These are the kinds of stories that drive me nuts.
Back in August, The Wall Street Journal published an article with the headline Use Your Seat to Get Ahead at Work, but the REAL news came in the subhead — “Sitting next to a star improves your performance, research shows; finally, something to like about open offices.”
Sorry, but in my book there is NOTHING to like about open offices, and unlike so many who sing their praises, I’ve actually worked in a couple and lived to talk about it. And, if sitting by high performers is really all it takes to improve my performance, well, I want to sit next to someone like Tim Sackett.
I’d love to see how much of Sackett rubs off on me.
How much improvement from sitting by a high achiever?
All kidding aside, here’s the crux of the WSJ story:
“Simply sitting next to a high achiever can improve someone’s performance by 3 percent to 16 percent, according to a two-year Northwestern University study of 2,452 help-desk and other client-service workers at a technology company.
The study is the first to tear apart different aspects of performance in an office job and analyze spillover in each.
–Productive employees — those who finished tasks quickly — raised the output of slower colleagues by 8 percent.
–Effective employees, who could handle customers’ problems without referring them to co-workers to finish, lifted their neighbors’ effectiveness by 16 percent.
–Quality workers, who received high ratings on customer surveys, inspired 3 percent improvements in colleagues’ quality ratings, says the study, published last year by the Harvard Business School.”
Of course, there’s a question that probably jumps into your head as fast as it jumps into mine, and it’s this: Won’t seating lesser performers by high performers impact the work quality of the high performers?
Dylan Minor, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of managerial economics at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, says no, that the research found that high performers weren’t dragged down by low achievers nearby.
But what happens when you sit by a lesser performer?
The open office goal should be a more effective organization
Yes, the goal should be constructing “more effective organizations,” but that’s generally not the explanation for yet another organization deciding that they need to go to an open seating plan.
Back in 2015, when Facebook decided to go to an open design in their new “office of the future,” somebody wrote that, “open offices are an exercise in frustration and futility — and a test lab for how to put a big dent in worker productivity.”
As this latest study shows, there IS an upside to an open office, but it’s less about being seen as cool and trendy by eliminating private offices and more about how you group your employees, in whatever space you have, to make sure that the better performers help the weaker ones raise their game.
I’m waiting for the next big announcement of a company going to an “open office” plan that spends any time at all talking about THAT.
John Hollon is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized expert on leadership, talent management, and smart workforce practices. He currently is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media. He also was founding Editor of the popular talent management website TLNT.com, and before that, Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com.
John also held editing positions at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Orange County Register, and was top editor for Gannett at two statewide papers —Montana’s Great Falls Tribune and The Honolulu Advertiser. He also has deep experience in magazine and online publishing as editorial director at Fancy Publications, VP of Editorial at Pets.com, and Editor of the San Diego Business Journal.
In addition, John is an adjunct professor in the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, and a board member at the Kronos Workforce Institute. He holds an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziado School of Business & Management, and lives in Southern California.