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Your Open Floor Plan Office Space Is Negatively Affecting Your Team

Open floor plans are synonymous with hip, disruptive startups. Unfortunately, they can also be terrible for morale and productivity.

When we tried to make an open office work, we soon realized our employees were more irritated and distracted than before. We used our experience from that experiment to build an office space that worked for everyone without sticking them into a cubicle farm. 

Open-Office Failures in the Wild

 The BBC recently ran a story about the pitfalls of open offices, specifically at a company called Wildbit. 

Per the BBC, while 70 percent of U.S. businesses have moved to a variation of the open office, those companies struggle compared to their competitors. “Free-range” employees are more likely to get sick, be less productive, and be less happy than their closed-off counterparts.

Chris Nagele, founder of Wildbit, thought moving his entire work from home team into an open office would facilitate collaboration. Instead, it became an unavoidable distraction and made everyone — Nagele included — grouchy. Three years later, Wildbit moved to a new office and gave each employee a door to shut out the noise. 

Tips to Build a Better Office

If you don’t want to force everyone into cubicles, but also don’t want to see your workforce suffer in an open environment like they are bound to do, heed these three warnings.

1. When Everyone Can See Everyone Else – They Can Also Distract

Five people in a common space isn’t a problem. As that number climbs, however, people begin to chat more and work less — even when they want to be working.

In our open floor plan office, whenever a group gathered to collaborate, they attracted the attention of anyone within earshot. By 2 p.m. on Friday, anyone who didn’t book a conference room might as well have been working in a bar at happy hour.

Even passive interruptions can interfere with work. Per the Wall Street Journal, frequently interrupted employees report higher exhaustion rates and more physical ailments than those who are sheltered from the peanut gallery and can concentrate alone in peace.

The best solution for unchecked distractions is a personal escape. Whether it’s an office, a breakout room, a cubicle, or simply a desk, all employees need access to some kind of personal space where they can escape the crowd and get things done.

2. Negative Vibes Spread Quickly

Bad attitudes spread faster than positive ones. One experiment found that planting a negative teammate in undergraduate business groups dropped their performance by more than 30 percent compared to their peers.

Rather than try to combat human nature, build systems that account for this challenge. Each person’s space should have a maximum of a dozen other people within sight or earshot. The most cramped spaces can be made manageable by dividers, partitions, and false barriers.

Even a bead curtain with a picture of a peace sign is better than nothing. By physically marking barriers, you can limit exposure to negative attitudes and address the issue before it spreads to the whole office. 

3. Cultural Misunderstandings Increase

Multiple new hires unfamiliar with company culture don’t function well in open offices. Without guidance, your new hires could get a warped perception of how your team solves problems together.

For instance, we have a couple employees who work well together, but could appear to be in a heated argument to someone unfamiliar with their banter. A new employee who witnesses that kind of interaction without proper context might assume aggression is the way of life in an otherwise relaxed office. 

Avoid misunderstandings by creating rules to respect privacy. Set up a system of sticky-note alerts to limit interruptions or give everyone a flag to raise when chat isn’t welcome. 

People crave other people. Don’t fight it, but structure your office to facilitate productivity more than distraction. By following these tips and giving everything a time and place, you can keep your team on track without locking them in cells to do it.

Photo Credit: mindshareworld Flickr via Compfight cc

Will Your Talent Be Swept Away in the Coming Tsunami?

(Editor’s Note: Please welcome Switch and Shift co-founder, Ted Coine, to the pool of TalentCulture contributors. We look forward to sharing his insights on business leadership.)

Recently, I had the true pleasure of appearing on Lead with Giants TV. Founder and host Dan Forbes brought together six of his community’s most talented leaders to discuss one of my favorite topics — the question of a financial Return on Morale.

How does morale affect organizational performance? I’m passionate about this question. It doesn’t quite keep me up at night, but I do spend much of my days obsessing over it. In fact, “Return on Morale” is the title of my new “snippet” (a new digital format that works like an ebook on steriods).

I constantly wonder. How do I prove Return on Morale? And most importantly, how do I explain it to company leaders, who still have power to do something about employee morale before poor morale kills their organization?

ReturnOnMoraleThe interview with Dan was a great forum to test the waters for my Return on Morale narrative. Our conversation was exhilarating from start to finish. It was perfect evidence that the quality of an interviewer makes all the difference in showcasing a guest’s expertise.

One question in particular really stuck with me. Almost halfway into our conversation, Dan asked, “Ted, I’m thinking that when we get through this financial crisis, and employees are feeling a lot better about their financial situation … right now they’re putting up with the culture and the environment that they’re in … don’t you think we’re going to have a tsunami of people ready to leave and go somewhere where life is better?”

A tsunami of people leaving! Man, I wish I’d thought of that analogy (although fortunately Dan did, and shared it with me). Consider waves of business value rushing out of the door, beyond your reach. It’s not pretty. So, if you want to get a good idea of the true Return on Morale for your company, then consider this question:

What will it cost your company if your top talent becomes dissatisfied with how they are being managed, and leave to work for your competitors?

Ted Coine Return on Morale

Watch Ted on Lead With Giants TV now

In the TV show, we tackle this question and a whole lot more — all sorts of aspects of Return on Morale, and how to make sure you set-up your company to benefit from it, not just today, but in the future as well. I hope you take time to watch the program, and if you enjoyed the give-and-take, perhaps you’ll share it with some colleagues or friends.

And, if you want to learn more, perhaps you’ll enjoy my “snippet,” too. It’s available now, exclusively on iOS mobile devices, as an app from a really amazing company called (wait for it…) Snippet. Within the snippet, along with the text of each short chapter, you’ll find brief videos and even a way to tweet and connect with other readers and with me. (Yes, right from within the book!) I promise you, the experience is so cool that one or two snippets later, you never want to “just read” again.

So tell me — what do you think about the coming talent tsunami? What sort of impact do you anticipate? And what is your organization doing to protect your investment in employee morale and performance?

Image Credit: Pixabay

Getting Workplace Recognition Right: #TChat Recap

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated. -William James

As children, when we master a new skill or complete a task well, others often offer us a hug or a thumbs up. Sometimes, we even receive stickers or an allowance as a reward for completing chores throughout the week.

Rewards and recognition are ingrained in our culture – and are central to our personal and professional lives. Whenever someone acknowledges our efforts or commends us for a job well done, that moment creates a connection, and establishes an understanding that positive reinforcement will be available again in the future.

Workplace “job well done” salutes are often associated with financial rewards. But is that what matters most? How can recognition make a real difference in today’s world of work?

That was our #TChat focus this week – as the TalentCulture community came together to share issues, ideas and best practices for improving business performance by showing employees and leaders that their contributions count.

Not Just a Pat on the Back

Although money and other tangible “spiffs” are considered appropriate recognition tools, the #TChat crowd expressed strong sentiment about the value of simple, sincere interaction, and a culture that encourages recognition when it is deserved.

Feedback is necessary for individual assessment, coaching and development. Acknowledgement keeps employees on a path for engagement and productivity. Positive feedback fuels individuals and teams to continue delivering outstanding results. And in the aggregate, it keeps organizations focused on key success factors, and drives business momentum. But there is no silver bullet – no simple “checklist” formula or one-size-fits-all solution.

So, what else emerged from this week’s focus on recognition? Check it out!

NOTE: To see specific highlights from yesterday’s “Employee Recognition” #TChat session on Twitter, see the Storify slideshow at the end of this post.

#TChat Week-in-Review

SUN 1/13
TalentCulture Founder, Meghan M. Biro set the stage in her Forbes.com post: “5 Ways Leaders Rock Employee Recognition”

MON 1/14
#TChat weekly preview post “Employee Recognition at a Reasonable Volume”

TUE 1/15
#TChat Radio Show: Two fascinating experts joined our hosts to discuss what it takes to make employee recognition work:

Rob Catalano – head of marketing at Achievers, a company that creates social software that supports employee recognition.

Ted Coine – leadership author, speaker, consultant, and one of the most influential business commentators on Twitter. His collaborative blog, Switch and Shift, explores better ways to do business. For example, this week’s #TChat topic was examined in a popular post by Roy Saunderson: “Engaging Employees with Recognition.”

WED 1/16
#TChat on Twitter: Ted and Rob joined us again – this time on the Twitter stream – as workplace strategist, Dr. Marla Gottschalk, led participants through an open conversation about the importance of avoiding “one-size-fits-all” approaches to recognition, and how to make it work in any organizational setting.

Here’s a taste of the interaction from last night’s #TChat interaction…
(For full highlights, watch the Storify slideshow at the end of this post.)

Is recognition a driver or an outgrowth of engagement?

Both – it’s cyclical. An engaged employee is bound to deserve recognition, and recognition keeps them engaged. @BrightJobs

Need to hire the right people with the right mindset, so engaging people and engaging culture facilitate recognition. @ThinDifference

When should recognition be different from praise?

In some cultures praise is enough, but others want $ or a new title; you have to know what works globally @melissa_lamson1

Recognition is a form of feedback – constructive criticism is other side of coin. Both are important. @RobCatalano

How can an organization be believable?

The best way to be “believable” is to truly believe in people. People know. @ReCenterMoment

Employee recognition must be action, not words. Then it’s believable. @samfiorella

Recognition should be a daily thing that leaders do to guide their people on a journey to reach worthwhile goals! @bcoelho2000

Want to recognize employees authentically? Learn their kids & spouses’ names. @tedcoine

Does technology facilitate or hinder workforce recognition?

Tech helps facilitate immediacy of recognition when proximity isnt there. @brentskinner

Performance & productivity are key issues. Speed, revenue, innovation need to be ignited; social business can bridge gaps. @thehealthmaven

Tech is an enabler. Still need recognition strategy. Tech won’t help if you don’t establish whats important. @RobCatalano

How can organizations recognize their leaders?

Leaders praise and recognize team when getting praise and recognition. Respect 101. @YouTernMark

Work your hardest for them to make them proud. Ease up their workload and show THEIR boss how well they’re leading you. @AshLaurenPerez

# # #

Closing Notes & Highlights Slideshow

SPECIAL THANKS: Another nod of appreciation to Ted Coine and Rob Catalano for sharing your depth and perspective on this week’s topic. Also thanks to Dr. Marla Gottschalk, for your leadership as chat moderator. Our community salutes you!

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events inspire you to write about employee recognition or other “world of work” issues? We’re happy to share your thoughts. Just post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along. There are many voices in this community, with many ideas worth sharing. Let’s capture as many of them as possible.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Next week, the topic of recognition moves to another level, as we examine The Power of Endorsement. Be sure to mark your calendar – first for #TChat Radio, Tuesday, Jan 22, at 7:30pm ET. And then for #TChat Twitter Wednesday, Jan 23, at 7pm ET. Look for a full preview on Monday, January 21 via @TalentCulture and #TChat.

Til then – we hope you’ll find opportunities to recognize others in your world. Let us know how it goes!

Image Credit: Pixabay

#TChat INSIGHTS Slide Show: “Getting Real About Employee Recognition”

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Keep the Engagement Lights on in Rolling Economic Blackout

While the global economy continues its rolling blackout – and who knows what will happen this week with the US at AA+ – we keep talking by candlelight about employee retention, employee engagement and all workplace things touchy-feely as if they’re inspirational anecdotes of an alternate universe we should all be living in.

There are some exceptions of course, but we usually don’t live in that electrified looking glass.

For example, are you employees doing a lot more with a lot less? Are they burned out? Do they tell you they are? Are they looking for a way out? Are you recognizing all their hard work? Are they struggling to keep their families afloat?

And what about you and your business? Is your management not sleeping at night? Are sales flat and revenues in the tank? Are you burned out? Are you investing your own savings and/or playing credit card roulette to make payroll every month and just to keep your own family afloat?

Whether you’re a consultant, a business owner, executive management, or HR and people management professionals in larger companies, hopefully you’re tuned in to your people and are aware of their stress as well as your own, and are trying to do something to alleviate it. You may not be hiring right now, but you’re probably doing everything you can to keep what you have and who you have until the power grids are fully firing.

Listen, I’m sure you’ve seen enough survey research recently to make you pass out from the stressed out and unhappy workers you manage everyday. But here’s another one:

According to a recent study referenced in an HR Executive article, the University of Zaragosa in Spain found that two key factors — workplace stress (mainly monotony and feeling overburdened) and a perceived lack of recognition — are the prime factors in employee burnout.

Regardless of the type of burnout, however, the result is emotional exhaustion, cynicism and a lack of productivity, the researchers concluded.

You and the rest of your management team may not think about these things, or even care much right now as you try to stay afloat, but the reality is you should care a little if staying in business with top talent means anything to you. It’s comes from the top down, and if you’re struggling to keep your business relevant and viable, as well as your very professional existence, then you’ll practice what you should be preaching with the smart meters on.

Here are some suggestions you should consider from the experts in the article:

  • Encourage authentic communication that fosters a sense of belonging between employee and employer.
  • Periodically take the pulse of your employees to identify their specific areas of concern and link employee opinion to outcomes such as productivity and retention.
  • Ensure your employees that their opinions make a difference, and mean it. Practice what you should be preaching.
  • Offer effective training, either within or outside of the company, to enable advancement opportunities and give employees a sense that it’s possible change their environments.
  • Create “influence teams” who can look at ways to improve employee situations, including offering a paid month, 3-month, or 6-month sabbatical for long-term employees.

This list can go on and on. One final sentiment from the experts (and from me for what it’s worth): listen to your employees (as well as yourself), appreciate them, recognize and share in their successes (and yours as a business), reward their hard work (and your own), and never underestimate the power of touchy-feely, whether in full wattage or by candlelight.

It’s only when you’ve lived the rolling business blackouts and survived the economic changes in and around you and your people, can you truly know the difference between what’s real and what’s a sweet employee engagement bedtime story.

Hey, we’re just trying to keep the lights on here.

HR + Leaders: Don't Overlook the Outlier Employees

Just having returned from HRevolution, I was filled with tons of ideas, approaches and philosophies. My head was swimming with where to go next. I was trying to land on what aspect of HR resonated with me coming out of this UnConference. Then I remembered . . .

I had a conversation with Dwane Lay and William Tincup about the state of HR and what we all thought, and one term kept coming up . . . outliers. Now, this isn’t the same as the recent Malcolm Gladwell book – Outliers. (I’m a huge Gladwell fan!!) What we were talking about was the tendency for HR to manage to the exception.

I agreed with this wholeheartedly! I know that it’s difficult to work with people, but that’s why we chose HR. There are so many amazing people who work in and around us every day. However, companies tend to focus on people who are exceptions, who underperform, degrade and possibly detract from moving the company forward. Instead of focusing on the mass of talent that rocks it everyday, we follow the outliers. If the entire company was made up of people like the outliers, there would be a lot of trouble. So why should HR mainly focus on a group that is not the driving force of the company? Yes, they are a portion of the company that is important and should be acknowledged, but to base everything around them is taking it too far.

You can look at policies, handbooks and procedures that are written by companies in HR every day that focus on such a small percentage of people. This hurts the majority of employees who are doing their jobs each and every day. While the outliers shouldn’t go unnoticed, the average employees are the ones who account for most of the population.

So, what can we do?

HR needs to understand and own that one thing we have to our advantage is the ability to be consistent.  This is different than being “fair.” It really is. If we are consistent in how we engage, deal with and lead people, we add incredible value!! If people in HR would take this approach and practice consistency, the outliers would take care of themselves. With a consistent HR, variability is decreased between their actions and the actions of the employees, making everything much more stable.

Take a look around, HR. Where is your focus? If your systems give employees the ability to thrive, contribute and develop – you’re doing well. If your systems look to constrict, deter and confine – you’re following outliers.

Now, some may say that the group that gathered at HRevolution are “outliers” to the norm of the HR community. I’d beg to differ. You see in Gladwell’s book he talks about outliers that are successful, move things forward and also lie outside the norm.

Outliers are not always a bad thing; although they should not be the basis of HR’s views on a company, often times they can produce something great. The group I was running with is pushing the boundaries of HR to open up new frontiers in order to set new norms.  Why don’t you join us?

IMAGE VIA CarbonNYC

Falling Asleep at Work Increases Productivity

(Editor’s Note: This guest post is by our talented colleague, and friend Cathy Taylor. Cathy is a social media expert who helps businesses develop comprehensive communications strategies to achieve business goals and objectives. More of Cathy’s insightful articles can be found on her blog.)

Imagine going to work and finding the boss has roped off a section in the back of the office for the new sleep pods set to arrive next week.

Sleep pods? Are you serious?

A few minutes later you wander past the HR director’s office and she confirms an order was placed for ten new sleep pods. She adds that a new policy will go into effect next quarter. All employees who need a nap during the day will be encouraged to use the sleep pods for twenty minutes after lunch. As you walk back to your cubicle scratching your head you are reminded of that day last month when you locked yourself in the bathroom stall to catch some Z’s. It couldn’t be helped. It was either take a nap or startle your coworkers with a thud sound as your head hit the desk.

This sounds like a far-fetched idea but more companies are beginning to embrace the idea of sanctioned naps during day. Companies like British Airways, Google, Nike, Pizza Hut and Procter & Gamble have implemented policies that allow employees some downtime in the office.

The concept of workplace napping is attributed to former Harvard researcher Sara C. Mednick. She advanced the idea in her book, “Take a Nap! Change Your Life!” Feedback from employees who are afforded the opportunity to snooze at work say it’s so much better than a cup of coffee in the afternoon or a snickers bar.

However, there is no denying workplace napping is counterintuitive in the United States. It begs the question: How long before company leadership begins to view napping as a competitive advantage?

Here are some compelling arguments for workplace naps from Dr. Mednick’s research:

1) It results in increased memory and productivity among workforce.
2) Dr. Mednick cites epidemiological studies that show decreases in heart disease and stress.
Workplace naps restore proficiency in a variety of critical skills… and can produce improvements previously observed only after a full night of sleep.
3) 51% of the workforce report that sleepiness on the job interferes with the volume of work they can do.

At the moment, workplace napping is still a long way from becoming prevalent in the U.S. According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, only five percent of employers allow their workers to take a nap during the day.

Scheduling nap time at work requires a huge shift in the way we think about work. And as more employers look for ways to fill job vacancies, enhance employee engagement and retain the best workers taking a nap might not be such a bad idea. Nap time at work may no longer be just for slackers!

Image Credit: Stock.xchng