Are We Giving the Office Too Much Credit?

We hear so much about how the design of an office can “radically improve productivity” and how innovation occurs when colleagues have areas to gather, but how many revolutionary business ideas really come from the water cooler? 

With so much buzz around how the office is due for a transformation, we think it is time to address the relationship between employee productivity and office design. People are what ultimately drives the productivity of an organization, not an intricate maze of desks and cubicles.  

So how can you provide your employees with people-oriented ways to increase productivity and innovate the workplace to serve their needs? We’ve done our research, and have some proven ways to accomplish this. 

Good Leadership 

The true, innate value of the office comes from the direct presence of a manager or leadership authority that is physically close to the employees. Furthermore, the benefits of proximity to a good manager instill confidence in employees that carries over into their productivity.  

Visibility and distance 

Direct proximity to a manager and visibility both influence productivity in the office, being able to have informal interactions with a manager develops a working relationship and a basis of trust that instills confidence in the employees and the work that they do.  

Many may think that visibility and distance are important so that management can make sure their staff is on task, but studies have shown that these informal interactions with management are the basis of learning and allow them to be more effective at doing their job – being a boss. 

Physical Presence 

Physical presence of a manager or leadership group does, however, allow for easy and frequent check-ins and conversations around work and employee performance. When management or leadership are not hidden away behind closed doors and walls of cubicles, the appearance of accessibility and openness is there.  

Accessibility to management presents them to their staff as a figure who is there to help and work alongside them, rather than merely be an oversight for the C-suite executives and stakeholders.  

Open office design 

Hybrid work and remote work have brought with them conversations about what the new office design should look like. Open office design is undoubtedly the future as it creates a more accessible environment for all employees and management. 

However too open of a design has been shown to decrease interactions, as employees do require some form of privacy in the office rather than just an open room with desks – resembling classrooms at school. Open office design can also hinge on the principle of no assigned desks and movement being encouraged, between traditional desks, chairs, and other spaces to work.  

Social Capital 

The impact of social capital on productivity becomes much more apparent when designing an office space. The location of management and decision makers, in contrast to others such as engineers, accounting and other departments, must be taken into consideration.  

Do some departments work in teams and have meetings frequently? Do engineers tend to work on their own and require workspaces with more technology and less collaborative space? What is the management style of the organization?  

These are all questions to be considered as well as the individual teams’ roles in the organization. Accessibility to other teams in an open office design can be crucial to efficient work being done and productivity remaining high.  

Corporate Culture 

An organizations culture can be a useful tool in designing an office that not only fits the needs of the employees but actually helps drive innovation and feeds the corporate culture that is being established. 

A culture that breeds collaboration, openness, and trust can be aided by effective physical space design with spaces for informal and formal meetings, or general gatherings for employees to socialize and share ideas or merely a bite to eat. These relationships that make up corporate culture matter more than one may initially think.  

Relationships and community within an office space are the basis for the corporate culture that will permeate the office environment and shape how work is shared and collaborated between employees, influencing productivity. 

Collision theory 

We have all heard the theory that innovation happens during random, informal interactions between employees at the office. However, in practice we can see that innovation and revolutionary business ideas do not happen at the water cooler.  

Collision theory has therefore overcomplicated office design based on this ideology that innovation comes from random interaction – while the inverse has been proven to be true.  

Designing of offices can help to encourage collaboration with spaces and meeting rooms, but banking on new revolutionary ideas coming from the water cooler or break room are more of a detriment to office design than anything else. 


 Productivity is the all-important factor in an office, and oftentimes the largest motivator for internal change other than profit/revenue. With the potential ways to “optimize” productivity in a corporate setting, the most cost-effective way is with a space-management solution and planning around your staff and their needs. Space management and office design can be made easy with the right tools that show you how space is being used and how optimizing the design can lead to better productivity.