Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Improve Your Workplace in 2011 - Focus on People, Workplace and Technology

Peering into the crystal ball of 2011 and beyond what do you see?  Are you seeing more more business inquiries, more sales of your products and services after a dismal 2010 and even worse 2009 and 2008? With all of the positive economic data both Nationally of late and locally here in Vermont and the Northeast, I hope you are or will be doing better in the coming months!  While 2009 and 2010 were times of significant sacrifice and retraction I believe in cautious optimism for 2011 and beyond.

I'd like to share a hope with you which may help you find greater business and organizational success this year and beyond.  Why not before things get too overheated business wise plan strategically for change and improvement, specifically looking at your physical office resources, your people, the technology and equipment you use together.   Why not assess your operations and business interactions within and outside the company and see what can be improved, adjusted or rethought. Often the strategic levels of companies in boardrooms aren't necessarily talking with operationally minded team mates getting the work done to find out how to be better together.  Often, it's an us and them equation, not a we situation.  Do you really want to apply the same strategies you were using in 2006 and 2007?  It's time to dust of your mission statements again folks and return to strategic planning again.

I see designing the high performing workplace really as an opportunity to create and foster a higher performing work community championing the priorities, mission and values of the organization.  When you look around in your workplace what do you see?  Do your work areas, offices, common spaces like meeting rooms, cafeterias embody your core company values?  What would be different if they did?  How would your work teams function differently together in work groups and collaboratively across the organization?  Do you have antiquated 5' tall cube farms with perimeter offices for management that's never around?  If you looked across your space can you tell which work teams and departments are where and get a sense of energy and enthusiasm when doing so?

From a sustainability side, are your facilities costing you an arm and a leg to run?  Do you have sustainability goals which aren't built into your workplaces yet?  There's lots of opportunities now with improved energy management technologies, greener office equipment and workstations, building materials, finishes, lighting and the like to advance your business.  While you may have "green teams" doing great work are these efforts really comprehensive enough and connect your mission to your facilities, how they're built and operated? Fuel costs are beginning to escalate again over 16% for fuel oil, 13.8% for all types of gasoline over the last 12 months from just released data from the US Bureau for Labor and Statistics in a press release today for the Consumer Price Index for December 2010.

Maybe some of you have moved from the cube farms into lower more open work areas and a higher sense of collaboration?  Have you asked and surveyed your employees about their workplace satisfaction or considered this?  I bet most companies haven't done this in the last two years.  Listen, I bet the people who are working there are just plain grateful to have jobs so they're less likely to speak up about what they think could be improved or be better in their work environment.  It would send a great HR message to your teams if you did survey them.  You can do confidential online surveys easily these days and gather information fairly quickly and inexpensively.  So think about asking your work community how to be better in 2011!

On a really straightforward do it your-self manner, you can use Survey Monkey which has free tools or pay for expanded services with them.  You and your company leaderships and team leaders could construct a survey personalized to your needs to assess your situation and take it from there.  Or on a more elaborate level, you could also engage a workplace consultancy such as Steelcase's Applied Research and Consulting or others and do a deep dive engagement.    The simpler approach would be more appropriate in a work environment where there's 3,000 to 20,000 square feet of space and resources to looked at.  You also might consider hiring an architect or interior designer to work with you in this process, for with the right background and training, they likely can lead this process handily as well.

If you have 20,000 sf to multiple hundreds of thousands of space, in a campus like setting or with multiple locations hiring professionals who do this all the time is a very good idea.  This way you can leverage the scale of your company and find the right level of service along with working with building owners, real estate teams, architects, interior designers and space planners in a collaborative manner.  You may end up as a goal with a strategic masterplan for operations and facilities and change management perhaps.

Another very community minded activity is to hold an all company conversation about space, workplace and  improving operational systems together.  Holding all company conversations like this can be very intimidating both for management and staff .  However, I've seen and participated in numerous such activities and when run correctly with extensive upfront planning, a clear agenda, goals and a truly open process they can be amazing experiences if not trans formative.  Everyone must be willing to hang out the dirty laundry for all to see and be open, communicative and not retaliatory.  For some company cultures this might seem really ordinary stuff for others extremely unorthodox.

Wherever you are on the company leadership spectrum consider asking your employees, customers and work teams about how they can work better together.  I'll bet you'll be surprised by the answers you get and the conversation generated.  Consider also seriously looking at the energy costs and usage and physical performance of your building and or office space.  Together, improving your operational behaviors and physical setting can set you up for success in 2011!

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