GUEST BLOG BY CIARA O’CONNOR
Like a lot of people my age, I’m engaged in a few different kinds of work. One of them is tutoring children at home – but sometimes it’s outside in the garden. Sometimes it’s writing on windows with markers or on the patio with chalk. Some kids were much better once they got a friend or two along to join in, some kids need to talk…a lot and some kids need more ‘thinking time’. It turned out, after a lot of experimenting, that one boy just needed 5 minutes in the middle of his lesson to read Astrix and eat Malteasers. His attention span doubled. Sometimes it’s with dictaphones and iPads and yes – sometimes it’s at a desk with books and pens and paper.
You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this and what schoolchildren have to do with you or your workforce. Well, from what I can tell from my few months eavesdropping on the Workplace Conversation, probably more than you realise.
Adults, like children, work best in different ways. It’s just that as we get older we get better at hiding when we’re fed up, or tired, or uncomfortable; but just because you don’t yawn in people’s faces anymore or whine ‘Miss, this is BOOOOORRRRRRING’, doesn’t mean the effects of these feelings are any less harmful to the quality of the work being done, or to personal wellbeing.
I suppose the point I’m making is that people should shape their work rather than work attempting, as it has done unsuccessfully for so long, to shape people. So – how can we apply this idea to workplaces today?
From conversations in recent months, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are wary about ‘rethinking’ offices. They equate ‘modern’ workspaces with ‘open plan’.
I know I did. You might be wary too – and you’d be right, because for a long time ‘revamped’ offices just got rid of their work-cubes and whacked everyone on big long desks. Sure – this might have had a positive impact for some companies, but a large proportion of people felt unduly scrutinised, distracted and mistrusted.
Far from encouraging collaboration and interaction, a lot of people just got driven to distraction by Steve’s nasty habit of eating his lunch with his mouth open right opposite them.
However, what this experience doesn’t show is that offices were fine before – clearly, they weren’t. What it does make clear is that a ‘one size fits all’ workplace is doomed to be underproductive and filled with employees with a lower sense of wellbeing.
Workplaces need to be flexible to allow people to work in a manner which suits them and suits their tasks. This is not a question of individual working vs a collaborative environment; as the offices of 21st Century tech giants are proving, a truly modern workplace doesn’t have to choose.
But companies don’t have to be as big and creative as Google to apply and reap the benefits of flexible workplaces. Perhaps it’s a question of variety – bringing back some of those cubes, having desks that can interlock or be wheeled away as the situation demands, and observing who does their best work where, how and when.
Change doesn’t have to be indiscriminate and alienate a portion of your workforce as it seems to have done in the past. It’s not about spending a fortune on building works – not when simply paying attention to your people can make your building really work.