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Office seating can change your life, and one company is doing something about it

Source | : By Jane Burnett

One of the quietly fraught aspects of both modern offices and high school lunchrooms is this: where will you sit?

Studies show that office seat mates affect every employees’ mood, productivity and even health. From loud talkers to constantly-sick viral incubators to the office humorist and beloved work spouse, proximity through seating is a quiet key for office morale.

One startup is going the extra mile not to mess it up. Mobile payments startup Square is making the art of office seating arrangements a full-time job. Dubbed a “Capacity Coordinator” in the job posting, this position is “equal parts project manager, data analyst, and relationship builder.”

Not only will the new “Capacity Coordinator” be handling where new hires sit and moving teams, he or she will also be working on “cross-functional seating projects” and maintaining office furniture, among other things. We’ve reached out to Square for comment.

A manager dedicated to seating plans at the office isn’t necessarily far-fetched. In fact, it fits into a larger conversation about how much nearby colleagues — well as the layout of the space— can impact employees’ productivity.

‘Emotional contagion’ and the personality match

Getting the right fit between personalities at work almost requires its own technology. When trying to get your work done, you probably pick up on the vibes of the person sitting next to you.

2002 study published in Administrative Science Quarterly found that “people do not live on emotional islands but, rather, that group members experience moods at work, these moods ripple out and, in the process, influence not only other group members’ emotions but their group dynamics and individual cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors as well.” 

How workers feel can make waves on your team, and influence how others feel and work together. The 2002 study calls a person or group impacting the feelings or actions of others “emotional contagion.”

The most surprising part: scientific studies have shown there is a financial and organizational benefit from well-arranged seating at work.

Cornerstone OnDemand and Harvard Business School partnered up on research that determined the ideal seating arrangement, based on workers’ productivity levels.

The study matched “productive” workers (“very productive but lack in quality”) and “quality” workers (“produce superior quality but lack in productivity”) together. It said that “generalists” (“average” in quality and productivity) should be matched separately, and  that “symbiotic relationships are created from pairing those with opposite strengths.”

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