Why having a choice in when and where to work matters

No one likes being stuck. The awful sinking feeling you get when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Or the thought in your head that won’t translate into a coherent sentence for an email. It’s the same feeling as an employee who feels trapped in a sea of cubicles, or in a busy open floor plan, or in an isolated back office that no one visits (except for that one coworker who seems to always know when you refill your candy basket).

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All three types of space mentioned above are effective for different types of work, and different personalities have different preferences. The problem isn’t inherent to the type of space. Instead, it’s about the lack of variety and availability when it comes to different types of work and meeting space.

Importance of both individual and group workspaces

Employees want a choice. Gensler, a research company that has been conducting an ongoing study of the workplace for more than 10 years, has been reporting on the role of space in the workplace. In their most recent report, the 2016 U.S. Workplace Survey, they provide insights on what differentiates innovators and high-performing employees from the rest.

They found that high performing employees reported they have more say in when and where they work. The same study found that companies with the most innovators are five times more likely to have workplaces that prioritize both individual and group workspace.

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Recognizing choice as a tool for employee productivity

One of the most interesting findings from the study was that all types of space—individual office, shared office, cubicles with high, medium, and low panels, and bench seating—were ranked as high functioning by the employees surveyed. Nothing scored below a 4.4/5.0 and nothing scored higher than a 4.6/5.0 on how employees viewed the effectiveness of each type of space. Instead, the study found that the more important differentiator between unsatisfied and high performing employees was their ability to choose when and where to work for the task at hand.

Organizations that offer variety when it comes to space and recognize “choice” as a tool employees need to produce what they’ve been hired to do have a better case for attracting top talent and retaining satisfied employees. No matter the case, workspace should be designed to connect employees with the purpose behind their work, so they can be productive and satisfied in their workspace, not in spite of it.

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