What Your Office Says About Your Company (And Why You Should Care)

If there is one thing we have learned through the economic twists and turns of the past decade, it is that people make our companies run. Even at the depths of the economic downturn with the high unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, there were 3.8 million jobs in the US that went unfilled for more than six months and that problem only gets worse as unemployment drops. Consequently, attracting and retaining high quality employees is ‘job one’ in 2014. Is it any wonder that CEO’s and their HR departments, are scanning the horizon for any new idea to help fill those positions? Enter stage left, the open office concept.

The open office concept has its detractors and there is actually much to be said for the traditional office with its spaces for privacy, learning, and focused work, but an open office strategy, when thoughtfully deployed can create environments that support employee attraction and retention.

[wcm_restrict]Research shows that we read our physical environment for meaning, just like we read body language. A traditional office layout, with small, enclosed offices, ‘cubicle farms,’ formal conference rooms, and limited casual gathering areas, tends to communicate a hierarchical structure with less opportunity for career advancement. An open office sends a message of meritocracy and opportunity, keys to an employee’s ability to move up in the company’s structure. Since the Towers-Watson 2012 Global Workforce Survey listed ‘career advancement opportunities’ as one of the primary motivators for high potential employee attraction to a company, an open office is an office that will more likely attract those employees.

Across a number of other employee-retention studies, one of the top ten reasons why people remain at their current job is: “I have a friend at work.” Businesses looking to keep their employees can support them by providing ample opportunities for repeated casual interactions with other employees. Research indicates that over time, opportunities for conversation build casual, and then stronger friendships. Space plans that provide opportunities to circulate in a way that creates random meetings can be key to creating friendships. Strong friendships keep employees at work.

The Google Workplace Team has determined that waiting 4.5 minutes for coffee is optimal for encouraging employee interaction in the office kitchen. With a shorter wait, employees won’t talk to the other people waiting, and a longer wait means they won’t bother coming to get their afternoon espresso. A charming barista draws multiple people into conversation, thereby increasing the opportunity for casual interaction that can drive new friendships. The space the barrista occupies is open, casual, and friendly for maximum effect.

Anthropological research has shown that people form tighter trust bonds when working in groups of eight or less. Groups who are trust bonded are more likely to express creative ideas, and thus solve more problems, resulting in greater satisfaction and again, stronger friendships. If furniture can be arranged to accommodate teams working in small groups, employees will not only have more friends and be more loyal, they will produce higher quality, more creative results.

So, using open office strategies for all or part of your offices will attract employees by providing them the visual message of opportunity and help them have friends by providing places for casual interaction. If the modern office includes a layout designed to increase accidental meetings, and an employee lounge with features to keep people there for 4.5 minutes or more, and a furniture plan that puts people in groups of less than eight, then that business has a home run.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Kristine WoolseyKristine Woolsey is a business strategist, speaker, and author. She is a transition specialist, helping organizations reshape themselves during times of change including mergers, extreme growth, and adaption to today’s changing workplace. She works at the intersection of organizational behavior, brand alignment, and facilities. She guides leaders to understand the power of leveraging natural behavior patterns using research based strategies with measurable results.

Kristine was trained as an architect and then moved into the business arena. Now, she teaches and speaks about the future of work and behavioral strategy to groups and conferences nationally. Kristine consults for medium to large companies, helping business leaders use behavioral strategies to adjust their value proposition, identity/brand, organization structure, and facilities to create the most direct path through any organizational transformation. For more information visit: www.kristinewoolsey.com.

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