Have your heard, sitting is the new smoking? I don’t know that I really buy that, but studies have shown that sitting for hours at a time can increase your risk of heart disease and overall mortality—bummer! But, it’s not only the act of sitting all day that can change your life, where you sit can also make a big difference.
Businesses often spend a lot of time and money on a wide variety of tactics (think: training/education, performance management, incentives and rewards, stuff like that) in a quest to increase employee performance. But, as it turns out, changing the seating arrangement—playing musical chairs—might be the quickest and cheapest way of increasing an organization’s performance.
I recently read an article about a study conducted by Cornerstone OnDemand and Harvard Business School regarding how the distance between two employees’ desks affects various performance measures and how simply placing the right type of workers in close proximity to one another can generate up to a 15 percent increase in performance.
The study revealed 3 types of workers: Productive, Quality, and Generalists. Productive employees work quickly, but lack high quality. Quality employees have high quality work, but lack speed and Generalists are fairly average on both fronts.
The research found that if you put a person who works quickly without high quality (a Productive) next to an employee who works slower but with higher quality (a Quality) ‘spillover’ will occur. The higher quality work will spill over to the Productive worker and increased speed will spill over to the Quality worker. This results in a boost in performance for both. According to the study, there was a 13 percent gain in productivity and a 17 percent gain in effectiveness.
Unfortunately, ‘spillover’ only lasts as long as the seating arrangement. If the employees are separated, the enhanced productivity disappears. And ‘spillover’ isn’t always beneficial. The study also found ‘spillover’ taking place in employees who are in close proximity to toxic employees, resulting in an increase of negative performance through misconduct and unethical behavior. I guess this proves the old adage: it only takes one bad apple…
I also read another article on the subject by Rachel Feintzeig in the Wall Street Journal that talks about companies that have taken this seating arrangement thing to the next level. For example, MODCO Media, a New York advertising agency, played with different seating arrangement within their agency. They went so far as to blend different departments (media buyers and accountants) hoping the close proximity would cause the skills of one department to rub-off on the other. Surprisingly, this worked so well the company was able to cut back on its accounting department. The media buyers began to understand the financial side so well they were able to incorporate accounting skills into their daily routines.
Enhanced skills aren’t the only thing that can be gleaned from close proximity, a person’s disposition can also morph. According to Segal Barsade, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “People literally catch emotions from one another like a virus,” she said. Luckily, her research found that low-energy, sluggishness is the least contagious emotional state and a calm, relaxed state is the most contagious. Got an unhappy, high-stressed worker? Try sitting them next to a cheerful, energetic person.
Don’t just throw caution to the wind when experimenting with seating arrangements, not all will provide major breakthrough like the one seen for MODCO Media, some changes can have negative ramifications.
With all of this new information we are going to have to give this seating arrangement thing some serious thought here at A. Alliance. My biggest question, where will I end up when the music stops?
A. Alliance Collection Agency, Inc. is a full service, licensed accounts receivable management and debt collection agency providing highly effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Founded in northern Illinois in 2005, we have been proudly improving the bottom-line on behalf of our business partners in and around Chicagoland for over 12 years.