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Want a promotion? It pays to sit near your boss
Source: Kari Paul

Where should you sit in an open-plan office?

In recent months, Google has made it clear that artificial intelligence is a priority by investing millions in AI startups, making high-profile hires and in one, slightly less splashy way: changing the seating arrangement in its Silicon Valley headquarters.

The tech giant put Google Brain, a research lab dedicated to artificial intelligence, near the chief executive’s office at its Silicon Valley campus. Other tech companies have done the same, including and Facebook,    according to The New York Times.

The move says a lot about the companies’ priorities — and offers lessons for employees looking to move up the corporate ladder. Your physical position in the office can factor significantly into how you work and when you get promoted, said Tanya Hertz, a lecturer of San Diego State University College of Business Administration.

Sitting next to the boss brings a number of perks, Hertz said. Employees can more easily form bonds with the leader and watch how executives behave. In fact, managers who sit closer to their bosses are proven to mimic their behavior — good or bad, research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, in partnership with Cambridge University found.

Of course, sitting right next to the boss also means he or she can keep an eye on you if you’re slacking. That may leave some employees out in the cold, however.

For employers who want to learn as well as figure out who should be tapped for promotion, Peter Bacevice, director of strategy at HLW, an international architecture and design firm, suggests shuffling seating arrangements periodically to give workers fresh perspectives.

“Changing seat assignments can be used as a strategy to reposition groups and give them more visibility and strengthen their network ties to other groups,” he said. “Over time, the quality of the connections and the outputs generated from them will matter more than the position of where people sit.”

It’s common for workers to roam throughout the office during the day, choosing “lounge-like” seating over a consistent assigned desk. Even at offices where “hot desking” is not the norm, open office plans often place the boss right next to his or her employees. This represents a change in the social structure for many organizations, Hertz said.

“Many tech firms opt for an open office layout to facilitate rapid transfer of information and to reflect a more egalitarian power dynamic,” she said. “Workspaces without doors or cubicles can show that employees are empowered; the power is shared in the organization with all, and isn’t just concentrated in a few leaders at the top.”

But even building those connections take work. In open-plan offices, it doesn’t hurt to take a bench in a space where’s there’s plenty of foot traffic. It can make you more visible, if you are stuck in some dark corner, and gives you the opportunity to strike up a conversation with other leaders.

One more tip: Pay attention to where you sit at meetings, too. Sitting in the back row of a crowded conference room may not be the best place to be seen and having your voice heard. But sitting next to the boss week after week might also come across as too thirsty.

It’s a delicate balance and, in the game of musical chairs that sometimes happens before important meetings, some employees may employ their own brand of behavioral psychology. “Individuals sitting at the ends of rectangular tables are viewed as more powerful, while a circular table can facilitate communication and minimize status differentials,” Hertz said.


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