Three Top Factors to Consider in Designing Work Space

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I’m often asked, “What’s the best solution for our work environment: open office, bullpens, work from home, or what?”

It’s a great question and one that does not have a one-size-fits-all answer.  No one likes to hear, “It depends,” and my answer still is “It depends.”

Specifically, it depends on these three things:

1. Need for intense collaboration.

Imaging employees standing in front of a white board, diagramming software functionality, a marketing campaign or any other function.

Collaboration, right?

Now, what happens next is critical.

Do those same employees need to continue to make sense of their work and collaborate out loud during the creative part and the execution part of those functions?  How do they score on a scale of 1 – 10 (in which 1 is low need and 10 is high) on their need to collaborate out loud throughout the design and execution?

Anything less than an 8 needs quiet space for deep work.

8 and over? Put them in a bullpen or provide them with low-walled cubes, AND make sure to put some noise insulation between those teams and other teams who have different needs. And put some insulated walls between them and other teams who have the same needs, so that they are not distracted by the out loud work of others.

2. Need for Deep Work.

Imagine a financial analyst tasked with projecting the next quarter’s earnings in a wildly fluctuating marketplace, including the launch of a major new product from your organization nearly simultaneously with a similar product from your top competitor.

Now imagine that analyst spinning out various scenarios, calculating profit and loss and shareholder reaction.  All in the midst of dozens and dozens of colleagues whose work demands that they work out loud.

The analyst’s need to perform deep work (a term I’m borrowing from Cal Newport’s book by the same name) demands a space free from distraction.

Our best thinking is accomplished when we disconnect from other conversations and interruptions (including technology).

Take a close look at the output of the job function and ask, as a percentage of full-time work week, how often does this function engage in deep work?  Anything over 40% requires a quiet work environment where noise and interruption are kept to a minimum.

3. Balance between intense collaboration and Deep Work.

Some job functions will require intense collaboration and deep work in relatively equal measure.

Imagine a usability team who is working to make improvements in the design of a product. They come together for intense collaboration, gathering around a whiteboard for the better part of a week, working out loud.  Then, each with their own part of the design to work on (or the usability test plan, etc.), they retreat to research best practices and do the more intense, creative parts of their job, requiring deep work.

In this case, hoteling, where team members have access to different spaces that support both out loud work and quiet independent work, would be a terrific fit. (The trick here is adequate square footage of each and a calendaring system that enables availability – both when scheduled and when needed on an impromptu basis, but that’s a topic for another article).

Yes, it depends.

When you’ve accurately assessed these factors by interviewing your employees, evaluating the needs of their job functions and observing their best work, then and only then, will your specific flavor of “It depends” become crystal clear.

 

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    Future of work

    The design of work – from how we meet the needs of our customers to how we communicate internally to the way our work space is designed – is changing.  The workplace of 2025 will look much different than the workplace of today.

    Here are my top three prognostications for what the future of work holds.

    1. Move over, Millennials.

    In 2020 Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce and by 2025 that number will be 75%. Close on their heels are Gen Z, or those born in 1997 and later. These digital natives think differently about work than their predecessors. They were raised using technology to communicate. They were raised on an strange cocktail of autonomy and oversight (think: plans a $3000 family vacation at age 12; parent drops off forgotten items at school at age 16). They demand a larger purpose in their work, like the Millennials.  And they will demand even more flexibility in how work is structured.

    • Where they work (office, home, coffee shop, mountain top).
    • When they work (Nine to five? Nah. Work and non-work activities will be far more blended.)
    • How they work.

     

    2. Hollywood, here we come.

    Often dubbed “The Hollywood Model” where experts come together for duration of the project and then go their separate ways, project-based work will thrive as a business structure. The entrepreneurial trend that lends Uber and Fivrr success today, creates an autonomous work environment where people come together to share what they do best for the people and places who need it and will pay for it.  Project-based work already exists to a large extent within organizational walls, with people coming together for the weeks, months or years it takes to complete the project.  By 2025, however, this trend will reach far beyond corporate walls with experts for hire coming together to do the strategic work of organizations, not just give rides to the airport.

     

    3. Work environments get wilder still, then stabilize.

    Today we see organizations quick to implement the “open-office” concept, only to reverse it several years later, putting the cubicle walls back up.  The next several years will continue to see wild fluctuations in how organizations build out their space: hoteling, pods and bullpens, off-site co-working, work from home and more.  By 2025, leadership will have developed the confidence to see that their organization and their people (and by extension, their culture) have their own distinct needs. They will collaborate with their people to intentionally design spaces and places that best support their functional work, with an eye toward when to collaborate and when to have quiet time for deep, thoughtful work.

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    man_woman_discussing

    Jon just received an offer for his dream job: a more challenging job (in a good way), a bump in salary and a plum location.

    The only trouble is, he enjoys working for his current boss Sarah, and he’s unsure how to explain that he’s leaving.  Hired directly out of college by Sarah, Jon hasn’t had to navigate a resignation conversation before.

    As Jon speaks with Sarah, there are two types of rules that will govern how their conversation unfolds. Constitutive rules help us understand how to create meaning. Regulative rules guide the behavior of the conversation and communicate what happens next in a conversation.

    Jon begins his conversation with Sarah by sharing how much he has learned from her in the five years he’s worked for her.  He mentions that she has been a role model in navigating office politics and securing resources.  Sarah must determine how to interpret Jon’s praise of her leadership (constitutive rule). She will draw on past experiences of being complimented on her leadership style and what those remarks meant (as well as her relationship with Jon) as she applies constitutive rules to make sense of what he means.

    “However,” Jon continues, invoking a constitutive rule that suggests Sarah will need to make additional meaning out of what comes next. “I’ve made the difficult decision to take a role with a new firm.”

    Sarah must compose some sort of response, governed by a regulative rule.  She may ask for more information about the new opportunity Jon is pursuing or if there’s anything she could do to persuade him to stay.

    As the two engage in the conversation and co-create their social reality, they will discover each other’s rule systems. Some rules they have known from working together and some will be discovered in this novel situation.

    While these rules are not spoken of aloud, they are constantly being negotiated in the moment, drawing on the life experiences and world views of the conversational partners, which may vary markedly. They may not agree entirely on the rules they are choosing to enact, but at least they can make sense of their conversation and what will happen next.

    What conversational rules can you identify – either constitutive or regulative – and how do they shape meaning making or turn taking in the conversation?

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    argument

    Doug and Jenny were at it again.

    Another staff meeting where Jenny and Doug were on the opposite sides of the same coin: Jenny, advocating for an engineering schedule that was realistic and didn’t compromise the health or safety of her crew and Doug, fiercely arguing for a faster delivery to their clients.

    It went like this every week in the project management meeting.

    Morgan, the project manager, had spoken to each of them privately just before the meeting.  They each shared a genuine desire to be more amicable and see the situation from the other person’s point of view before reacting.

    Publicly in the meeting, their behavior was nowhere near amicable. It was the same pattern repeating itself. Again. Their pattern was not one of sharing respectful differences.  Rather, their behavior was unprofessional and ego bruising, their words like daggers.

    Frustrated, Morgan spoke to each of them privately after the meeting. She had to get to the bottom of this disagreement before it put the project in jeopardy.  How could they have earnestly promised to comport themselves more professionally and then act like small children throwing sand in the sandbox?

    Doug and Jenny were caught in an unwanted repetitive pattern or (URP), a sequential and recurring episode of conflict that is considered unwanted by those in the conflict (not to mention those around them!).

    URPs develop because two people have fallen into a pattern or script that demands each of them to behave in a conflicting manner. Often, the pattern one person is following serves to fuel the negativity of the other and the other person follows a pattern of responding in a negative manner.

    Doug and Jenny, separately, both told Morgan “I couldn’t help it, I had no choice but to stick up for [the customer/the engineering team].”

    Doug and Jenny will continue to enact their URP until the script gets interrupted. Either one of them could deliberately choose to behave differently or Morgan could choose to structure the meeting and the conversation such that the URP doesn’t get a chance to take hold.

    URPs are difficult to stop and change. The first step is to identify that they are occurring in the first place. Where do you experience an unwanted repetitive pattern and how might you interrupt the script?

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    communication-problem

    When people talk to one another, three outcomes are possible:

    • they completely miss each other’s point (zero shared meaning),
    • they understand a portion of each other’s intended meaning (partial shared meaning) or
    • they completely understand each other (complete shared meaning).

    When you miss the other person entirely, you feel like a zero.

    When you completely understand the other person, you look like a hero.

    Let’s look at each of them and turn you into a hero more often.

    1. Zero shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda.  The next day, Shelly comes to work to find that Amanda has shared an internal scheduling document that lists the roll-out dates for all new features with all the company’s clients.

    Shelly’s intention was to start the discussion or about being more transparent. Amanda understood this as an idea to act upon immediately.  As you might suppose, Shelly was upset that Amanda had shared an internal document with clients.

    2. Partial shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda. “It’s not going to be a simple process and I’m not sure how much we can share,” Amanda replies. “Some of our customers will be upset to see how low on the priority list the features they are waiting for are.”

    Amanda and Shelly agree in general on the premise, although there is some negotiation and compromise on how much detail to share.

    3. Complete shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda. “I couldn’t agree more,” Amanda replies. “I will set up a time on the calendar for us to draft a message to our clients and we can decide how much information to share and when.”  Shelly nods in agreement, “Perfect.”

    Amanda and Shelly are in lock step on both the need to share more information and on the route they will take to begin the new process.  Although they are entering the conversation with their own experiences, they agree on the premise and the next steps.

    This happens at work in conversation: we nail shared meaning, miss each other completely, or find some middle ground.

    When you get partial or no shared meaning, ask yourself “Why?”  What makes the difference for you in creating more shared meaning? A history of working well together? Similar demographics?  Length of time in the organization?

    Once you understand the “Why,” the “How” (as in, how you communicate with the person) will get easier to figure out. Next time you have a miscommunication (full or partial) ask yourself “Why?” and adjust how you communicate with them accordingly.

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    information-hoarding

    information-hoardingJeannie worked at ACME Corp in a field with government regulation, and although the regulations were slow to change, she and her department were expected to keep on top of them.

    Jeannie was pleasant and fun to work for. She always had a kind word and a question or three about the family and other topics of importance to her colleagues and direct reports.

    After several decades with little change, a variety of factors both political and economic, prompted rapid and swift change in her industry.  Regulations changed. ACME Corp needed to change too.

    A team of six people reported to Jeannie during this somewhat turbulent time of changing regulations. Over the years, Jeannie had divided up tasks and responsibilities among her team members in such a way that none of them could clearly understand the “big picture.”

    Her employees were keeping abreast of the changes in the industry and regulations and that, in turn, prompted questions from them. They needed to see, more and more, how their work was interrelated and how the changing regulations impacted the processes they followed.

    “No problem, don’t worry yourself about it,” was always Jeannie’s reply when her team members asked even routine and basic questions about the bigger picture. “It’s my job to worry about those things.”

    But it became more and more clear that if Jeannie was worrying about those things, she wasn’t letting on.

    She held the purse-strings on organizational knowledge tight and her emotions even tighter.

    The more the industry and the organization changed, the more tightly wound Jeannie became.

    Senior leaders at ACME became aware of the situation. It was the perfect storm that they hadn’t seen coming: Jeannie was heavily invested in the organization (her professional identity hinged entirely on her current role and ACME) and she was faced with significant changes in her field and she hadn’t kept up.  Her tenure with the organization and her information hoarding yielded power disproportionate to her position.

    Senior management feared firing her because of all the organizational knowledge she held.  They feared the status quo even more: a breach in compliance could cost them their license to be in business.

    So they coached and prodded and pried. But they could not crack Jeannie. She was a tough nut.

    And she was a liability. So they “re-organized” her right out of the organization.

    Withholding information, the tactic Jeannie clung to in hopes of job security, was eventually what “done her in.”

    Where do you see information hoarding? How is it compromising your team or organization’s success?

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    obstacles

    obstaclesRandall was ten years into a job that he thought he’d retire from. Everything was perfect . . . except for the past six years, when he’d been miserable.  He’d finally come to grips with his dissatisfaction on his most recent birthday, one with a zero on the end.  He’d realized it was easy to stay put in a job he didn’t like anymore.

    Easy, except for all the complaining to his wife and friends.

    Easy, except for his irritability that showed up in how he treated his kids.

    Easy, except for the impact on his health: high blood pressure, weight gain and disturbed sleep.

    Not so easy to stay put after all.

    So, Randall started applying for jobs, a daunting task, given he’d not updated his resume in a decade. After numerous false starts in his job search, he found his groove. He was networking, interviewing and growing hopeful.

    The perfect opportunity emerged.  It felt like the job description had been crafted expressly for him. Randall applied, was invited to interview, and knocked it out of the park. After three rounds of interviews, where he shined, he was convinced the job was his.

    Until he found out that it wasn’t.

    He rationalized that he didn’t want it anyway, the commute was too long, the industry wasn’t a perfect fit, and that he’d be better off without that job.

    In fact, he thought, his current job wasn’t so bad after all.

    Randall was full out compensating for the cognitive dissonance he felt. His desired state (new job) didn’t match his current reality (no job offer).  And his brain did what our brains are programmed to do: protect us. Except denying Randall a career where he can feel fulfilled and one that doesn’t compromise his health isn’t really what is the best for him.

    Many of us, like Randall, follow our instincts to avoid similar situations.

    The result?

    We deny ourselves the opportunity to want what we want, to go after our dreams, and stay where it is safe.

    Big dreams don’t always come to fruition the first time at bat. Or the second or the tenth.

    Connect with your dreams and don’t let the inevitable setbacks hold you back.

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    How do you explain someone’s irrational behavior or failure to deal with reality? Watch this week’s (video) blog to find out.

    Your choice: Watch the video or read the transcript below.

    VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

    Have you ever been in a situation where you’re attempting to make a decision with someone else – maybe in a group or just between the two of you – and the other person is clinging to outdated information, or worse yet, refusing to acknowledge the veracity or relevance of new information – information that would make a significant difference in the decision you are working toward?
    Maybe it is a new sales lead management system that’s going to replace a series of spreadsheets. And a colleague is adamant that the current system works just fine, the new system is an unnecessary expense and so forth.
    When people ignore or deny information that conflicts with their existing beliefs, they are experiencing cognitive dissonance.

    Their brain is grappling with the difference between the new information and what they believe to be true. When there is a gap, especially a sizable gap, between new evidence and what someone deeply believes, it is uncomfortable . . . and the brain seeks to make that difference go away. This can produce counter-productive behavior, and sometimes even irrational and bizarre behavior. Denial, excuse making, failure to see the obvious.

    So what do you do when someone is exhibiting these behaviors? How do you get them to see the new information as valid, and integrate it with their existing knowledge base?

    Start by stating what they do believe – at least to the best of your ability. Something like this: “If I understand you correctly, the sales process we’re using now works just fine.” Starting from their baseline makes them feel understood, it validates their position.

    Next, point out a problem with the current state, one that directly impacts them. “With our current system, senior leaders have to rely on self-reported data when determining who has exceeded their sales quotas.”

    Get agreement to the problem and then point out how that specifically impacts them. “You and I both know that others have received bonuses when they shouldn’t have.”

    And then, make a clear link to how the new information, or system in this case, can solve the problem. Finally, if at all possible, give them some time to think about it. Suggest you meet again in a few days and regroup.

    When cognitive dissonance runs deep, it will take a bit of time and patience to integrate the new information into their reality.

    So the next time you run into erratic, unreasonable or bizarre behavior from someone, take a moment to consider whether there is a significant difference between new information and their existing belief structure. If so, you’re dealing with cognitive dissonance. Use the tips presented in this video, and a dose of patience, to reduce the gap between their beliefs and the new information, so you can make a decision that’s in the best interests of all, and that everyone can buy into.

    That’s today’s video blog.  I’m Janel Anderson with Working Conversations.

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    You will never amount to anything.

    Self-talk, or the thoughts you think to yourself all day long, can do more damage than good. In fact, that self-talk can outright crush your dreams, especially if you are not listening closely to it and identifying whether it is fact or fiction.

    Here are six ways that self-talk, or how you communicate with yourself, can crush your dreams.

    1.  You deny what you want. You got close to that ideal relationship/career move/new car/dream home once.  And it fell through. So you convinced yourself you really didn’t want it anyway.

    2.  You compare yourself to others. Don’t try to fulfill on someone else’s dream. It won’t make you happy. Wanting the car your neighbor has, or the new job your former coworker just landed, isn’t going to make your dreams come true.

    3.  You listen to the (2%) negative feedback. If you weight the one or two pieces of constructive – or even outright negative – feedback more heavily than 98% of the feedback that said you did a great job,

    4.  You put other people’s need in front of your own. You had an intense day at the office and you are looking forward to relaxing in the evening. Except your spouse needs you to proof-read a work report that is due the next morning. Do you honor your need to relax (and your boundaries), or do you compromise your self-care and help?

    5.  You listen to voices from the past. What your parents thought you should be, where your brother thinks you should live or when your college professor said, “You’ll never be a writer.” Those are other people’s voices that need not have any bearing on who you are or what you want to be or do or have. Leave them in the past where they belong.

    6.  You sell yourself short. Excessive humility, when it comes to your skills and talents, is a major impediment to your success. If you are the smartest person in the room on the subject, let people know. If you read six books on the subject last month or follow all the top industry experts, don’t be shy. Confidently state your expertise and show your stuff.

    What will you do to get out of your own way and stop crushing your own dreams?

    Use the Comments below to proudly declare how you will get out of your own way and let your dreams come true.

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    LeadershipLesson10

    Author’s note: This is the eleventh in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.

    The desert ground crumbled beneath my feet with each step along this stretch of the rocky trail. Despite my sturdy hiking shoes, I still slipped and tripped with unexpected frequency as the pebbles and rocks skittered under my feet. I outright stumbled when larger rocks protruded from the trail.
    I looked down along this stretch of the trail.
    A lot.
    But looking down came at a cost.
    The view of the next mountain range was spectacular and every moment my eyes were not on it seemed wasted. The artistically drawn reds, browns and oranges layered upon the mountain range was breathtaking. It’s majestic beauty beaconed. It was hard to take my eyes off of her.
    Except for when I slipped.
    Or tripped.
    With each mini-landslide that crumbled beneath me or rock that unexpectedly jutted up from the trail, my attention was immediately diverted back to my feet.
    And then I would miss the view, which seemed to change second by second as the late morning sun danced across the neighboring mountains.
    The juxtaposition between needing to look down and the need (and desire) to look up is not different from that of leadership. Great leaders need to look down and look up.
    First, leaders need to look up and out at the landscape, which includes paying attention to the industry, the marketplace, the competition and any other environmental factors that might make a difference. It also includes opening themselves to a diverse set of ideas and experiences that might prompt creative and innovative ideas. Not unlike actually hiking a mountain.
    A critical part of the leader’s role is to keep a solid eye on the road ahead, including being open to new ideas and thoughts that will help keep a competitive edge, whether that be company-wide or in the leader-from-the-side’s specific domain.
    Second, leaders need to look down. Leaders need to look down (and not in the pejorative sense) so they know what’s going on under their feet (in the metaphorical sense).
    Leaders need to know the current challenges of the people in their organizations. They need to keep a look out for what is working well and what needs improvement. Where people and process are concerned, leaders need to be in the know.
    People are counting on them to know what’s going on, at least provisionally, and when they aren’t in the know, their reputation and leadership capital are at risk.
    The recipe: .
    : One part looking up to see the road ahead.
    : One part looking down to see the impact of your decisions.
    : Blend together and serve.

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