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Global State of the Workplace: More Traditional Offices and Landlines Than You Think

Finding from a survey of more than 12,000 office workers in 17 countries

The office of the future is still a ways off, according to a massive new study of office space design and engagement conducted on behalf of office furniture company Steelcase. Engagement + The Global Workplace looked at the link between worker engagement and their physical environment. According to Chris Congdon, the company’s Global Research Director, despite perceptions of the massive shift in office space design and layout, change isn’t happening nearly as quickly as many think.

“We have this perception that people are working from super casual workplaces with slides and ping-pong tables, but the whole world hasn’t changed over to that way of working,” she says.

Here are some of the takeaways from the report:

Indian Workers are Happiest In the World, In Part Due to Modest Expectations

While worker engagement worldwide was, not surprisingly, relatively low on average— disengaged workers make up a third of the average workforce—emerging markets have some of the highest levels of employee satisfaction. In India, 28 percent of workers are both highly engaged and highly satisfied, which the study attributed to modest expectations and the country’s slow embrace of the open plan office (a hectic, sometimes dense populated environment can make a private office more desirable). On the opposite end of the spectrum, workers in developing economies, especially Europe, reported higher levels of disengagement.

Technology Updates Aren’t Happening As Fast As Might Expect

“I’m surprised to see how many landline phones and desktop computers are still out there,” says Congdon. “It’s pretty shocking. We see the many major organizations don’t have laptops.”

Treating Adults Like Adults Pays Off

The study also, not surprisingly, found a pretty direct correlation between the amount of freedom a worker is given correlates directly with their engagement. When you feel trapped and tethered, everyone’s tension level goes up, says Congdon. When people come into the office, and are told to sit here, do it this way, they don’t feel like they’re being treated like grownups.

“Many places need to change to create an ecosystem of spaces,” says Congdon. “We found that giving people control over their environments makes the most difference. It allows people to feel like they have a little more control. ‘I can choose based on what I need to do, my personality type.’ A lot of organizations feel attached to the way they always do thing. But those who want to attract talent and keep them highly engaged need to make a fundamental shift.”

Workplaces Aren't As Open As You'd Think

The report noted the despite the trend towards open office space and remote work, traditional spaces and designs still dominate. Creating informal spaces, and options for different work styles and situations are important, says Congdon, but designers and architects need to be careful not to go too far into startup cliches and ignore substantive chances that can make a difference.

“Sometimes office design goes too far, and it’s pandering to people,” she says. “It’s all flash and no substance. We saw time and time again, people want to do meaningful work, and feel like they’re learning from their colleagues and making a difference. They don’t want to play ping-pong all day. People can tell when they’re being pandered to. That’s where the balance lies. It’s can’t be the traditional, sit at your desk factory model. But the other end of the spectrum, the idea of riding a slide all day to get to the next floor, doesn’t make sense, either.”