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A chat by the coffee machine – boost for employee engagement?

December 14, 2010

Well, as times get tougher and employers want more for their money it can be a great annoyance to any manager watching their employees chat by the coffee machine when there is work to be done.

However, in a study by Gensler, how we manage office space and provide social opportunities can really affect productivity and ultimately employee engagement. Stay with me on this, it sounds a bit woolly, but when you review the evidence it does make sense. Gensler’s Workplace Survey uncovered new insights into how people work today within organisations. They suggested that there are four key work modes and that it is the amount of time spent in these modes that is critical to job performance and employee engagement. These four works modes that employees engage in are:


Categorised by activities such as thinking, reflecting, analyzing, problem-solving, creating, imagining, reviewing, assessing and producing.  Interestingly, this accounts for only 48% of employees time and even more notable is that ‘average’ companies tend to spend more time doing this than top performing companies (a difference of 21% was found).


With complex projects and stratified organisations collaborations becomes even more crucial. The collaborate mode of working is categorised by working with others to plan, strategise, share knowledge, innovate, create and produce. Research shows that 32% of time is spent on collaborating on average. Top performing companies not only collaborate more on a day to day basis but weigh it twice as critical to job success than the ‘average’ company.


Highly skilled and knowledgeable workers are a great commodity in today’s economy, being considered to be critical to both business growth and success. The learn mode encompasses activities such as memorisation, concept exploration, development, discovery and reflection as well as an ability to apply knowledge. The Gensler report suggests that only 6% of the ‘average’ organisations spend time on the learn mode activities. When compared to the average company, top performing companies spend more time (40%) on learning activities and value it as much more critical to job success.


Social networking can play a crucial role in disseminating knowledge throughout an organisation. The socialise work mode is characterised by shared values, a collective identity and productive relationships. Research shows that employees spend around 6% of their time socialising at work. This socialising is no longer considered to be time wasting – top performing companies socialise more by 16% when compared to their average counterparts and they consider it three times more important. It appears that historically organisations have focused on a ‘heads down’ mode of working and designed environments according to this. However these new insights suggest that the world of work is changing

The physical office is a tool, just as technology is a tool, for people to be productive

(Pogue, 2009 p48)

It seems to be an intuitive leap from the research to focus on creating more collaborative, social working environments where learning can be fostered which ultimately will improve job performance overall and employee engagement. Chris and I have been blogging about employee engagement for some time now and this is no new news to us. Employee engagement is all about communicating, collaborating and connecting with those you work with on all levels and really going the extra mile for a company that listens and values your views. Fundamentally, we can say that organisations should simply improve the accessibility for the four modes of working. However, as all organisations are unique, it would be wise to implement an employee engagement survey to help pinpoint the best way to develop your strategy, canvass employee views, provide them with a voice to tell you how they feel about the organisation and which key areas need to be focused upon to continue to engage employees for the future.

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