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Employee Engagement > Retention

Feng shui for the office?

In last Wednesday’s post, I mentioned the recent Challenger, Gray & Christmas list of workplace trends of the future. Well, today, I came across this Miami Herald article about how companies are doing away with cubicles with increasing frequency, one of the trends Challenger predicted.

It mentions Florida-based RBB Public Relations, who got rid of private offices for everyone, including top management. RBB now encourages its 28 employees to work anywhere they’re comfortable, from their open workstation to the floor in the ”playroom” or a couch in the ”den” to a client’s on the road.

The thinking behind taking down cubicles among companies like RBB is that such a move will encourage communication among employees and foster creativity. Of course, whether or not it actually does is hard to measure, but Cornell University has research to suggest that “more open office environments…significantly benefit communication that speeds the overall work process while contributing to high-quality work and employee satisfaction with their job.”

Some emerging workspace trends the Miami Herald article mentions:

  • Tearing down walls or replacing offices or cubicles with workstations that have low (or no) dividers.
  • Organizing seas of cubicles into ”neighborhoods” where everyone can easily see each other from their chairs.
  • Window space is now reserved for workstations, with remaining offices getting glass fronts and moving to the inner core of the space so everyone gets natural light.
  • Replacing silence with ”pink noise,” which masks conversations and other sounds.
  • Replacing conference room with many smaller spaces for informal meetings or important phone calls.

Reading this article and about these trends reminds me of a related story. My friend who used to work for a small publishing company that, in addition to a traditional break room with a fridge, tables and chairs, had “de-stress room.” The room was a converted conference room with comfy chairs, low lighting, continuous “relaxing” music, and the occasional visit from a masseuse. Employees could go in there to relax, take 20 minute naps, or even do some yoga to reenergize. Before she told me about her office, I knew that companies like Google encourage their employees to play at work, but it just seemed like yet another one of those oddities that made uber-hip companies like Google unique. I’d never actually known an office that employed such elements into its office in “real life.” Now, of course, it seems after reading this article, that the practice of taking a less conventional approach to workplace structure is becoming more and more, well, conventional…perhaps for good reason.

I’d love to hear more about other companies who have unconventional set ups or unique features meant to inspire creativity and spur communication among employees, and, if so, whether its made a difference in retention and engagement. Thoughts?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
7 comments
Jason Ticus
Jason Ticus

Interesting topic- rbb public relations has actually been one of our honored workplaces for precisely this innovative approach to office layout.

The question of workspace is always tied to your workplace culture-> Chances are such experiments in layout/structure won’t work without honest input from your team. Could some of the folks on your team, Shawn, have seen such complications coming before this was even implemented? Was your group receptive to feedback/changes after the initial set-up?

We here at Winning Workplaces deal often with org’s finding great success with open communication, open books, and open workspaces. And it’s a custom fit every time- you’ve got to know your people. Not everyone can handle the open layout. Not everyone needs it.

But, in addition to the creative/innovative environment such an approach might foster in certain industries, often the biggest payoff is in terms of employee retention.

Top-talent will go where they’re happy and most productive. Being selective and honest in your hiring process will help ensure a good fit… There’s not much that can hold back a team of passionate, focused associates who are comfortable and engaged on a daily basis.

Jason Ticus
Special Projects Coordinator
www.winningworkplaces.org

*We’re blogging about workplace topics at:
http://blog.winningworkplaces.org/blog/employee-engagement

Jason Ticus
Jason Ticus

Interesting topic- rbb public relations has actually been one of our honored workplaces for precisely this innovative approach to office layout.

The question of workspace is always tied to your workplace culture-> Chances are such experiments in layout/structure won’t work without honest input from your team. Could some of the folks on your team, Shawn, have seen such complications coming before this was even implemented? Was your group receptive to feedback/changes after the initial set-up?

We here at Winning Workplaces deal often with org’s finding great success with open communication, open books, and open workspaces. And it’s a custom fit every time- you’ve got to know your people. Not everyone can handle the open layout. Not everyone needs it.

But, in addition to the creative/innovative environment such an approach might foster in certain industries, often the biggest payoff is in terms of employee retention.

Top-talent will go where they’re happy and most productive. Being selective and honest in your hiring process will help ensure a good fit… There’s not much that can hold back a team of passionate, focused associates who are comfortable and engaged on a daily basis.

Jason Ticus
Special Projects Coordinator
www.winningworkplaces.org

*We’re blogging about workplace topics at:
http://blog.winningworkplaces.org/blog/employee-engagement

Lance Newton
Lance Newton

A co-worker of mine told me to read your post and I truly thanked her!!

Mary
Mary

Shawn,

Interesting you should mention the "cool and trendy" part, because I was wondering that myself. But I'd like to believe that more often than not, it's about improving the quality of work. You're right, though, that there should be a happy medium, because I bet many other companies are experiencing the same challenges your office did.

Mary
Mary

Shawn,

Interesting you should mention the "cool and trendy" part, because I was wondering that myself. But I'd like to believe that more often than not, it's about improving the quality of work. You're right, though, that there should be a happy medium, because I bet many other companies are experiencing the same challenges your office did.

Shawn
Shawn

I’m curious if companies are doing it to be cool and trendy or to actually improve upon the quality of work from its employees. And if it is for the later reason, do they always find it to be a positive change?

I work at an office where the company incorporated an open working space for its creative teams. The reason behind it was to spur creativity and foster a collaborative environment. All good stuff. And in contrast to some of the employee comments made in reaction to the Miami Herald article, the idea here was actually brought to the company by its employees, not its management teams, as a positive change.

Although the change brought cheer to the employees in the space, sadly productivity went down. Way down. The team started missing even the simplest of deadlines. There was just too much collaboration. But it wasn’t even valuable collaboration. It was groupthink at its worst. Suddenly there was no individualism. It was impossible to ask something of anyone without getting an answer from the whole team. Meaning everyone stopped what they were doing each time an “outsider” came into the department. And don’t even get me started on the non-work chatter.

Now, I’m not saying collaboration is bad. There are strengths in teams and often the best results come from a group effort. As a manager of a team, I get that. However, removing walls and making it one step easier to get involved in your neighbor’s business doesn’t seem like the best answer. There has to be a happy medium between cubes/offices and open work spaces.

Shawn
Shawn

I’m curious if companies are doing it to be cool and trendy or to actually improve upon the quality of work from its employees. And if it is for the later reason, do they always find it to be a positive change?

I work at an office where the company incorporated an open working space for its creative teams. The reason behind it was to spur creativity and foster a collaborative environment. All good stuff. And in contrast to some of the employee comments made in reaction to the Miami Herald article, the idea here was actually brought to the company by its employees, not its management teams, as a positive change.

Although the change brought cheer to the employees in the space, sadly productivity went down. Way down. The team started missing even the simplest of deadlines. There was just too much collaboration. But it wasn’t even valuable collaboration. It was groupthink at its worst. Suddenly there was no individualism. It was impossible to ask something of anyone without getting an answer from the whole team. Meaning everyone stopped what they were doing each time an “outsider” came into the department. And don’t even get me started on the non-work chatter.

Now, I’m not saying collaboration is bad. There are strengths in teams and often the best results come from a group effort. As a manager of a team, I get that. However, removing walls and making it one step easier to get involved in your neighbor’s business doesn’t seem like the best answer. There has to be a happy medium between cubes/offices and open work spaces.

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