Does It Matter Where I Sit In The Office? (Increase Your Productivity by 15%)


When I first set foot in the corporate world eight years ago on my first job, I did what everyone else did to get ahead fast: work for long hours and impress the right people. Sounds familiar? Unpaid overtimes were the norm back then. And vacations? Forget them. I used to work for free without batting an eye.

I was driven and competitive.

I was the quintessential eager young worker who worked hard but not smart, and I put no thought on what could have been a subtle game-changer.

I regarded it as mundane because it is deceptively simple and in my naiveté, I wrongly assumed that success always comes with a gregarious personality, a likable character, or maybe a ripe age.

For me, there was nothing to it that deserves careful consideration until I learned why it matters the hard and painful way. I missed long-awaited promotions and progressions up the ladder, all because I did not pay attention to where I sit.

But now I know better, and I hope you will too, and let me tell you why.

So, does it matter where I sit in the office?

Yes, and it matters a lot more than what meets the eye. 

A Harvard Business School study shows that sitting close to an area of strength can improve your career performance by as much as 15% in productivity, effectiveness, and quality of work through what is called a performance spillover. 

Strength is contagious. 

A seat next to a high-performer can also enable you to operate more on your known strengths and improve on your weaknesses. 

But spillover can also work against you as well, and the negative effects can happen almost immediately, the research explains.

Pairing yourself next to a toxic worker, for example, can result in a performance drag that slows you down or a dip that sinks you in the trenches of incompetence. A negative spillover can lead you to commit misconduct and exhibit unethical behavior that can get you fired.

Underlying in the subconscious and mostly unnoticed, spillover maybe a broad and complex phenomenon that affects both personal and organizational performance, influenced by corporate decisions that are out of your control, but that does not mean you can’t do something about it in the here and now.

Here are two things that you can do to help you make the most out of positive spillover for your personal and professional advantage.

Know Thyself

This age-old aphorism credited to the Greek philosopher Socrates still rings true today, and for a good reason.

If you want to improve on something that matters to you, first you must change, and it should be a change that starts from within.

Before you know where to sit, first you need to know yourself better.

By knowing yourself, you can know your strengths, and this does not have to be more complicated than taking a test where you can’t fail.

One proven way is by taking the Gallup Strengths Finder assessmentOpens in a new tab., a great research-based personal assessment that will introduce you to the power of strengths and raise your self-awareness to a whole new level.

One of my strengths is being a Learner. Although I already had hinted that it might be one of my strengths even before I took the assessment, it was dormant and useless because of my ignorance.

When I found the right validation, I turned that piece of knowledge into action, as though a mental switch has flipped that lit a bulb – a eureka moment.

A sense of urgency welled up within to refine how I learn by carving out more time for reading unfamiliar and challenging information, teaching it to others to track my progress as a way to verify if I really understood what I just learned. Through every teaching experience from then on, I learned twice and created a habit without a shelf life.

My new-found self-awareness transformed my journey as a learner from casual to deliberate, from merely excited to ablaze – on to a higher notch of professionalism.

You may find that your strength is Includer. That awareness will propel you even more in your search for opportunities to bring people together and bring out the best in them through work and interaction.

Take the test and get a head start. Discover where you are gifted and how you are wired, so you can focus more on what is right about you instead of what is wrong.

So that you can devote more time to becoming who you are instead of who you are not.

If you understand who you are, you are better positioned for success and empowered to produce work that is meaningful to you and inspiring to others.

Know Thy Neighbor

Now, a question begs to be asked. Assuming that by now your strengths are known to you, how do you know which co-worker of yours will be most helpful to you especially in areas where you need a hand?

In a co-location setting, the researchers of the study tell of three types of workers that could influence you, and you could influence too.

One is dubbed as Productive. This worker is very productive but whose work lacks the quality befitting of what he delivers in substantial quantity.

He works fast and finishes things on the dot, but his work can be shoddy at worst or crude at best.

In contrast, there is the Quality, a worker that produces work of superior quality but lacks productivity. An immaculate work is desirable, but only achievable if time stands still to wait for you to finish on your own terms, and we know that is not going to happen.

No one wants to pay for first-rate work with a deadline marked “forever.”

Then there is also the Generalist. That laid-back dude who is average on both areas of quality and productivity. Not necessarily lazy, he avoids extremes, but sometimes overly cautious to the point of mediocrity.

It is not that he doesn’t care about his work; it is just that he doesn’t care enough to do something about it.

Look around you and see who is sitting next to you.

Workers have different strengths on varying degrees. You can also have learned as your strength, but you can be a Productive, Quality, or even a Generalist learner.

It was found that pairing Productive and Quality workers together – a complementary combination and matching Generalists separately resulted in the greatest increase in organizational performance.

Seat people and sit next to people with complementary, not competing strengths.

A Word of Caution

Now before you go ahead and move your chair next to a superstar, there is one more thing you need to know. Any of the workers mentioned can be someone dreaded and should be avoided at all cost – the toxic person. A toxic person as defined by the researchers is a worker “who is ultimately terminated due to misconduct related to harming a person or firm property.”

You don’t want that paycheck to stop pouring in every month, do you?

Yes, strength is contagious, but so is bad behavior.

Don’t sit too close or you will be infected before you know it.

Bad company can corrupt even the best of characters.

Read Also: How to Deal With a Negative CoworkerOpens in a new tab.

Most of us spend more time with colleagues, so mind the distance and always keep your proximity in check.

If you are a manager responsible for seating arrangements or a newbie who is just starting out, there is no escaping the fact that something as simple as a seat can make or break a career when left to chance.

Go grab your chair now.

But think before you sit.

Related Questions

Should managers sit with their team?

Forgoing a bit of your perks and privacy for a more dynamic and collaborative team can boost your company’s profit and productivity. You can tap more easily into a deep well of ideas especially in an open office environment, and you can reach out to all levels of support and feedback in uncharted territory.

What are the benefits of teams sitting together?

Improved efficiency and closer working relationships are just some of the advantages of teams working together in close proximity. You minimize delay and eliminate misunderstandings. Team communication in a face-to-face scenario is essential to achieve impressive results, and teleconferences don’t even come close to the difference in speed and quality of conversations that you will be having (and enjoying). Organizing your team members to sit together to overhear problems that they have an answer for is also a bonus that you would not like to miss.

What is seat allocation in an office?

Too much mobility hurts productivity, and this is a problem that large companies endure unwillingly, taking a big chunk on resources that could otherwise be used for an idea and ultimately profit generation. Seat allocation solves this problem of space, and it makes sure that everyone has a seat where and when it is needed.

A seat for everyone and everyone on his seat every single time.

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