Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

The Architectural Theory That’s Killing Personal Space at Work

The mass adoption of the open office killed off walls for most workers, and even the cubicle. Now, its evolution is shrinking employees’ desks. One reason, unsurprisingly, is to save on rent in expensive markets by packing more people into smaller spaces, according to The New York Times (paywall).

But personal space is being further compressed by a combination of current architectural and social science theory. More office space is being given over to communal areas, conference rooms, and shared work areas. It’s based on the idea that less individual and more common space leads to serendipitous interaction and increased creativity.

“The balance between individual spaces and community spaces has changed drastically,” Knoll SVP David Bright told The New York Times (paywall), “with shared and community spaces taking up a greater proportion of space than they once did.”

Space per worker is steadily dropping (pdf), with even less of it set aside for individual people.

There’s solid research behind the idea. Most famously, MIT professor Thomas Allen’s work has emphasized how important face-to-face interaction is for creativity, and found that people rarely even speak to coworkers who sit as little as 60 feet away from them in ...

The Salary Increase You Can Expect From a Graduate Degree, By Major

In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, things were truly dicey for America’s freshly minted college graduates. Many had a tough time finding employment of any kind, let alone in their chosen field of study. A few years makes a big difference, though. Unemployment is falling for recent US grads, and though a full recovery remains elusive, it’s getting closer.

So in a slightly better job environment, does an undergraduate degree suffice? And what size salary bump, if any, can you expect to get from a graduate degree? Recent data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce suggest the answers depend on your major.

If you want to jump into the job market straight from your undergraduate studies, engineering is definitely the way to go, according to the center’s annual Hard Times report on young graduates in the workplace:

Graduate school gives an extra salary boost to engineers. But some of the biggest jumps go to those who majored in fields that don’t offer high wages initially, like political science and history. (Note that all data is based on the undergraduate degree, so “history” would cover someone who majored in history as an ...

How Diverse Should Your Team Be?

From business to academia to sports, how to build effective teams is a crucial question. What organizing principles best enhance individuals’ performance and are most conducive to creativity?

One popular theory holds that diversity is key. Assemble a heterogeneous group of people, and, as Ned Smith puts it, “some magic happens because those people will begin to recombine their knowledge and skill sets in unique ways.” It’s a nice story, says Smith, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School.

The problem, though, is that it is not entirely true. Research from a variety of disciplines shows that teams and organizations composed of diverse people often perform poorly.

There are at least three main reasons for this. First, heterogeneity often erodes over time. The more team members interact, the more alike they become. Then there is the problem of fragility. Teams that truly benefit from their diversity are also highly dependent on each element of that diversity. Should one person leave, the “magic” may leave, too. Finally, a lack of common ground can cause fragmentation into homogenous subsets, where similar people in the group seek each other out, and conflicts between team members can arise. Ultimately ...

5 Ways to Make Your Management Consultants More Effective

The world of management consulting has evolved over the years. There is actually less pure consulting or advisory services and more technical services being provided to customers. Technical service is provided when an outside firm develops or implements a solution for an agency that is already determined. Consulting is provided when the firm provides expertise to advise clients on the best approach, solution, or required change based on a strong understanding of the organization, its needs and things that influence that organization, such as legislation, economic conditions and staffing. Today, most management consulting firms are in both the consulting and technical services business.

The reason there is less pure consulting or advising is because organizations have developed the capacity to do much of it themselves internally, which is generally considered to be a good thing. From time to time, however, agencies need outside experts to support them in their initiatives and agencies need to learn how to get the best out of them.

Agencies should use consultants when they lack the expertise, need a fresh set of eyes, require objectivity, or when the necessary expertise is not readily available to them. Sometimes internal staffers complain that their agencies are wasting ...

Love Coffee? You Should Probably Be Drinking Even More

Unless you’re drinking at least three cups of coffee a day, you should consider upping your java habit.

The US dietary guidelines advisory committee, which makes recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies, released a report this week that points to the health benefits and minimal risks of drinking three to five cups of coffee a day, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The report describes three to five cups (400 mg) as a “moderate range,” but if that’s more than you drink, you’re not alone: As Quartz reported last year, no country on earth drinks that much coffee per capita. The United States consumes about .93 cups per day per person, according to data from Euromonitor. The highest average intake was in the Netherlands, with 2.4 cups per person.

Of course, those numbers don’t account for people too young to drink coffee, and the panel discourages children and adolescents from drinking caffeinated beverage. But even looking at the US population that is over 18, per capita consumption is only 1.21 cups per person—still way below the committee’s suggested coffee intake.

Committee member ...