Breaking the Mold: New Work Environments for New Workforces
By Bryan Clark
In days where it's becoming harder and harder to find a qualified employee, some workplaces learned that the best way to avoid acquiring qualified applicants is to retain the ones they already have. With the average time spent at the same job falling to just under 4 years in the United States, we're a long way from our parents and their "work the same job all your life, and then retire" mindset.
The truth is, whether it's you resigning your position, or your job terminating you or down-sizing, that kind of "work until you retire" attitude simply doesn't work in our risk-averse economy.
The key to retaining employees? Make them happy. I work at an office that isn't like most offices. We don't have cubicles. Our walls are painted bright colors and littered with murals and artwork. We take mid-afternoon breaks to play darts and sometimes our lunches push into two-hour territory (generally on Friday), and our boss couldn't be happier. We're doing a great job, and whether it looks like it or not, we're productive. Whether you run an SEO agency, a marketing firm, or you do most of your business on a freelance basis in a home office, there's a lot to learn about work environments, and selecting the proper work environment to suit your needs or the needs of your business.
This office is less like a job, and more like an entrepreneurial breeding ground for creativity and increased productivity.
How's it done? Let's break down some of the finer points and look at why they work so well.
Dart games, rocking out on the piano or drum set, long lunches, meetings with similar like-minded people who aren't employed with us, and the occasional shooting of wannabe viral videos makes our office much different than your typical cubicle farm.
In a survey conducted online in 2006 by San Francisco design firm, Gensler, they found that two-thirds of the more than 2,000 workers surveyed said they believe that they are more efficient when they work closely with their colleagues. However, 30-percent of those said that their workplace doesn't promote spontaneous interaction and collaboration.
What the casual observer sees as goofing off, and being unproductive is actually our group of creatives recharging, and enjoying the company of their colleagues all while collaborating in a much more natural way than forced brainstorming sessions or mandatory meetings.
The end of the 40-hour work week
Maybe that heading is a bit of a misnomer because I don't know anyone in our office that doesn't put in at least 40-hours a week. The difference is, we don't generally do it on a 9-to-5 basis 5 days a week. I work on weekends, holidays, and sometimes after midnight. The difference is, I do it when I feel I'm most productive. I have 24/7 office access, and I can go in when I choose, even if it's at 2am on a Saturday. Sometimes creativity strikes, and you just need a place to go to flesh it out.
My office doesn't require a 9-to-5 schedule. We're a results-based organization, and not one of us is judged by how many hours we put in a week. We're judged by the quality of our work and the amount of it we do rather than how long we're able to sit at our desk any given week.
I'm a professional writer by trade, and anyone that has ever written anything can tell you that some days you just can't put two sentences together. Now, instead of sitting at a desk, I get up and play a game of darts, take a walk, go get a cup of coffee, or sometimes I just go home. I find that a change of scenery is often all that is needed to remedy a case of writer's block.
With 3g and 4g internet on nearly all of our phones, WiFi, and services like Skype or the "hangout" feature on Google+, we don't need to sit at a desk and stare at our co-workers all day anymore. Sometimes your best work comes from a coffee shop, and not your desk. Most of us don't have the freedom to give that a try.
Creative environments produce creative individuals
When you give your employees the proper environment to produce creative work, it comes as no surprise that they'll actually produce creative work.
A cubicle farm and neutral-colored walls are boring on the eyes, and have been proven to decrease brain activity and therefore creativity. Bright colors, murals, and artwork are everywhere in my office, and I couldn't be happier with how productive I feel when I'm there. Some of my best writing takes place when I come in after-hours to a completely quiet office with no distractions. The bright colors and artwork create visual interest which leads to ideas, and in my opinion, good writing.
Perks lead to higher output and happier employees
It's no secret that you work harder for people when you think they are treating you well. It's easy to fall into the trap of doing just enough to get by, but in a relaxed environment that rewards you for your efforts, you give it your all, every day.
At my office we have a masseuse come in once a month. We get free lunches every Friday at some great restaurants in our area, and we even indulge in the occasional after work libation with our group of friends. Notice I said friends, not co-workers. In this type of environment, you are allowed to turn off the pressure a bit which leads to workplace friendships, rather than merely a coworker-type relationship.
All of our employees are well-paid, and we each receive vacation time and full benefits for our efforts. This type of employee-first thinking leads to happy employees which are willing to bust their butts, and go the extra mile when needed.
Arguments against non-traditional work environments
The most common complaint about our type of environment would be from those that haven't worked in this type of office before. It's easy to wonder how – with little oversight from superiors – that anything actually gets done. The easy thing to forget is how lucky most of us feel to work at a job that fosters creativity, all while showing that we're appreciated for our hard work. We're given goals and expectations, and we work our hardest to achieve them. It's easy to measure our results, even without a manager breathing down our neck and those who don't produce are shown the door, just like in a traditional work environment.
Is the traditional office dead? As much as I wished it were, there are some that are just micro-managers by nature, and would refuse to give up enough control to make this work. That said, I do believe that with millennials entering the workplace over the next few years – this might be the most productive environment for them. Millennials don't think the way their parents did. Why should they be expected to work in the same way?
Bryan Clark is a professional writer, blog editor and tech evangelist. His features have been published by the likes of Technorati, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneurs Journey, The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, and USA Today. Bryan speaks at blogger and entrepreneurship conferences about blogging, social media, and the benefits of not wearing shoes while working. Connect with Bryan on Twitter or visit his blog at ImBryanClark.com.
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