MIT Sloan Executive Education Blog

Small moves equal big payoffs for office productivity

Sometimes, effective organizational change requires major shifts in management and corporate culture. Other times it's as easy as moving chairs.

Recent research by MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini makes the case that simple changes in office environments can have a big impact on department dynamics, leading to more efficient work habits, collaboration, and overall increased productivity in the office. As recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, companies that shift employees from desk to desk every few months and rethink which departments to place side by side say they have seen an increase in productivity and collaboration.

office seating

For his research, Catalini studied the impact of proximity at an academic campus in Paris, France. When a group of scientists were forced to move to a different building because of an asbestos problem, innovative ideas abounded as well as a more accepting attitude of experimentation. In addition, colleagues spent more time collaborating on projects and even solidifying friendships.

Others agree. Similar research has found that open floor plans, grouping employees at tables, and even shifting colleagues among different departments can lead to increased productivity. Those in the technology sector say they are even studying specific seating arrangements to see what configurations have the most impact.

Why Hubspot regularly changes its seating chart

Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot and MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer, says his company has been experimenting with office logistics for the past several years. In an effort to emphasize the lack of hierarchy at HubSpot, employees randomly switched seats every few months, which eventually morphed into a set up that was a bit more structured: a loud group and a quiet group. Yet, when the higher ups tried moving to a separate section of the office, the rest of the employees felt the executives were too far removed. Today, HubSpot employees and executives have reached a happy medium, with just the right amount of flexibility and movement to encourage innovation, collaboration---and a boost to the bottom line.

Brian Halligan teaches in the executive education program, Building Game-Changing Organizations: Aligning Purpose, Performance, and People.   


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