Open offices foster communication, camaraderie, and—all too often—jealousy. For example, why is Jane Doe leaving at 5 p.m. on the dot when I, John Smith, am stuck working? Well, John, don't assume Jane is a slacker. She just might have different needs based on her life-work compatibility. And no, John, your employer isn't necessarily making an "accommodation" for Jane. Instead, Jane might just have a different flexibility arrangement.
Art Markman, Ph.D., professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Habits of Leadership, delves into this organizational quagmire in a Fast Company essay titled "Your open office is causing your coworkers to judge you more harshly."
"The effects of all of this judgment are magnified in open office environments in which the behavior of everyone is on display for all to see," he writes. "Because as natural as it can be to judge what other people are doing, it is probably making everyone in that open-office environment even less productive."
Paradoxically, this phenomenon is making workers both unproductive and overworked, Markman points out. Workers are so loath to seem like a slacker that they wait to leave the office until others take off first. And chances are, they're just stalling. "There is a point of diminishing returns in which people spend more time engaged in ‘fake work’ in which they are unproductively at their desk beyond an 8-hour day," Markman notes.
In fact, as we recently reported, a 2015 study found that 31 percent of men and 11 percent of women have found ways to pass as workaholics and that these "shirkaholics" are reaping the same rewards and positive reputations as the employees actually putting in long hours.
Even if workers are putting in real work while they wait, however, the point of diminishing returns still applies. "More time spent working equates with productivity up to a point and—after that point, time spent working hurts productivity," Dr. Dawna Ballard, professor of chronemics at the University of Texas at Austin, recently told Forbes contributor Jane Claire Hervey.
And don't presume that the intra-office vigilance happens only at the end of the workday, either. Employees are taking other cues from their co-workers, too: How long do people usually spend on their lunch break? Who's working through lunch? How long is acceptable for a coffee break? Is a short walk around the office frowned upon?
These comparisons lead us to a refrain longtime WerkLife readers have heard time and again: As long as the work gets done, why should it matter when and were the work happens?
Measuring productivity by hours clocked is quickly falling out of favor as business leaders realize that output is what really matters. "By applying an industrial-age mind-set to 21st-century professionals, many organizations are undermining incentives for workers to be efficient," Harvard Business School senior lecturer Robert C. Pozen wrote for The New York Times in 2012. "If employees need to stay late in order to curry favor with the boss, what motivation do they have to get work done during normal business hours? After all, they can put in the requisite 'face time' whether they are surfing the Internet or analyzing customer data."
Here at Werk we have an open floor plan, but—barring any major projects or deadlines—we're generally unconcerned with each other's exact start times or even how much time off we take. We also don't need our colleagues to explain or justify their schedule and their flexibility arrangements because around here, flexibility is needs-agnostic.
And we're betting that employers and employees alike can gain empathy for their co-workers and lose their misconceptions simply by using our flexibility analytics platform. Gathering data on flex is the first step toward creating an inclusive workplace where everyone feels respected, where no one feels judged for how and when they complete their work, and where no one is casting sidelong glances to see who's burning the midnight oil.