Do you want to improve the performance and acumen of your employees without spending a dime on their training?
You don’t need a Ph.D. to figure this out. A study conducted by Harvard and Cornerstone lays it down for you. In the study, it was concluded that sitting next to a colleague with the same set of strengths complementing yours, could hold the key to boosting your efficiency.
Mostly, we place people from interdependent departments in one place. HR sits with the admin and finance divisions. IT department sits alone while the digital depart prefers to sit in the vicinity of the product management group.
Generally, most workplaces follow an open-office concept. The higher management doesn’t have separate offices or any special place to sit in the company.
The Problem Inherent in open-office environments
This sort of a seating arrangement breeds confusion since we can never know which groups fit best together.
Should the people who perform best in a serene and quiet ambiance be huddled together at one end of the office, so they can work in peace?
Should more boisterous folks brimming over with energy, such as those in sales, be paired with the creative employees from marketing? Or it is more productive to separate the customer service and finance departments and from the sales and marketing departments altogether?
If an issue crops up, how will the teams discuss the problem within themselves? Spinning their chair around and talking to the colleagues, or it is best to follow the Pixar policy and do walk-on meetings while ambling across the corridor.
It is nearly impossible to predict that if the product management team can sit with the product development team, they can come up with creative solutions faster as when coupled with the sales or marketing department.
How to rearrange employee seating to yield different results?
When we shifted to a more spacious office space, we decided that product management needed to sit with marketing.
Because the folks in marketing hear what customers are looking for. And having marketing people work closely with product development people means that you create an effective feedback loop. That does not preclude product management from also seeking input from our support and sales teams, or from working hand-in-hand with our user experience researchers. Those are all inputs, and it’s important that the physical design of the office accommodates the efficient transfer of information.
We also feel that our product management team should not be influenced by our development team. Furthermore, we are in the process of bringing our sales and customer support groups under one banner: the ‘customer success’ team.
On a general note, we feel that sales and customer service have a lot in common. They both deal with customers directly, which means that everything they do is laser-focused on nurturing the customer.
If the sales and support teams sit together, they can figure out most issues themselves without involving other teams.
Performance Spillover: The Good & the Bad
Positive performance is a lot more contagious than a negative one. So, if you place a weak performer next to a strong one, you’ll notice a perceptible improvement in the performance of the former, while the latter’s productivity remains just as high. This leaves literally no reason for you not to try and sit your underperforming employees next to their better-performing counterparts.
On the other hand, we don’t live in a picture-perfect world and employees don’t just pass on productive traits. Toxic behavior can be just as prevalent in the workplace like a virulent decease. Ample research reveals that such a negative behavior spreads like wildfire, and the “infected” can face severe repercussions, including a possible termination. By inadvertently putting toxic employees next to each other, the likelihood of any one of them getting fired shots up by a whopping 27%. Similarly, even when good-natured employees are seated next to toxic workers, they are much more likely to become toxic workers themselves. If you like to play it safe, I would venture to say that it’s better to separate toxic workers from the rest of the team, before the disease spreads its roots. HR and managers need to scrutinize how employees perceive their work environment, and to intervene at the smallest hint of toxicity.
If you are a startup with a small team, there is nothing wrong with seating all the people together. In fact, it will boost the morale of the entire team.
At the end of the day, logic must dictate who goes where. Physical placement can’t just be random. We’ve found that having the right teams working next to each other yields impressive results.
If you were to walk through our office, starting at one end, you’ll find our developers sitting next to our quality assurance teams; moving on, you’ll find our growing user experience group, followed by marketing (communications, digital, product management), our brand-new customer success department (documentation, customer support, sales), then our finance and administrative group down the lane, which I call home.