Why Who You Sit With Changes The Way You Work

Because you’ll never make a friend on another floor.

Why Who You Sit With Changes The Way You Work
[Image: Flickr user Joseph Morris]

Kayak cofounder Paul English has a thing for geography: not just in the travel itineraries, but also in the physical layout of his company’s people.


As Rachel Feintzeig reports in the Wall Street Journal, Kayak and a handful of other companies have started to tinker with where their people sit, with reported boosts in productivity.

A case study comes in the form of Young Chun, a vocal product designer at Kayak. She was recently sent to sit with Kayak’s mobile team, who were known for being quiet.

“The first week that I was down there I was like, ‘Oh my god, I could hear a pin drop here,’ ” she tells the Journal. But only a few weeks later, she got the group chatting–and she was moved to another section of the office.

Sickness, ideas, and Other Things That Get Passed Along

While it might sound a little Gladwellian, English’s rejiggering makes sense when you think about how surprisingly collective a lot of our individual behaviors are. Like how if a leader is more mindful, her direct reports will be more productive. Or how BFFs make us more productive. Or the more varied the connections you have, the better the ideas you’ll get–though you might also catch a cold.

Which, as Feintzeig writes, is part of the wisdom of musical chairs.


Aspects of a worker’s disposition can, in fact, be contagious, according to Sigal Barsade, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “People literally catch emotions from one another like a virus,” she says. Her research has found that the least-contagious emotional state is one marked by low-energy and sluggishness. The most contagious is a calm, relaxed state–which she nicknamed “the California condition.”

The lesson, then, is that since more engaged companies make more money and funny people make us more creative, we can optimize for happiness with a resource we may not have recognized: the seat of our pants.

Hat tip: the Wall Street Journal

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.