productive, finishing their work quickly and efficiently.

AVERAGE: Those who land in the middle of High and Quality workers.

QUALITY: Slower, but produce high-quality work.

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TOXIC: Anyone who negatively influences those around them.

To get the most out of it's employees, a company should seat Quality workers next to High workers to achieve a significant increase in output. High workers can sit together.

Generalists are best off seated together.

Image: Infographic courtesy of Cornerstone OnDemand

Toxic workers should be identified and fired as soon as possible.

That means hot-desking is a terrible idea for workplaces because it takes control of where employees sit away from the company and leaves it in the hands of workers.

Dylan Minor, visiting assistant professor for Harvard Business School and one of the researchers said rearranging the seating at a workplace is an affordable way for companies to increase their productivity.

"This suggests that employee engagement surveys that capture how employees feel about their work environment and their managers can be an important first line of defense to rooting out toxicity by providing an early warning to intervene in such a team," the report stated.

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