The British multinational financial firm Barclays is using tracking devices at its London headquarters to monitor how much time employees spend at their desks, Bloomberg reported on Friday. The OccupEye devices, made by the UK company Cad-Capture, are designed to let companies analyze traffic patterns in the workplace as a way to identify underused space and figure out how to reduce their overall office footprint:
There was a “phased roll-out” of the devices, and Barclays staff and the Unite union were notified before they were installed, although the bank did not send out a specific memo about them, according to spokesman Tom Hoskin. The Barclays employees said they don’t remember being informed about the boxes, but spokespeople for the bank said there have been no official human-resources complaints. …
“The sensors aren’t monitoring people or their productivity; they are assessing office space usage,” the bank said in an emailed statement. “This sort of analysis helps us to reduce costs, for example, managing energy consumption, or identifying opportunities to further adopt flexible work environments.”
As remote and flexible work options become available, “hot desking,” which eschews assigned desks and allows companies to operate with fewer than one workstation per employee, is becoming increasingly popular among London banks and other companies operating in high-cost areas as a way to save money by reducing the size of their offices. Some proponents of hot desks say they enable greater collaboration, but critics counter that they limit employees’ autonomy and control over their space, while making it more difficult to form workplace relationships because the people they sit next to change from day to day.
One of the over-arching talent realities of the last several years is that work has become more collaborative, interconnected, and matrixed. How you work with different people is now one of the most critical differentiators of employee success. In fact, in today’s more collaborative environment we have found more than 40 percent of any individual’s contribution is dictated by the quality of their coworkers. At CEB, we have been able to analyze the profile of employees that are the most successful in this new environment: We call them enterprise contributors, and if you are interested in learning more about them, you can check out our executive guidance on them here.
The increasing importance of collaboration in the new work environment has inspired a fascinating wave of research into how employees’ interactions and relationships with their coworkers can influence their performance. Previous studies have suggested that employees tend to be more productive when seated near colleagues with complementary work styles and that the presence of a few high performers can improve the work of a whole team.
At the Harvard Business Review this week, Jason Corsello and Dylan Minor unveil the findings of their latest study, in which they examined the physical distance between employees to see how that impacted their performance. In other words, does simply sitting in proximity to high-performing neighbors at work make you more productive? Indeed, they find, it does:
In the age of the mobile workforce, “hot desk,” flexible desk or hoteling systems have emerged as a way for organizations to conserve office space and create a more dynamic work environment by doing away with assigned desks and instead having employees reserve desk space as they require it. Along with other aspects of the open office trend, hot-desking has been criticized by some occupational researchers who say that employees forced to share working spaces can be less productive, more distracted, and have worse relationships and more conflicts.
Ethnographer Alison Hirst spent three years studying the open-plan, hot-desk environment from the inside, and recently published the findings of her study. At the Conversation, Hirst discusses what she learned about how a hot desk system can affect certain employees more adversely than others:
Hot-desking tends to affect different employees in different ways. There is often a subtle division between those who can “settle” and reliably occupy the same desk every day, and those who cannot.
Settlers arrive first, choose their preferred desk, and by repeating their choice over time, establish this desk as “their” space. Settlers can secure the best desk space (often near the windows), can furnish their desks with all the materials and equipment needed for work, and can sit near their closest colleagues. These routines are advantageous. Contrary to popular belief, these kinds of habits enable creativity because they enable us to put mundane matters (like finding a seat near to people we know) into the background and direct our attention onto problem-solving and innovation.
Employees who for various reasons (such as childcare responsibilities or part-time status) arrive later in the day don’t have a similar choice of desk space.
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As technology has enabled more knowledge workers to work from anywhere, fewer of them need to be in the office every day. This sea change in the way people work has driven the rise of the coworking market, where vendors like WeWork are now even selling their flexible workplace solutions to large corporations. Back in March, Jeanne Sahadi at CNN Money spotted a rising trend of “hoteling,” in which employees don’t have individually assigned desks but have to reserve them each day they want to come into work (or in a “beach toweling” system, take them on a first-come, first-served basis), which saves employers money on expensive office space. Sahadi talked to an employee at EY about how the flexible desk system works there:
Maryella Gockel has worked at global consulting firm EY for 35 years. She said she hasn’t had a permanent office for the past decade. As a member of a global team, Gockel often works from home, in part because she has to be on early morning and late night calls with colleagues in different time zones. Of course, creatures of habit may not love the “work wherever” arrangement. …
If you work in the office at least three days a week, often you’re allowed to make a long-term reservation for the same space if you want, Gockel said. At EY, the only stipulation is that whenever you’re not there, you have to make that space available for someone else’s use.
In April, Denver Post writer Emilie Rusch toured the new Denver offices of commercial real estate firm CBRE, which also did away with assigned desks, even for senior employees, as part of the company’s “Workplace360” transformation: