Rearranging seating assignments has been a growing trend in the workplace. However, while many employees may dread reorganising their desks, a recent article in Harvard Business Review argues that bringing together previously separated colleagues can spark creativity and boost productivity.
Sunkee Lee, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, observed a natural experiment on the effects of rearranging seating assignments. Observing a South Korean e-commerce company, Lee compared two groups’ productivity levels and deal revenues before and after switching offices. One group was comprised of a mix of old and new desk neighbours, while a second group included employees who previously sat together.
Following the move, the results were clear: the first group of employees who were exposed to different colleagues saw a drastic improvement in their work and ideas. They sourced 25% more deals from new suppliers than before. Additionally, Lee noted that these deals weren’t due to additional collaboration, but rather exposure to overheard dialogue and informal conversations.
The success of these employees was due to the shift from exploitative to explorative approaches. In other words, employees stopped repeating offers that worked in the past and instead came up with new ideas with the help of their new desk neighbours.
Switching around seating arrangements may not be feasible for every company. However, for organizations that rely on innovation and knowledge sharing, it can dramatically increase their success.