Twenty years ago, the size of computers, phones and printers called for offices designed in a stationary fashion. There were cubicles, noise-reducing departmental walls and corner offices with extraordinary views for those who climbed the corporate ladder. Companies were compartmentalized, problems were solved by field experts and interdepartmental issues were resolved by department heads during long and extraneous meetings. This was the corporate environment in which boomers thrived.
As consumers grew more demanding, quick cross-departmental solutions became increasingly necessary. Cubicles were abolished for their dehumanizing, antisocial characteristics and pioneers like Jack Welch broke down departmental walls. It was the beginning of the stationary open office era.
Today the story takes another leap. Despite deeply enjoying the social bonds their workplace provides, Generation Y employees point fingers to the open space environment and justify their demands for a more adapted and personalized solution with some quite disturbing facts.
First of all, open spaces can be extremely noisy and unproductive. According to noise expert Julian Treasure, noise alone is responsible for reducing productivity in such spaces by 66% (yes, 66%!). Add to that constant interruption (as open spaces encourage more immediate exchanges than closed offices) and visual distractions, and soon enough the day is over and you haven’t accomplished anything.
To workers despair, in many organizations work has become the place where one goes to attend unnecessary meetings, answer emails (we spend in average more than 3 hours a day answering emails), gossip at the water cooler or worry about the next restructuring. In sum, anything but the place where we create, innovate and solve problems in a sustainable manner: those things are unfortunately done somewhere else (or never). Jason Fried, the author of avant-gardist book “Rework” puts the issue under a new light.
The result is a considerable decrease in work-life balance because responsible employees feel obliged to do creative and thought-intensive work at home or during shifted schedule. This issue is even more serious when it comes to introverted employees: incapable of recharging their batteries at home or in a quieter environment, they become particularly subject to the risks of burn out.
No wonder flexible hours and work from home has become a common request amongst Yers. As opposed to what many Y experts claim, this is not a request based on deep-seated values and agreeing to it will not stop your Yer to leave the company when conditions for learning and development aren’t met.
Instead, this request is the expression of their desire to have a meaningful contribution to the company, by asking to create their own conditions to do innovative and complex problem solving individually. This request is a cry for help of the common employee voiced over by bold and fresh eyes. HR managers can work on the symptoms and blame Gen Y or work on the causes and apply some of serious managerial and environmental changes. Google has done it, can you?
Which changes in managerial style can you put in place as from tomorrow to increase your team’s productivity?