Top 5 Reasons Companies Should Adopt Alternative WorkSpaces – Love #2 & 5!

why companies should adopt alternative  work spacesWant better productivity?  Here’s a novel idea: treat your employees and partners as creative resources instead of trying to manage rats. 

I recommend creating or offering alternative workspaces at all companies.  Why? Because people work differently, at different times, and mainly because innovation, creativity, and collaboration can not occur freely in confined, gray cubes. Individual (small) meeting rooms, a working space in the cafeteria, a sitting area, standing desk area, unique meeting rooms with whiteboards and/or chalkboards, movable walls for a little privacy, etc. are all different types of options for alternative work spaces

There is typically push back when I say the above in a presentation to executives, so here are some of the typical concerns, or myths, that seem to drive that push back.

Myths vs Truths, flip the issue to find the real benefit:

1. Myth: I can contain and control the way my workers work (or I must contain). Gray and taupe and steel blue cubes may be the most inexpensive way to corral and manage your workers, but this is counter productive to the working styles of your most valuable resource. Want more productivity, innovation, collaboration, and advances? Allow your workers options. Yes – I know you may be concerned about fairness, liability, management….but if top companies like Microsoft, Apple, and pretty much every silicon valley company figured this out and made it work, so can you. Don’t want to make changes to your work environment?  Look for an alternative solution! There are plenty that exist.

2. MythA clean desk means a productive day. (this comes from left brained leaders and others who operate from a level of detail). NOW – don’t get me wrong – a messy desk can be a sign of something else, but when having to crank something out to deliver results – there’s no real measurable impact. A person with a messy desk can still meet deadlines and deliver results. It’s simply the challenge of a creative mind – embrace the ‘message’ you see and support that creative worker with alternative organization methods / ideas… you really do need these types of people even if they work differently than you.

First thing you can do to help – by default, acknowledge this person is NOT you, is NOT LIKE you, and does NOT WORK like you. Help them with alternative organizing methods, or offer to create a system with them, in a way that works FOR them. Many WANT to be organized like you, and get frustrated that they cannot be like you, and sometimes worry what you think of them. Look at this not as a flaw, but as a long term, impactful conversation that will yield more than what you can ever expect.

It really comes down to being all about diversity of thought and mental processing, and valuing the deliverables of the worker. You say you’re all about diversity? Perhaps not if all you focus on is the color of someone’s skin, or their ‘dis-ability’. It’s all about enabling & empowering differences, in whatever form,  to get the most ‘quality’ work out of someone, and increasing contributions to the team.

A supervisor extraordinaire associate of mine can turn around ANY team. With all the troubled teams she has dealt with,  she found that the  different, individual working styles of the members of the team were trampled on and disrespected for so long. This caused all types of team problems. The poor team results were simply the by product of work beating down on them so long, they’ve gone into ‘protective’ / ‘survival’ mode and have lost direction and value.  Firing to get rid of those ‘problem workers’ isn’t always the best answer. When you value and honor a team’s different work and style, and allow them to contribute – you cut down on absenteeism, dramatically improve morale, and more importantly, dramatically improve the results and bottom line of the team.

3. MythUnmanaged people will go haywire. There’s a common misconception that if you give people some privacy or can’t see what they are doing, they’ll play on their social media all day, take personal calls, do anything but real work. Really!? They do that not, when they are being watched.

Ever watch the dog whisperer?  For problem dogs, there is something like a .001 chance that there is a real defect in the dog.  In most cases, it comes down to the worst traits in the ‘alpha’ bringing out the worst traits in the ‘problem’ dog. Now I know you may be the best leader EVER, and have this attitude problem employee who doesn’t do what you want, how you want, etc. Take a look inside. There’s typically a good reason. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying the employee is without fault.  But someone is the leader, and you cannot make anyone think / do / act like you, or your other star employees.  Look for the differences this person brings, and how to capitalize on that for the best of the team.  I bet you – treating all of your members with respect and looking for their individual value to the team will reap rewards you haven’t expected.

While this is ‘myth’ is related to #2, we are talking about allowing a worker access to an alternative work space. In terms of alternative working solutions, this should be a privilege in a working environment, not a right. There has to be mutual trust and respect.  Bottomline, you are looking for results, not how (or where) it’s done. If you get your results in less time, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Sometimes (if not most), creative workers’ minds are open to all the things around them – sights, sounds, energy levels, conversations, etc. because they are crafting ideas, designs, etc. all the time that are dependent upon those things. Yet this same gift, can be a major detriment during times when work has to be cranked out. Each of those things which helped in crafting ideas, now become major distractions in doing the tasks.  A Coworker’s constant cracking of gum, the heavily perfumed scent of a coworker, the negativity of the team under a deadline – all of these which were tolerable before become MAJOR impediments to work. So, many of these workers, particularly in crunch times, need quiet spaces, deadline rooms, white noise rooms, creative space rooms, to crank stuff out.  Honor and understand that instead of trying to control it.

4. Fact: current cube layouts were born in old business models. Efficiency isn’t manufacturing. Think madmen and secretarial pools. Or rows of accountants cranking out numbers, or lines cold calling salespeople desks all calling the next victim (er, sales lead) or services centers taking questions and complaints. This old style of rows and rows of cubes came from the manufacturing and union days of controlling and ‘managing’ employees. It was the old galley ship propelled by oars model. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke.  For manual labor this might work. And in Manufacturing where you are dealing with heavy machinery which could inflict major damage, or you needed to get the most out of that machinery in a day. But a different model is necessary when dealing with information, knowledge, and service workers. Driving efficiency in this model is about support for the individual’s working style or brain processing for optimal performance. The development cycle goes through different phases, as does an individual’s working style.

5. Myth: No person is strictly a cost center. Just as the company exists to be a profit machine, so should each department, and each individual. Many companies say they want to honor the ‘entrepreneurial’ spirit, but do not support or embrace what that really means, or know how to really make that a reality.  There are inherent risks, right?, because by default most ‘entrepreneurs’ are unemployable and tough to manage / handle. BUT – when you support the department & person as a profit center model and mentality…you are now defining the work as ‘stuff in (input)’ that is ‘transmogrified’ into ‘stuff that someone wants (output)’….it’s a micro business. The employee (or department) is responsible for delivering what someone wants, or they don’t get paid (income2profit). They are providing a service. To get the most profit (days off, awards / recognition, raises, bonuses) employees must be able to work in a way that supports what they bring to the table, within obvious constraints (legal, financial, risk).

6. Fact: Brainstorming needs a place to storm, and to invigorate the brain. Every notice how the high level exec or management teams go ‘off campus / off site’ during ‘that time of year’ to strategize and come up with the direction of the business (or budgeting)?  Well, I’m hear to tell you that 5 year plans no longer work (a topic for another day). That’s way too long a time period, given how fast things are moving. BUT – at the core of that or any plan is the service, the process. And as a department head, or individual in that department, you also need to remove yourself from the current place of business or environment,  to come up with new concepts, methods, plans of attack etc. Just as you have different rooms in your house to sleep, eat, watch tv, clean, take care of business, etc. the same applies to the way you work and the type of work you must complete.

Many creative agencies and environments already get these concepts and support the creative process.  But creative people reside in all types of departments and skill functions, especially in this era of disruptive technologies, business models, and generations. If you want to keep your department, your lifestyle, your services viable, profitable, and competitive, businesses and managers need to find ways to till the soil and fertilize the seeds. (even seeds need different types of environments to grow)

How are you going to develop results from your pool of talent? Consider alternative work solutions. They exist in your office, at your neighborhood coworking space, a maker space, and possibly even as close as your local library.  There are more benefits to utilizing those models than you could ever expect!

Really look at the diversity of talent you are responsible for leading. Or, if you are an individual, understand what really works best for you, especially during the different cycles of work.  What makes you most productive? Know that about yourself, and find places that honor that.

Comment below on what works best for you, or the challenges you encounter!


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