How Your Open Office Space Measures Up
From the 1870s mineral excavations comes the popular phrase, “There’s gold in them thar hills.” From the 2000s U.S. corporate offices’ open-space trend comes the notion, “There’s gold in them thar open floor plans.” Gold, as in golden opportunities for efficiency, transparency, inclusivity, accessibility and increased engagement, just to name a few.
Open floor plans are quite the norm these days for over 70 percent of U.S. offices. While not a design fit for every company, it’s certainly proven successful for Zappos through 16 years of changes, challenges and growth to approximately 1500 employees. From day one, our shared spaces have been super eclectic, organically-charged and customized to fit each team’s needs or desires, while maintaining the employee’s unique flair.
At Zappos, it’s easy to spot signs everywhere of a heightened sense of community, connectivity and even cultural pride spurred by this fun type of floor plan. It allows for spur-of-the moment engagement and teambuilding, while still offering secluded areas for private meetings or necessary quiet space for creative blog writing.
Even with all its benefits, any astute CEO considering this type of environment would be justified in doubting whether floor plan alone equates to increased employee engagement. After all, let’s be clear, engaged employees are what successful companies yearn for.
Unlike satisfied employees, whose commitment may end with merely showing up for work, engaged employees connect emotionally to take a company’s vision to the next level. According to Gallup reports, engaged workers tend to collaborate more on ideas to improve business processes because they feel empowered to do so. This charges them with positive energy for higher productivity.
So, the question remains, how can one determine if this floor plan brings all that about? While metrics provide measurements of productivity and quality in customer service performances and inventory management helps to gauge sales, profitability, and cash flow, I believe one may have to rely primarily on observations of human interaction rather than hard core numbers to answer that question.
From my personal experience, having 300,000 square feet of lively and wacky open space offers us a huge advantage, but is yet only a start. From there, it is a matter of what you do with that space and the culture you build within.
For instance, a company must first get, and keep, its entire staff aligned within that space. At Zappos, we have 10 Core Values to ensure we accomplish that. Our open environment just happens to work hand in hand with Core Value #6: Build open and honest relationships with communication. Communication is easier when barriers are removed—both literal and figurative. Freedom from bureaucratic red tapeand the ability to have questions answered across a table instead of via email leads to increased engagement, as well.
Secondly, the atmosphere has to inspire its employees to want to be there. When employees trust “their space,” whether open or enclosed, and are encouraged to be adventurous, creative and open-minded, they feel valued and are proud to contribute.They will gladly step into paths offered them to grow, learn and develop with the company. Those are indicators that Gallup says makes an employee perform well and stay engaged.
Finally, sometimes the best thing you can add to your office space to make it successful is to give your employees a small but impressionable personal experience that forever changes their perception of their work environment. For me, this experience occurred when I learned our CEO, Tony Hsieh, responds personally to every single employee who reached out to him in person or via email.
When I was just six months into my Zappos employment, I had emailed Tony with a suggestion about something customer service related. Within 48 hours, he responded and connected me with a couple individuals within the company who could further assist me. And guess what? Those folks responded promptly, too! My correspondence wasn’t regarded as a lowly neophyte’s wish, soon to be lost in the executive level abyss.
Then, on my birthday, I received a “Happy Birthday” email from Tony. I was touched, and thanked him, thinking surely his staff sends out these and company anniversary emails on his behalf. One day, I met one of his staff administrators who informed me that Tony absolutely handles all employee-related email himself, his staff does not. We’re talking personal notes to/from some 1500 employees! Now, that’s impressive!
On Tony’s birthday, I send him an email; he responds with a “Thank you.” From a CEO of a billion dollar company, that’s creating value that needs no measurement.