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:
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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:
The Chicago Tribune’s Corilyn Shropshire recently highlighted an “amenities arms race” in the second city’s commercial real estate market, where older buildings are trying to bulk up their perks to attract occupants:
A few years ago, a gym and a rooftop deck were all a building needed for a quick makeover and subsequent lift in occupancy and leasing rates. These days, the tenant wars are a bit more intense: A spiffed-up lobby, a tricked-out tenant lounge and a bike storage facility are must-haves for buildings aiming to lure more tenants and higher rents. A golf simulator might make a previously forgettable office building — yes, office building — really stand out.
Those stodgy, “Mad Men”-style traditional office buildings are being transformed into funky, hip workspaces that younger people want to work in, a trend that is driving up office rents in the Chicago market. …
“Amenities have always been a big deal in commercial office buildings, but now, taking amenities to a new level seems to be the trend,” said Greg Prather, senior vice president at JLL, who helps 601W turn onetime stodgy office buildings into places where hip, young professionals will want to work. “Stodgy old buildings are trying to reinvent themselves as hip work environments because they have to compete,” he said.
The interesting question—which employers should consider before spending that extra buck on an office with a golf simulator—is whether these perks really meet employees’ needs in such a way as to attract and retain top talent. A “fun” office might help dazzle new recruits, but in the long term, job satisfaction, engagement, and retention are driven by things like compensation, work-life balance, and opportunities for advancement. Organizations that spring for the snazziest office but don’t treat employees well or have supportive work cultures will soon find that perks alone do not a talent magnet make.
At Workplace Insight, consultant Mark Eltringham thinks through what he calls the “pendulum swing between aesthetics and wellbeing” going on at many organizations, particularly as it pertains to “clear desk” policies, which are meant to enforce tidiness and maintain an orderly and uniform work environment, but may do so at the cost of greater employee creativity, permanency, and overall comfort and productivity. In the end, he comes down on the side of letting employees express themselves with their own desk organization schemes, or lack thereof:
Consider that, as individual space continues to decrease in favour of shared space – communal areas, meeting rooms and shared hot-desking areas –what little that remains on and around the desk has become of even greater importance to the individual. The desk, in fact, is the one solid block of space, the single physical aspect of office life, that can actually be rooted in the personal.