Jan 27, 2016

The Four Keys to Workplace Productivity

By Don Catalano



Maximizing workplace productivity isn't as simple as some experts make it out to be. To create a space where every worker performs to their peak, you have to make the space compatible with the types of work that they actually do. Renowned corporate interior design firm Gensler has identified four different types of work. Spaces that allow for all four are the ones that can boost employee morale and retention as well as workplace productivity.

The Four Types of Work

Workers engage in four broad types of activity during a workday: learn, collaborate, socialize, and focus

  • Learn. The learning mode of work refers to when an employee spends time to either gain knowledge or improve his or her skill set. Learning can be done alone or in a group, but the key to learning work is that the activity produces no outputs -- just improved ability or effectiveness for the person doing it.


  • Collaborate. Collaborative work refers to when people join together to achieve a productive purpose. It can be done in small or large groups, but the key to collaboration is that it should be directly productive and shouldn't be individualized.


  • Socialize. It turns out that water cooler chatter isn't a waste of time. It's a fundamental part of work, and it plays a role in maximizing workplace productivity. Socialization time increases trust and lowers barriers to professional communication, making other types of work easier.


  • Focus. The majority of time -- 55 percent for a typical worker according to a 2012 Gensler study -- is spent doing "focus" work. This is anything that an employee has to do alone and to do it with little or no interruption.


Optimal Configurations for Workplace Productivity

Looking over the four types of work, you might realize that there is a conundrum. We know that traditional closed floor plans are not only space inefficient but also discourage collaboration and socializing. However, the open floor plan that combines efficiency with opportunities to learn, socialize and collaborate, is typically unsuitable for people that need to do focus work.


The solution is to build both. Your space should offer collaborative spaces that can also be used for socializing (break rooms with small tables are a great example of this). Create as-needed private workspaces, as well. You can make up for the space cost of creating these extra workstations by either not assigning permanent workstations or by making permanent spaces smaller. After all, if someone doesn't always need their office, there's no harm in shrinking it.

Ultimately, the open office plan brings more benefits than detriments. It supports three of the four types of work extremely well and, believe it or not, some types of focus work are best done in an open setting as well. However, creating closed spaces can help make those open plans even more effective and can help to grow your workplace efficiency.


Check out these other great CRE articles:

The Intersection of Productivity and Sustainability

8 Quick Tips for Your Upcoming Office Space Renewal

It Isn't The Size... Space Planning for Productivity


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Don Catalano

Don Catalano