We’ve all heard the saying, “we are products of our environment”. While we may apply that to our social lives, it’s as equally important in our work lives. The real problem is how to bring this philosophy into the workplace. Human resource managers have been struggling with the concept of company structure for decades, and it’s always been held back by an unwillingness to change the existing system. While this may be true for bureaucracies, it’s easier to address in a small firm. There are several structural changes that a firm can implement to increase integration and communication in their workplace. For most creative firms we’re already on the right path, but what do the specialists say on the matter?
When I first stepped foot in boldUnderline I was surprised to learn that the entire office consisted of one room, where everyone was crowded around a few tables. It didn’t seem like a business. Everyone was comfortable, relaxed and carefree. Either these people were delusional or I was crazy. I tend to think the latter.
Indie music drifted through the air, and I could smell the sweet scent of fresh brewed coffee. Everyone was wearing regular street clothes, and I couldn’t distinguish between staff and clients. There were no badges, no offices, no fancy attire - nothing that I was familiar with coming from my previous job as a media coordinator in a university where everyone had their own office, suits and fancy titles. I took a breath of fresh air. It was unsettling, yet homey. I couldn’t imagine how such a serene environment could be more productive then some of the mainstream offices of GM, IBM, or Dell that my father used to work at. It was definitely different, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why at the time.
Creative and Structural Change
The secret lies in a nifty science called Structural Change. The difference is structural when it’s something physical. It’s these tangible changes that stick. Simply asking someone to do something different doesn’t always work. Will they truly change their behavior or continue doing what they have been comfortable doing? That’s where the magic of agile/lean workplaces come in. It focuses on work flow and processes within the company. By breaking down the barriers that promote differentiation, it forces your employees to interact, to be involved, to be aware of one another. When everyone appears equal then you form a much stronger sense of being a part of a team.
THE DIFFERENCE IS STRUCTURAL WHEN IT’S SOMETHING PHYSICAL. IT’S THESE TANGIBLE CHANGES THAT STICK.
As for Bold, it was intuitive to put everyone in one place. It makes sense. If I have a question for the boss, then he’s right next to me. I can just ask away without having to take time out of my busy day to run to another floor, or to a separate office. When collaboration between one another is made easy, then you boost integration among your employees. Many businesses do the opposite. They implement more meetings, programs and put together lengthy ad campaigns to boost company collaboration. This is only temporary and usually cost quite a hefty sum to maintain.
My father, David K. Wetzel, specializes in changing the workplace. He has over 30 years of Six Sigma and Lean management experience with such companies as IBM, Dell, Arthur Anderson, GM, and Xerox. He has found that most bureaucracies are resilient if not downright indignant towards change.
It’s costly to reform and most managers don’t want to have their status symbols removed. While they still want to parade around in their fancy suits, they also want a motivated workforce. Status symbols act as a division, much like offices and suits do. They are unnecessary, and put more emphasis on getting promoted for the “perks” instead of for the betterment of the company.
Key Points to Create a Zen Work Space
Now, he could write on this for days, but I am going to focus on some of the key points.
- Remove any barriers between the manager and the employees: Everyone should be accessible and easy to contact. There shouldn’t be any reason for an employee to have to run a marathon to pitch an idea or ask a question.
- Put everyone on the same floor or room: Preferably one without walls, and around a large table. This way, employees are facing one another and can easily ask questions if need be. Everyone is visible and not stashed away in a cubicle. It’s easy to know who is there and who isn’t.
- Structural changes are often self sustaining and require less maintenance: Don’t waste time and money on attitudinal change. Motivating campaigns and adverts are expensive, time consuming and ineffective. Attitudinal change requires constant intervention, time, and energy to maintain. A good example would be a hotel I visited in Greece. The card that was used to enter your room was also used to turn on your power. When you entered the room, you would put the card in a slot which would trigger your power. This was structural. If you left the room, then the power switched off thus saving them money on expensive energy bills.
- Organizational problems surface as integration problems: Usually businesses put together lengthy committees and meetings to solve an issue instead of just addressing the problem. Such panels are usually time consuming, and generally result in less then practical solutions. Cut out the waste and use a clear hierarchy of command. Your boss should call the shots when it’s a mission statement or company wide problem. Smaller issues should be the concern of employees or first level managers, not the CEO.
Anyways, this is just advise. You can do whatever you want to do!