CEOs love the corner office, but research says it’s overrated

A commercial design firm wants you to rethink your office

Feb.February 26, 2017 10:30 AM

Corner offices are a coveted piece of corporate real estate — but they probably shouldn’t be.

According to newly published research from office design company Steelcase, corner offices meet only a small percentage of modern CEOs’ needs. Many leaders say they value teamwork over unilateral decision-making, yet still work in fixed spaces designed to isolate.

Patricia Kammer, senior design researcher at Steelcase, says the corner office does a disservice for companies with flatter organizational structures where consensus trumps top-down commands.

“If they don’t have that [flexibility], the organization’s agility and ability to respond to market demands are at stake,” Kammer tells Business Insider.

Steelcase conducted a two-year study of more than 20 companies around the world to learn how CEOs and other executives spent their working hours. The company found leaders face a battery of challenges in any given day. They switch between tasks, manage stress, rely on assistants, and wrestle with always staying available by phone or email.

 “It’s not that they misunderstand how their work gets done,” Kammer says of CEOs retaining their corner offices. “It’s that their jobs have gotten harder.”

Steelcase’s research finds there are a number of strategies, ranging from tiny tweaks to elaborate overhauls, that CEOs could make to help themselves. Kammer says the simplest approach is building environments that promote exercise and social interaction during the day.

That could mean setting up a more communal work area for executives and their team, such as standing desks far away from the fixed office, but which encourage interaction with others on the way there.

More involved solutions include building whole new rooms for executives that serve a different function from their personal offices. The spaces could be used for reflection or creative thought, rather than business dealings, and reserved exclusively for leaders.

As workplaces continue to get more farflung — a recent survey found remote work is gaining in popularity — leaders have to make sure they can connect with everyone effectively, Kammer says. That means being visible to people at a main branch but available when someone in a different time zone needs them.

“This is an interesting paradox,” Kammer says.

Business are getting more global at the same time they’re getting less hierarchical. People need to see their leaders more as equals but with the understanding that their jobs are still measurably harder, and their schedules more demanding. According to Kammer, success in this new world of work means being as nimble as possible.

“To achieve all of this,” she says, “CEOs and their executive teams cannot afford to be hidden away in traditional private executive suites that potentially undermine a free-flowing exchange of ideas.”

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