Should office design be part of the performance appraisal process?

Piers Bishop · July 9, 2015

That sound an odd suggestion, but if you run and/or work in any kind of office you might want to read the recent Harvard Business Review blog post on office layouts.  Especially if you are about to re-organise the layout or buy new furniture.  Long story short: privacy is a major problem, even where you have cubicles (which people hate), and open-plan offices don’t help collaboration.  This is a non-trivial issue, as we know that the levels of upset caused by noise and lack of privacy will be reducing people’s focus and intelligence, as will isolation – collaboration is not just vital to creative or problem-solving activity. So perhaps office design really should be part of the performance appraisal process?

Our expectation of working conditions has changed, of course – we no longer put boys up chimneys.  But the modern vision of rows of cubicled employees sitting at their computers, cheek-by-jowl yet still socially isolated from their neighbours, is essentially the same as it was in the 1950s, or even in a Victorian accounts department.  Chimney-sweeps’ boys didn’t have a performance appraisal process, as far as I know, but they did at least have the relative luxury of being able to talk to their employer while moving from job to job.

The modern employee is just isolated in the hutch, a difficult place to be for a social species.  Which might explain why we apparently only spend 35% of our time there.  The rest is spent either looking for somewhere to get together with others in order to hold work meetings or just fulfill our scoial need for company, or trying to find somewhere to get away from others so we can have a private conversation or just be on our own for a bit, which is another basic human need.

The company would rather we just sat in the hutch and got on with the work, but that is not going to happen. Now, while we wait for a revolution in office design (and for another unsatisfactory compromise to be rolled out over millions of people a vast expense),what can we do to reduce the dysfunction caused by the current arrangements?

Improvement starts with knowledge.  (Change should start with knowledge, but sometimes it starts without it.)  So to improve the way the office works for the people, or the people work within the office, information has to be gathered.  In this case you need to know who is suffering from isolation and who from lack of privacy, or both, and when.  As luck would have it WeThrive covers these two areas as part of its overview of human function at work, so our users will know who needs what.  And what’s more, we give them our users free tools to engage with staff to sort the problems out as part of your performance appraisal process.

Try WeThrive now, free – run the system on five of your people free, and use the results as the basis for goal-setting in your next performance appraisal process.