Forget what you know about how to maximize productivity.
According to a new report published in Harvard Business Review, the key to unlocking the greatest productivity is not necessarily in the hands of the individual employee. Rather, face-to-face encounters are the best way for individuals working in the knowledge economy to improve performance. That is in spite of technology that keeps us “connected” while working remotely.
While office space may have evolved from corner offices to cubicles, to open concept to capitalize on collaborative conversations, companies have yet been able to back office design with proof that they are pushing productivity. Until now. Big data has finally provided a tool to measure productivity. Engineers who share space are 20% more likely to communicate digitally and email four times more frequently when collaborating on a project. The result: their projects were finished 32% faster than those from staff working in different places.
One company gave employees wearables equipped with infrared, bluetooth and recording capabilities. Employees were monitored an average of six to eight weeks for location, movement, posture and conversation. Research confirmed that the sensors were a more effective way of gauging productivity than the old cost-per-square foot metric, which only measures efficiency rather than performance or productivity. Analyzing this data impacts the way offices could be designed to increase chance encounters that lead to greater innovation – even when workers are using digital means to communicate.
Do water cooler rants or coffee machine klatches have merit as well? At Samsung headquarters, outdoor spaces between floors are strategically placed to get sales people and engineers mingling. At Norwegian telecom company Telenor, staff had no assigned seating and are encouraged to keep moving into different teams. This allows for greater exploration, resulting in faster decision making and a shift in overall corporate strategy. Goodbye siloed communication.
People who straddle different groups are more powerful than their titles would historically suggest. How many years before they redesign the organization hierarchy? There are a lot of informal social networks inside organizations, from chat rooms like Slack to actual gatherings in public spaces, these communication networks have the potential to reveal more about the employees than an org char or a widget.
Take Tony Hsieh’s $350 million Downtown Project. Magnolfi led a coworking experiment that included Zappos employees, residents, startups and independent workers. After six months the data revealed a 78% increase in participant-generated proposals to solve specific problems, 84% increase in new leaders and 42% increase in face-to-face encounters. Hsieh’s using a new metric to measure results in the area: collisionable hours, in other words the number of probable interactions a person can have per hour per acre. Instead of the aforementioned cost-per-square-foot efficiency measurement, the intent is on maximizing interaction to 100,000 collisionable hours per acre, per year.
As for the melding of tradition and disruption, there is never going to be the perfect combination. There should be entire portfolios of workspaces, so we could use a different one every day, allowing us to move at the speed of the people who are using them.