Science Says Where You Sit At Work Affects Your Performance

When you get seated next to someone new at work, you probably don’t think twice about it. But if you’ve ever watched on in rage as your desk mate texts under their desk, or if you suspect they’re messing with your ability to think clearly, you might just be on to something.

Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review suggests that the person you sit next to has more of an impact on our performance at work than you think, and that grouping the right types of co-workers together can boost productivity and the quality of work.

The findings come from the studying more than 2,000 employees of a large tech company with offices across the US and Europe. Employee performance is broken down into three metrics: productivity, the average time it took for a worker to complete a task; effectiveness, the average times per day a worker needed to ask for help; and quality, the client’s satisfaction on a five-point scale.

But if you’re looking to put forward a case in order to ditch your current office neighbour for your bestie from across the room, you’re probs not going be happy.

For every performance measure mentioned above, researchers have identified what they call a “spillover”, which is basically how your work friends influence your performance (for better or for worse).

Now, if this all sounds an awful lot like math… it’s because it kind of is. Workers in general can be identified one of three ways: productive workers, who were speedy, but lacked quality; quality workers, who pumped out much better work, but did it at a steadier pace; and generalists, who fell somewhere in the middle.

The solution

Going off these findings, the researchers paired people with opposite strengths, to see if they’d transform into productivity machines, which they did.

Where groups of workers were sat together, findings showed that the best seating arrangements in terms of getting stuff done were a mix of productive and quality employees. Workers who lacked quality were motivated to match those beside them, and those who needed to get quicker were doing the same.

The effects of playing productivity cupid in the office start to show immediately, but generally vanish within two months. This goes to show that a combination of inspiration, motivation, fear and peer pressure from sitting near scarily efficient work mates got the job done (for a while).

If you’re keen to mix things up in the office, or are just itching for that sunny spot next to the window, bring it up at your next staff meeting.