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Most executives would agree that successful businesses are the result of great people. What many fail to realize is that great people need the right environments to thrive.
Today, some of the most competitive organizations are comprised of diverse talent: abstract creative thinkers, data-driven scientists, spreadsheet quants, and technical problem-solvers. This range is even more pronounced in professional service firms, which demand varied sets of expertise and personalities to support an array of client projects. As important as it is to hire the right blend of talent, it’s even more critical to develop a workplace and corporate culture that’s accommodating and inclusive for all types.
No matter the dominant office style of the times (from semi-private cubicles to open floorplans), business leaders have to consider what kind of space will enable all employees to thrive, regardless of job function or work habits.
Don’t isolate great minds
Assigning permanent workspaces to each employee and arranging desks by department may be corporate tradition, but that doesn’t mean it’s effective or guarantees business success. Especially when a growing chunk of the American workforce has the option to work remotely, the need for an assigned desk and chair for when they’re in the office is outdated. Rather than providing structure, fixed office arrangements lock employees into limited working conditions and limit their interaction with other employees, hindering the type of collaboration that leads to bold, innovative ideas.
It is not unusual for firms to unintentionally limit their own growth by bundling teams on secluded floors and away from their counterparts or isolating entry-level staff from executives’ reach. Flexible workspaces help organizations break down barriers between employees and across business units, allowing employees to more effectively collaborate and deliver great work to clients. Employees need access to the resources regardless of what team they’re on or where they rank in the company. In the right working environment, collaboration isn’t limited to the most outgoing employees and no one is forced to “suffer in silence” as a project goes without critical review. Instead, all employees, from all departments and levels, should be free to learn from each other — making a palpable difference in their productivity and engagement, and more importantly the business’ success.
Leveraging — not limiting — telecommuters’ potential
Across industries, the combination of frequent project travel and rampant technology adoption enables individuals to work from anywhere, be it from home, a satellite office, or a client site. Common knowledge would suggest that employees who work together in an office with a predefined culture have an easier time building collaborative working relationships than those who work remotely. The truth is, there’s no quick path to building team camaraderie for telecommuters or in-house employees, but encouraging in-office attendance when possible and building up the space to amplify your firm’s culture is certainly a good stepping stone.
Sometimes, employees have no choice but to work remotely. This flexibility in work setting, however, shouldn’t come at the expense of fostering a sense of community at the home office. Explain to remote employees how their work has had an impact on company goals. Oftentimes, they’re not around to see the results, so go out of your way to make sure they do. Smart executives will also schedule monthly or quarterly meetings both for in-house and virtual employees, and include fun events, like happy hours and team building activities. Organizations across industry — from tech to professional services firms — have nothing to lose from emphasizing in-office attendance when possible and everything to gain by reaping the benefits of the culture-building that comes with it.
Champion individuality for the good of the group
Businesses, no matter the nature of their day-to-day operations, should develop spaces that entice workers to be physically and mentally present. This means handing control back to your employees, giving them a stake in their surroundings and the freedom to choose whatever tools they need to work effectively.
Inviting office spaces must embrace all work styles, including specific technology preferences. The larger a business grows, the more resistance it will face when trying to limit all employees to Windows, OS X, Android or iOS. Corporate security aside, today’s employees wants to use their preferred platform — and tech firms are definitely leading the pack. Organizations should shake the “one platform fits all” mandate in favor of the BYOD norm; and company leaders have to be able to over-rule corporate IT’s roadblocks when it comes to implementing new systems or devices. Windows may be the obvious choice for a system administrator, but a business strategist may feel more at home working on a Mac; forcing either to ditch their preferred tool can detract from the work they do.
From task master to space master
Employees’ tasks are often split between collaborative and solitary work; the office environment should acknowledge this duality. Balanced workplaces include unstructured spaces and useful accessories such as sofas, moveable whiteboards and different A/V platforms to support spontaneous group brainstorms (and the innovative thinking they inspire). On the other hand, small focus areas for employees to work solo for extended periods of time are essential — even the most social team member needs a place to filter out distractions and hit deadlines. In all aspects of culture-building and space-creating, business leaders should design with productivity in mind.
Customization is also important in regards to an office’s physical assets. Accommodating requests for standing desks, multiple monitors, and medicine ball chairs isn’t frivolous; it indicates a firm’s willingness to invest in its staff’s unique personalities and wellness. The benefit of resources that help employees focus on producing high quality results far outweighs the investment in providing a unique setting. But organizations can choose to draw the line somewhere. Though foosball tables and ping-pong might work in a shared office space or for an early-stage startup, big investments like this should have levels of functionality while still being cool.
For organizations to prosper, they must consciously mold their offices into spaces that match the distinct nature of both their employees and the work they do. The challenge is to strike a reasonable balance between antiquated environments dominated by private offices and an institutional culture and trendy, freewheeling spaces that lack substance.
Finding the right mix of elements depends on a firm’s employees, services, and existing culture, but the operative word is “mix.” Successful businesses recognize that every employee is different and win their loyalty by providing a tailored, personal touch. Imagine all that could be achieved by creating a thriving environment that treats both business and technology talent the same way.
Kevin McCarty is the president and CEO of West Monroe Partners, responsible for all office and shared services operations across the firm. In addition to leading the firm of more than 600 professionals across ten offices in the U.S., Kevin continues to serve clients embarking on large-scale transformational initiatives. West Monroe Partners has developed all eight of their custom offices from scratch and believes that form and functional office space is critical to successful culture and collaboration which leads to success.
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