The Science of where you sit at work
Updated by Endah
The New Science of Who Sits Where at Work
Companies Try to Boost Productivity by Micromanaging Seating Arrangements
Oct. 8, 2013 5:07 p.m. ET
Office workers are being treated to a new game: musical chairs.
Office workers are being treated to a new game: musical chairs. Rachel Feinzteig joins the News Hub with a look at how companies say they can increase productivity and collaboration by shifting employees from desk to desk every few months.
By shifting employees from desk to desk every few months, scattering those who do the same types of jobs and rethinking which departments to place side by side, companies say they can increase productivity and collaboration.
Proponents say such experiments not only come with a low price tag, but they can help a company's bottom line, even if they leave a few disgruntled workers in their wake.
In recent years, many companies have moved toward open floor plans and unassigned seating, ushering managers out of their offices and clustering workers at communal tables. But some companies—especially small startups and technology businesses—are taking the trend a step further, micromanaging who sits next to whom in an attempt to get more from their employees.
"If I change the [organizational] chart and you stay in the same seat, it doesn't have very much of an effect," says Ben Waber , chief executive of Sociometric Solutions, a Boston company that uses sensors to analyze communication patterns in the workplace. "If I keep the org chart the same but change where you sit, it is going to massively change everything."
Mr. Waber says a worker's immediate neighbors account for 40% to 60% of every interaction that worker has during the workday, from face-to-face chats to email messages. There is only a 5% to 10% chance employees are interacting with someone two rows away, according to his data, which is culled from companies in the retail, pharmaceutical and finance industries, among others.
Want to befriend someone on another floor? Forget it. "You basically only talk to [those] people if you have meetings," Mr. Waber says.
Office States of Mind
Research shows that employee temperaments can be contagious. Here are the four emotional states you might spot at the office:
Calm, relaxed—Employees experience less conflict and feel they perform better. Workers are most likely to "catch" this state from colleagues.
Stressed out, anxious—Frustration, anger and hostility also can mark this second-most-contagious state.
Cheerful, high-energy—Like the calm state, workers tend to be more cooperative. But compared with the above two states, calm or stress trumps cheerful.
Sluggish, low-energy—A dull, lethargic state that workers are least likely to catch from colleagues.