COMPANY CULTURE / OCT. 11, 2013
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Who Sits Where Should Matter to Companies

Don’t worry! This article is not about musical chairs! It is rather about a striking finding that relates to how the seating arrangements in the workplace may prove beneficial to organisations. Actually, by changing employees from desk to desk every couple of months, scattering those who share the same job role and reconsidering which departments to place side by side, companies say they were able to boost productivity and collaboration.

Not only do such experiments cost nothing to the company but they can also help a company’s bottom line, even if they leave some workers unhappy.  

An effective experiment

In recent years, many organisations opted for shifting toward open floor plans and unassigned seating, clustering employees in a communal area. However, some companies – particularly startups and technology businesses – are taking the trend a step further, micromanaging employees’ seating arrangements so that their workforce yields more.

Ben Waber, chief executive of Sociometric Solutions, states that "If I change the [organizational] chart and you stay in the same seat, it doesn't have very much of an effect" however "If I keep the org chart the same but change where you sit, it is going to massively change everything."

According to Mr. Waber, an employee’s neighboring colleague amounts to 40% to 60% of every interaction that worker has during the workday, from direct chats to email messages. There is a very small chance that employees are interacting with someone two rows away, according to his data.

Why seating arrangements matter to companies

Companies should be careful about the way they group their employees, experts in office design and workplace psychology say. Christian Catalini, an assistant professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, supports that configuring employees by department can boost focus and efficiency, while mixing them up can foster innovation.

MODCo Media, a New York-based advertising agency, tested three different setups over the past few years. For about six months, the company mixed its accountants and media buyers, with the prospect of making them absorb each others' skills. This practice helped MODco save a lot of money for the company, as media buyers became experts in all financial aspects of the business that the firm no longer needed a full accounting department!

All in all, it seems that who sits where at work is like a new science that produces outstanding results both for the human resource and the company itself! How do you view this practice as an employer or an employee? Please comment below.

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