Three Signs Your Unassigned Workplace Strategy is Failing

What to do when your culture, management practices, and resources are turning your office into an adversary of your people.

 A person sits in a white Sayl Chair and types on a computer at her desk.

Though offices with unassigned seating certainly have their perks, sometimes they can feel like they’re doing more harm than good. Research proves that people are creatures of habit: 71 percent of employees in unassigned, activity-based workplaces still say that they perform most their activities at a single desk. 1

Company culture, management practices, and resource scarcity can lead to behaviors that keep people from making the most of an unassigned office—and from doing their best work. Here are three behaviors that indicate your people are struggling, along with ideas for helping people and your organization succeed.

What is Hoarding?

When people save or reserve resources just in case they need them later (like that drawer full of staplers you know Jeff has been amassing on the down low).

 A pair of colleagues chat and review work on a laptop as they stand at an expansive, bar-height worksurface.

How Do You Ensure People Have the Right Spaces and Tools?

  • Encourage behaviors and a culture that reflect a “work anywhere” mentality.
  • Provide enough technology and tools (ahem, staplers) throughout the office.
  • Give people the freedom to choose from a variety of spaces, including places where people can work alone or together.

What is Settling?

When people band together and create an unofficial territory, be it with their work wife, project team, or the others in the office who love dissecting the latest streaming sensation.

How Do You Encourage Cross-Pollination?

  • Support and embrace teams that want and need to work together.
  • Establish policies that inspire people to mix it up and sit by different people on different teams.
  • If people are spreading out, make sure your office is designed so that they can easily find their teammates when something comes up.
A trio of colleages gather at a desk and look at content on a laptop screen. Two sit on a Public Social Chair and one sits in a blue Sayl Chair.

What is Anchoring?

This one’s for those creatures of comfort. It’s when the contentment that comes with familiarity guides people to seek out the same spot every day—because they like it, and they’re used to it.

A person sits in a Public Social Chair surrounded by partitions. He's taking advantage of the privacy in the space as he catches up on emails.

How Do You Prompt Movement?

  • Ensure people don’t feel like they’re being judged for “slacking” if they’re working in a comfortable setting, like a couch.
  • Managers should encourage people to move throughout the day, explain what spaces are available, and how to use them.
  • Make it easy for people to find one another, and when they do, make sure they have plenty of open desks to choose from.

Dive Deeper into the Unassigned Work Experience

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    1. "The Rise and Rise of Activity-Based Working: Reshaping the Physical, Virtual, and Behavioral Workspace,” Leesman Research Report, February 2017.

    *All other content comes from Herman Miller Herman Miller Research, “The Unassigned Experience,” Fall 2016.