I’ve worked in real estate for over a decade now. Every single year I have been in this industry I come across some new and novel approach to defining real estate’s impact on employee productivity. It’s always worth a laugh to me to see various workplace vendors trying to give a productivity increase number associated with sit/stand desks or collaborative areas. There’s simply no studies or numbers that can prove or disprove this effect while also accounting for all other variables. It’s just not possible.
Yet every year someone new takes a crack at it. It only makes sense. If you can be the one that cracks the code for proving the impact of real estate and workplace on employee productivity, you would be in line for millions of dollars of new business and global acclaim. If you can absolutely prove that your desk designs improve productivity by 10%, companies would be falling all over themselves to implement it.
But alas, that’s not how this world works. Productivity is such a nebulous and changing concept that has different definitions for every single employee in the company. What improves one person’s productivity may kill another’s.
What does this mean to you? Carefully question anyone that claims that can improve your productivity through workplace changes. It may happen, it may not – but it will likely never be proven. All you can really do is focus on making a workplace flexible enough to meet the needs of many different types of employees while also aligning the workplace with company culture. If you can achieve these two things, productivity should follow. Just be careful thinking you can prove it.
Designing an office plan is one of the most difficult things to do in support of a business. Every group works differently, has different technology or privacy needs, wants different levels of collaboration space, cares about the creative nature of the space, or simply wants to sit next to the people they work with the most.
The fact is, designing the ideal workplace is nearly impossible. In reality, the best you can hope for is to design a workplace focused around flexibility so that occupants have the ability to control their productivity themselves. And that is the biggest win possible – when you enable people to find their own productivity sweet spot you will improve the average productivity of the office considerably.
Designs that focus on getting everyone to the same average productivity may improve the bottom end but it will cap the top end productivity of your superstar employees. Typically a fixed workplace limits collaboration more than any other item which is the area that allows for exponential productivity increases. If you uncap the potential of your top producers you will find greater net business improvement even if it means some of the poorer performers self-limit themselves through bad decisions.
The self-limiters are also now going to have nowhere to hide because their productivity is their own to control. A flexible workplace gives no excuses to anyone to not be at least at average productivity. When there is no place to hide, the best rise to the top.
I’ve been a home worker for the past 4 years with some part-time work-from-home for a few years before that even. It took a lot of effort to develop habits that make myself be productive; I’d estimate about 12 months before I developed a consistent rhythm. At this point I feel more productive working predominately from home than an office. Although I’ve met and spoken to a large number of people that have never been able to find
There are a large number of people that I’ve met and spoken to that have never been able to find the work-from-home processes that work for them. In fact, there are far more people that either don’t really work when at home or struggle to be productive from home than those that can pull off the full-time work-from-home efforts.
The only thing anyone can really know about the future of the workplace is that it will be a hybrid of many different productivity philosophies. Everyone is seeking the key to increasing productivity, the answer will likely not be a single answer. Even AI and automation aren’t necessarily a solution in most cases.
So celebrate the home workers today. They are blazing the trail to more diverse answers for how to make companies more productive. The office is a laboratory, let’s see what works.
A truism of any job is: the work must get done. Sometimes that means delegating and sharing responsibilities. Sometimes it means having your day planned out in 15-minute increments. Sometimes it means being reactionary to the needs of others.
Most companies and managers like their employees to have set work hours such as Monday to Friday 8 to 5. They want their employees to feel like they can shut down on the weekends and have their dinner time be uninterrupted by the various things that could still be coming in. When you are in an office environment this timing also helps because it makes it easier to schedule the receptionists, janitorial staff, IT downtime, and all of the other various office support functions.
But the reality is that while most work tasks are most likely to occur within that window, because that’s when the vast majority of your colleagues are working, it’s certainly not absolutely true. There are occasional Wednesdays where you know beforehand there will be nothing at all required to keep the business going yet most people are still going to be at the office, in their chair, doing their best to look busy. Similarly, there will be Wednesdays where anything less than working from 6a to 8p can’t get everything completed that needs to get completed. Structured hours do not account for the natural ebbs and flows of how activities and tasks actually come in.
This is not to provide an answer to how to best manage the time of your employees but to give you a new lens to thinking about it as yet another variable that can be optimized to both make your employees happier and also make your business more efficient and productive. Office hours are often assumed to just “be what they are” but they do not have to be set in stone.
It’s been almost exactly 2 years ago since I last visited one of my favorite concepts of Makers versus Managers. To refresh those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that Makers are most productive in 4-hour blocks of free time whereas Managers work best in 30-minute blocks of time. Makers are busy applying thoughts to actions and creating which requires longer periods of time to fall into the right frame of mind, work through what is in front of you and reach a point of productive delivery. Managers deal with many people and tasks that can be more easily broken down into smaller increments of time and measurement allowing them to be more scheduled in their work.
Most people fall somewhere in between these two groups. Most people have some degree of management activities (or dealing with managers) which requires them to break up their day. The worst thing that can happen to these people is to have a 9 hour day of making broken up by 3 short meetings inconveniently spaced out. Having no large blocks of free time is the same as having no productive time at all. A full day of productivity killed by 90 minutes of poorly planned meetings.
There is an interplay between these two groups that is critically important. Managers need Makers and Makers need Managers. Nothing would get done without both ways of thinking but similarly, both groups have the capacity to undermine the other if they don’t plan correctly.
Makers that work in a vacuum can very easily be carried off on their creative side without understanding the drivers from above that will take their work to market. All the productive working time in the world cannot save a product that has no market appeal or driven sales team. Dealing with the occasional Manager day is the cost of long-term success. Planning for those Manager days is how to ensure success. Designating time in advance for short meetings, updates, email, etc and clearly communicating that to the Managers you deal with is the best way to start.
Managers that assume that everyone works like them with meetings and calls back-to-back all day are inadvertently sabotaging the Makers that they interrupt during the course of their work. When your day is meetings and quick responses it can be easy to assume that those you work with do the same. Working with Makers means that you need to know the habits and needs of each individual and work to help them be productive. This may mean holding phone calls for certain times of day or developing 1-bit messages (like a quick text or IM) to see if you get a response.
It all comes back to…….communication! It’s amazing how often that is the solution to the issues I encounter. I have been saved by more “awkward conversations” than by hoping issues simply go away. Awkward conversations are often not awkward at all because it usually turns out both parties feel the same and simply breaking the ice with a simple “Hello” resets that scene.
There is nothing more silly than thinking “I keep meaning to call but it’s been too long and it would be awkward now.” What that thought actually means is “I’d really like to talk to this person but it could be awkward or it could be a great change of pace for both of us to simply see what’s up….and all the more of a pleasant surprise because it’s now unexpected!”
Is there a better time to just stop and think than when the rain is coming down? There is something about the sound of rain on a roof that is calming to me. It is especially calming when the rain is much needed in the region.
Take some time today to step away from the computer and let your subconscious tell you all the things it has discovered that you need to know. Sometimes we get caught up in the need to simply be working on things all day long, day after day. If you never stop to think and clear your head the work can quickly turn to simple busy work.
I was talking to people yesterday and a theme seemed to keep coming up: is this work strategic? We were going through different tasks on our lists or things we could promote to be worked on – all of which had been handed down from above. But the question is still important: is this work strategic?
The difference between busy-work and strategic-work can often be slim. Sometimes the difference is simply in how the finished product is packaged. Turning everyday work into something strategic is a big step that we should all be working toward. How do you make something strategic? By stopping and thinking about what the future needs and holds.
So take some time and just stop. Get your cup of coffee and stare out a window. Turn up some Miles Davis and let a melody take your mind away for 45 minutes. Head outside and take an extra jog around the neighborhood to simply be out in the fresh air. All of these things are likely as productive (or more productive) to the work you are trying to get done.
The best music takes time to build in pauses in the sound. The most productive workers take time to build in pauses between their tasks.
I’ve been using it for awhile as a sort of behind the scenes application but I was talking to some friends that shockingly had never heard of it. If you have heard of the app If This, Then That go check it out in your app store of choice or at ifttt.com.
Essentially what the app does is enable you to connect the various apps that you use to one another. For example, if you use a fitness tracker and you are trying to understand your sleep patterns better you can set up an IFTTT rule to have Fitbit (or another brand) load the data automatically every day into a Google Spreadsheet so that you can actually see the trend live.
It’s extremely easy to setup and use. The best part about it is that it is invisible to you after setting it up. You can setup a rule to mute your phone’s volume when you get to work and it will automatically happen every time you get to the office. You can setup a rule to save your new photos to Dropbox every time you take a picture. You can setup a rule to receive NY Times articles by email from a certain category. You can setup a rule to track your trips in Evernote.
The list of things you can do with it is impressively long. And best of all, it’s free.
Go take the time to try a couple out. Six months later you’ll forget there’s a program behind the scenes doing things for you but you’ll appreciate the enhanced productivity none-the-less.