The best workplaces allow employees to place themselves in whatever setting is most expedient for their tasks.
What does your ideal workplace look like? Gensler, a global design firm, spends a lot of time considering this question. Its 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey examined the design factors that drive an effective workplace, and concluded that, for optimized performance, a workplace must enable employees to both focus and collaborate.
Three out of four U.S. employees struggle to work effectively, and one of the reasons (which ranks up there with longer work hours and more technological distractions) is workspaces that have become smaller and more open.
Although an open work environment has been trendy since the 1970s, it may be time to reconsider whether this design supports the nature of increasingly common "knowledge work." Focus is critical for the thought-intensive work, such as reading emails or writing code, that many of us find ourselves doing from day to day.
"Ensuring the ability to focus is the critical first step," writes Diane Hoskins, one of Gensler's co-CEOs. "Analysis of findings from our 2013 study confirms that employees who can effectively focus are 57 percent more able to collaborate, 88 percent more able to learn, and 42 percent more able to socialize in their workplace than their peers who are unable to focus. They are more satisfied with their jobs, more satisfied with their workplaces, and see themselves as higher performing."
To achieve a balanced workplace, Gensler suggests an "activity-based" arrangement, which features a variety of settings for employees to work in such as private desks, "cafés," and meeting rooms. Employees have the freedom to choose their work settings, depending on the type of task they are doing.
There is no one "right" design, however. Striking a good balance for your organization requires digging deep into your organization's culture, needs, and goals, and coming up with diagnostic and contextual data on what drives performance.