Does who you sit next to at the office influence your productivity? Yes, according to a fascinating new study from Cornerstone OnDemand and Harvard Business School. As Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman explains, the research suggests that “rearranging desks or sitting next to someone with a complementary work style can be a cost-effective way to inject energy and efficiency into the workday”:
In what they describe as the first study of “spatial management,” the researchers analyzed data from the more than 2,000 workers at a large technology company with several locations across the U.S. and Europe over two years. They discovered that seating the right types of workers together led to increased productivity and profits. The proper proximity, they write, “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 per annum to profit.”
Their analysis measured performance as well as a definitive metric for “spillover” for each employee—the term the researchers used to measure the combined performance of everyone seated around a given employee.
The study looked at three types of employees: “Productive,” “Generalists,” and “Quality” workers. The researchers defined productive workers as very productive but lacking in quality. Quality workers produce superior quality but aren’t as productive. And generalists are average in both areas. Spillover was ranked as either positive or negative, depending on the distance between two people. “Workers have different strengths, and . . . while spillover is minimal for a worker when it occurs in an area of strength,” the report’s authors write, “the same worker can be greatly affected if the spillover occurs in his or her area of weakness.”
The report also adds insight to the emerging concept of toxic employees—those whose bad attitudes and behaviors prove contagious in the workplace—including, according to the study, via simple proximity: HiQ Labs scientist Michael Housman tells Dishman that an employee sitting within 25 feet of a toxic coworker is more than twice as likely to become toxic themselves, and 150 percent more likely to be fired as a result.