Hey Neighbor

Productivity increases when people around you are more productive.

That’s why they didn’t get anything done.

Productivity in an office environment is a conundrum that no one has been able to solve effectively. Open offices can come with a host of problems, like noisy coworkers or having to constantly sign for packages if you happen to sit up near the front, where a receptionist normally would. Seating arrangements at work are just one of the factors management takes into consideration when organizing their employees for both maximum happiness and productivity, and a new study from the Harvard Business Review presents some intriguing points.

Productivity isn’t just dependent on sitting near other people — the person you’re sitting next to has a noticeable impact on that metric, as well.

Want to Be More Productive? Sit Next to Someone Who Is

After analyzing two years’ worth of data, researchers figured out that it’s not only about the person you’re sitting next to, but how close you’re sitting to them, too.

For every performance measure, we looked at “spillover,” a measure of the impact that office neighbors had on an employee’s performance. Assume a worker has three coworkers: one sits next to her, one sits 25 feet away, and another sits 50 feet away. We looked at the performance of the three coworkers along with their distance from the worker, and through various data modeling techniques we measured the average spillover of their performance on the worker.

The “spillover” that they speak of is essentially this: if you’re sitting pretty close to someone who’s working diligently, you’re more likely to stop reading that thing, close the tab that isn’t work and step up your game. But! This only works for people who work differently, not people whose strengths are the same.

If you’re a “fast worker” sitting next to another “fast worker,” you’ll just keep working fast with no demonstrable change. But, if a fast worker sits next to someone who works slowly, their productivity will positively influence that of their neighbors — but it doesn’t work the other way around. If you consider yourself the fast one in this equation and you find yourself sitting next to someone who you think might be a “slow” worker, that won’t negatively impact the way you go about your day.

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