The Power to Question

Gensler’s 2013 US Workplace Survey documents the state of US workplace performance. It’s also a unique lens with which to interrogate focus, a work mode that proves to be crucial to productivity.


The ability to focus effectively is the foundation of any successful workplace strategy. But what’s more important to the ability to focus—the space in which a person works, or their level of control over that space and their work process? To dig deeper into this question, we took a look at our survey data, split into the 10 core industries from which the 2013 survey drew its 2,000+ respondents.

The outsize impact of focus work on the performance, engagement, and satisfaction of today’s knowledge workers is a key finding of the survey, confirming and expanding on analyses of Gensler’s Workplace Performance Index® (WPI) database that pointed to the contributions that focus work makes to overall performance and effectiveness. The analyses also suggested which workplace design and functionality factors are most important to the ability to focus. People who ranked the noise level in their workplace as “excellent,” for example, were more than twice as likely to report that it was ideal for focused work as those who ranked noise levels as “poor.”

Who focuses best at work? What can we learn from them? When asked if their primary workspace is “ideal for focusing,” respondents from the consulting, not-for-profit, legal, and technology industries agreed most strongly. Comparative data from these industries, confirmed by Gensler’s experience with clients in each, confirms wide variations in workplace design and configuration across these four sectors.

The legal workplace has a higher-than-average proportion of private offices than other sectors (46 percent versus 32 percent). Consulting and not-for-profit workplaces fall closer to average, while technology workplaces are below it (22 percent). Technology workplaces offer their employees more choice than other industries—41 percent of tech respondents reported choice in when and where to work versus 32 percent on average. Consulting and not-for-profit respondents fall closer to the average (37 percent and 35 percent, respectively), while legal respondents reported the least workplace choice of any group in our sample (23 percent).

This reinforces one of our 2013 US Workplace Survey’s broader findings: the level of choice in when and where to work also showed an impact on the ability to focus, as well as the ability to perform in all other work modes. And more than that, people with choices also reported higher levels of job performance and satisfaction, and ranked their companies as more innovative than people who felt they lacked choices in the workplace.

This also bears itself out through comparison of our selected industries. Technology and consulting respondents have the highest innovation rankings among our respondents (tied with those in the biotech industry). Not-for-profit respondents fall in line with the average, while legal respondents come in slightly below—directly corresponding with the levels of choice reported by each. This shows that while focus is the foundation of an effective workplace, choice is a key driver of creativity and innovation for today’s knowledge worker.

What makes for effective workplace choice? Providing the right spaces, tools, and organizational policies is a key first step—respondents without choices often see organizational policy as a barrier, but other factors specific to the company and the individual employee are also in play.

No single factor drives a positive and productive employee experience, and every industry has lessons to offer. This is one conclusion from our 2013 survey. Two others—that focused activity, no matter how undersupported, can happen in a variety of work settings; and that the level of choice impacts performance—suggest new directions in workplace strategy and design. They also raise pertinent new questions that future Gensler workplace surveys and research will help answer.

Tim Pittman is Gensler’s New York City–based research communications manager.

Macaulay Campbell is a Gensler information designer based in New York.