Working Around The Water Cooler; Research Findings Suggest Socialization As Critical To High Performance As ‘Heads-Down Work.’

[This article is the first of a two-part series based on findings from the 2008 Gensler Workplace Survey.]
In the current knowledge economy, both individual and team efforts are used to drive business performance, with success arising from intangibles such as ideas, innovation and employee engagement. This article looks at the 2008 Gensler Workplace Survey, conducted in the U.S. and the UK and explores its insights about how people work, the amount of time they spend in specific work modes and how critical each mode is to productivity and job performance.

The article identifies four work modes that employees engage in:

  1. Focus. The ability to devote uninterrupted effort (thinking analyzing, creating, producing) to a particular task or project. Average 48 percent of employee time.
  2. Collaborate. Working with others to plan, strategize, problem-solve, create. Average 32 percent of employee time.
  3. Learn. Concept-exploration, memorization, discovery and reflecting. Average 6 percent of employee time.
  4. Socialize. Plays a critical role in fostering the social networks that move knowledge through an organization to create innovation. Helps to create common values, collegiality. Average 6 percent of employee time.

The survey found that average companies spend 21 percent more of their time in focus mode than do top-performing companies. Top companies collaborate more than average companies and consider it more than twice as critical to job success. Top companies also consider learning 80 percent more critical to success than do average companies and spend 40 percent more time in this work mode. Top companies consider socializing almost three times more critical than average companies do and cite retention, communication and innovation as critical outcomes of this work mode.

Another survey finding touched on in this article is that the physical workplace has not kept pace with work changes as the economy moved from compartmentalized, paper-intensive focus mode to a knowledge economy where work has become more complex and team-driven.

Ninety percent of workers surveyed reported workplace design affects productivity, with 25 percent believing they could increase the quantity and quality of their work by an average of 25 percent by adapting the workplace to better support all four modes of work. Those companies that provide more functional and effective workspaces see higher levels of employee engagement and higher profits – up to 14 percentage points greater than those enjoyed by companies with less effective work environments.

Source: Janet Pogue, Employee Benefit News; Feb 1, 2009

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