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Physical work space influences employee interaction, comfort

Physical work space influences employee interaction, comfort

Each of us has a different need for personal space.
Some of us are more amenable to closeness and the proximity of others. Others operate more independently and feel intruded upon by close interactions. How much space each person needs is personal. There is a general rule of thumb, however, that people prefer a minimum of three feet of space around them. If someone else enters into that space, it needs to be with permission, implied or explicit.

In some workplaces where I have consulted, people are placed in very close proximity, sometimes closer than the three-foot limit. It is no wonder that tensions arise when pushing a desk back means bumping into a coworker’s drawers or chairs. Even carrying on a phone conversation is difficult, as everyone is within earshot. When people feel intruded upon, their instincts tell them to flee. Tight quarters discourage positive interaction. Think back to family trips during which siblings disputed imaginary lines in the back seat and parents were continually called upon to intervene.

In like manner, spaces without definition can discourage a sense of safety. We are territorial beings at heart, decorating and personalizing our cubicles. Employees who are constantly on the move, who share space with others or who have no place to call “home” at work sometimes don’t feel like they belong.

At a recent conference, Tom Rath (author of How Full is Your Bucket:

Positive Strategies for Work and Life and Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without) discussed research about the importance of big, open spaces to increasing positive interactions at work. He called it the “water cooler effect,” meaning that people need neutral places to gather in order to develop the relationships needed for successful interactions at work.

If you are planning a move for your facility and improving interactions at work is a concern, consider how space is allocated to your staff. These are the persons you are relying on for success. Consider their needs as you would that of the landscaping outside of the building. Be sure they have enough space for growth, air, light, etc. These are the requirements of a living system. v

Pam Franta is the owner of Pamela Franta Consulting. She is a licensed psychologist, specializing in executive coaching/consulting with individuals and groups at work. She can be reached at [email protected]

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