Tag Archives: workplace

Is It Time To Get Rid Of The Open-Plan Office?

Well conducted research is beginning to appear and it does not look good for the open plan office…

By Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock

The open plan office is the badge of the thoroughly modern work space. It’s as much a part of the office of the future as unlimited free snacks and Fussball tables in the common room.  But research is starting to pile up that it is doing more harm than good.  A lot more harm than good.

By 2014, seven out of every ten offices were open plan according to reporting in the New Yorker.  Gone were the sea of cubicles that inspired Dilbert’s creator.  Instead the typical office looked more like an aircraft hangar full of desks.  The theory was the removing physical barriers removed barriers to collaboration and communication. 

Oh, and there was the no insignificant bonus that they cost a lot less to build and fit out and employees and their work were easier to monitor.  While that theory has logical appeal there was surprisingly little empirical evidence to back it up. The research that did exist was based largely on self-reported questionnaire responses and attempted to measure largely intangible outcomes like employee satisfaction.

Open Plan – does it actually work?

Now however, well conducted research is beginning to appear and it does not look good for the open plan office.  In July last year, the Harvard Business School conducted a large study with a first of its kind methodology.  The researchers decided to use wearable technology such as movement sensors, cameras and microphones embedded in badges to accurately measure whether open plan offices actually did increase collaboration and communication.  The devices were deployed in two different company headquarters before and after a shift to an open plan design.

To ensure robust data, the researchers ensured the devices were deployed over a long time frame and measurements were taken at the same points in the business cycle.  There was no point comparing an end of quarter rush to a start of quarter quiet period.

The results were extraordinary.  Rather than increase face to face collaboration and communication, the shift to open plan massively decreased it.  People talked face to face 70 per cent less in an open plan office than in the normal office space that had preceded it.  The researchers speculated that the open plan triggered a natural human withdrawal response to large groups.  People have a fundamental desire for privacy and the open plan violated that.  Workers stopped talking in person and IM and email traffic surged by 50 per cent.

Perhaps more importantly, from a bottom-line perspective, the change also decreased productivity and work quality in both of the studied companies.  Other studies have estimated the value of this impact to be in the region of a 20 per cent decrease in productivity.

This new research adds quantitative weight to something more traditional studies have been highlighting for the last couple of decades.  Such studies have found that open plan offices had a negative impact on job satisfaction, attention spans and creative thinking, have dramatically increased levels of stress, conflict and staff turnover and significantly increased sick leave.   

And all of that is before we consider the cost of distraction.

Lack of Privacy

A 2013 study of open plan offices revealed that nearly half of the surveyed workers said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 per cent said the same thing about visual privacy.  The same researchers in a previous study concluded that the loss of productivity “due to noise distraction” was doubled in open plan offices. 

It’s not surprising then that the Information Overload Research Group a non-profit consortium of business professionals, researchers, and consultants, estimates that distraction wastes 25 per cent of knowledge workers’ time and is costing the United States economy almost one trillion dollars a year.

Clearly the answer is to put the walls back in.  It might not create any net gains but at least it would reclaim the ground lost by the disastrous detour into communal office space. However,  if you really want to increase productivity, keep the talent happy and retain your best staff then the evidence is now suggesting that you should delete the office altogether and let employees work from home. 

The Worst of Ideas

A recent very large randomised controlled study on a Chinese call-centre operators, for example, found that working from home increased productivity by 13 per cent.  Nine of those percentage points were from working more minutes per shift and four per cent from more calls per minute.  

Home based workers also reported feeling more satisfied and the attrition rate halved. Working from home is not for every employee or every type of job but at least there are upsides and the good news for the CFO is that it saves even more on floorspace costs than the open plan office. 

The open plan office was a bad idea implemented for spurious reasons with an inadequate evidence base.  And it turns out to be a terrible idea.  All we need now is management teams brave enough to admit that and move towards work structures the evidence says significantly improve rather than degrade productivity.

10 Phrases You Should Never Say At Work

What are the phrases you should avoid in the workplace? We reveal the top ten most irritating and annoying phrases that are guaranteed to wind up your colleagues…

Some are just totally meaningless pieces of jargon – thrown into the conversation to disguise the fact that you have don’t know what you talking about. Others are downright rude or deliberately confusing. While some of the things we say at work just make us look stupid.

So, what are the phrases to avoid? Well the top 10 most irritating and annoying phrases to say at work (things that are guaranteed to wind up your colleagues) are:

1. With all due respect

When someone says this, what do they actually mean?

Often, it is the exact opposite… this is just a passive/aggressive way of saying, “I know better than you”.  Respect you? Well, they obviously don’t.

So, it is probably no surprise that these four words really wind us up and have been voted the most aggravating in the workplace by around half of those surveyed by CV-Library. If you are ever tempted to use this phrase (even ironically), don’t.

2. Reach out

The problem with this phrase, is that it can have so many meanings. When you thank someone for “reaching out” to you, are you implying they are offering to help you or that they are asking for help? Telling someone else to do this (as in ‘go and reach out to accounts’) is patronising particularly if what you really want them to do is make contact in a highly professional manner.

While “I’ll get my people to reach out to you” is incredibly confusing. What does mean? That they will be in touch next week? Or is this just a polite way of saying “don’t call us and we won’t call you”?

3. At the end of the day and 4. It is what it is

So, the boss is stumped…and cannot think of a solution. So, they say “it is what it is” as a way of saying let’s just accept a bad situation. Worse, “at the end of the day” implies that what will be, will be. Put the two phrases together – At the end of the day, it is what it is – and you might as well throw your hands in the air and give up. Please: just say it like it is.

5. Think outside the box

What is wrong with telling someone to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions? Context. Generally, you are told to “think outside the box” when everyone else is stumped for ideas. So, you are being asked to do the impossible. Also, most organisations don’t actually welcome unconventional and original thinking.

6. Let’s regroup

This is another phrase that has too many meanings. Is this a polite way of telling a group that they are all useless and new people need to be brought into the meeting? Or that you need fresh ideas? Or just more time to think of new ideas? Confused? You will be.

7. Can I borrow you for a second? and 8. Have you got two minutes?

Another irritating habit is using a euphemism to impose on your time when you are already extremely busy. Let’s face facts: the interruption is never for two minutes let alone a second. The person who uses this phrase, knows you would refuse to give up your afternoon to help them. But when they pretend that all they need is just a small amount of your time, it is really hard to say “’no” without appearing difficult. Irritating, isn’t it? When you are tempted to use either of these phrases, think about that.

9. At this moment in time

This is a great way to obfuscate when you do not have a clue/haven’t completed the project/forgot to follow a lead/don’t want to commit to a yes or no.  etc. So, “Is the client going to make that purchase?”. Answer: “At this moment in time, they are considering it”. The truth? Anyone’s guess.

10. Get the ball rolling

This is a bit last century when sporting metaphors dominated the world of business gobbledegook. Remember: “pass the ball”, “left field”, and “knocking it out of the park”?  Not only is this dated, once again it is not good communication… tell it like it is.

Surprisingly, motoring metaphors such as “in the fast lane”, “shift up a gear”, “put the brakes on”…or that highly annoying “let’s park this to one side”, don’t feature in the top ten.

So next time you are tempted to slip into jargon remember it is highly irritating. Also, being direct gets better results. “People may take what you are saying the wrong way,” says Lee Biggins, founder and CEO of CV-Library. “If you’re hinting a circling back to the task later or asking for more hands on deck, this can come across as rude. Are they not good enough for this task?”

….AND THE 10 THINGS THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY IF YOU WANT A PROMOTION

While jargon is annoying, in an interview for a step-up the career ladder, it is being too informal that is the problem.

What are you trying to convey? If you are a more mature candidate, perhaps you believe (wrongly) that saying words like “epic fail” makes you down with the kids. It doesn’t.

Or if you genuinely litter your conversations with “totes” perhaps you don’t realise that this is NOT the way to get a better job (even if it is a very informal setting). It is just not professional.

So don’t be tempted. These are the buzzwords employers are fed up with hearing:

  1. Literally 
  2. Like
  3. Just sayin’ 
  4. Banter
  5. Totes
  6. Amazeballs
  7. My bad
  8. Yolo 
  9. Me thinks
  10. Sorry not sorry

“Be mindful that if you’re after a promotion, your employer won’t appreciate you saying a buzzword like ‘my bad’ to excuse yourself for making a mistake,” advises Lee Biggins who warns that using colloquialisms makes you appear less intelligent, can confuse colleagues if they don’t know exactly what you mean and frustrates those you work with because there is a “lack of substance” behind what you’re saying.

Five Rules For Dealing With A Toxic Workmate

There are five key things you should do that will make life a lot easier when you work for, or with, a toxic person…

Toxic People exist in almost every workplace.  You are much more likely to encounter one than not and the further you progress towards the top of your organisation, the more likely it is that you will be working alongside, or for, one.

They aren’t toxic in the radioactive, life endangering sense, rather they are toxic in the career limiting sense – specifically your career. They delight in finding minor fractures in the social structure of your workplace, driving enormous wedges into them and sitting back to watch the fireworks.  They enjoy bullying those they manage and emotionally tormenting those they work with. They will lie constantly but somehow no mud ever sticks to them while those all around them fall on their swords.

A workplace containing a toxic person will be riddled with distrust and fear.  Productivity will be at rock bottom and staff turnover will be through the roof.  They care nothing for the good of the organisation or anybody in it.  Their only motivation is cheap thrills and personal gain at all costs.

When you find yourself in such a workplace, there are things you should do and there are things you should definitely not do. A 2016 study of Australian workplaces plagued by what the researchers called ‘toxic leaders’ found that the following strategies were not a good idea. This was because they resulted in prolonging stress and fear of the leader:

  • Confronting them
  • Avoiding, ignoring or bypassing them
  • Whistleblowing
  • Ruminating on the wrongs done and reliving the feelings of anger and frustration
  • Focusing on work
  • Taking sick leave (as it provided short-term relief only).

Instead, you must leave your passion for your job at home. You must become a well-mannered, honest, polite, compliant, precise employee who does whatever they are told no matter how pointless. Here are five things you should do that will make life a lot easier when you work for, or with, a toxic person.

Rule 1 – Accept reality

The most important rule is acceptance.  You must accept that you are working with a toxic person with psychopathic tendencies. They are not wired the same as you and regard you as a tool for achieving their aims in much the same way that you might regard a photocopier.  They don’t care about you at all and nothing you do or say will change that.  Every time you try to interpret their behaviour using rules which would apply to you or any other normal person, you will be confused, dismayed and potentially targeted. Do not under any circumstances suffer under the misapprehension that you have changed, or can change, anything about the way they behave.  Your options are survival and find somewhere else to work (or hope they do).

Rule 2 – Be businesslike and polite

Before you open your mouth in the presence of the toxic workmate, always ask yourself ‘Am I being polite and professional?’. Do your best to avoid unnecessary contact. This does not mean give them the cold shoulder. It just means you don’t drop by their office for a chat. Whenever you speak to them, do it within the confines of your role and for an explicit purpose.

Rule 3 – Maintain privacy

A toxic workmate will pump you for information they can use against you and others. You can defend against this by not disclosing anything to them and making sure you understand the privacy settings on your social media. Do not discuss anything that is not entirely business related.

Rule 4 – Be honest

Always be honest even when it is against your interests. They will offer you an opportunity to fudge a bit. They might allow you to claim more expenses than you are otherwise entitled to. They may ignore you pilfering from the firm. They may allow you to take credit for something you did not do. No matter how much they make it seem like you’re all in this together, make no mistake, they are gathering dirt on you and they will use both that dirt and the weakness you displayed to manipulate you in the future. Learn to say no – and mean it – when anything slightly dodgy is being proposed. Otherwise they will use your weaknesses of character against you.

Rule 5 – Be prepared

Document every verbal request they make and seek clarity on every instruction. If you are asked verbally to do something immediately follow up the request with a confirmation by email. Retain a copy of the email in printed form. If you are not sure exactly what you are required to do, seek written clarification. If you don’t get it, send a follow-up email saying you didn’t get it, and how you interpret the task. Voluntarily provide regular written updates on your progress. In other words, behave as a competent but compliant slave that documents everything publicly.

In short, you must become an emotionless machine (while at work) if you plan to stay in that workplace. Accept reality and remove all emotional responses from the way you interact with that person. Do everything they ask of you and ensure you document everything. Don’t take anything personally and make sure you have a good support network outside the workplace. Work will become a place you go to perform mindlessly (while you look for another job), but as long as you don’t become vested in that complete waste of your time and talents, it won’t kill you.

David Gillespie is a guest speaker at the Big Ideas Summit in Sydney on Tuesday 30th October 2018, where he’ll help delegates understand how to deal with toxic people in the workplace. Interested in attending? Register here: http://www.bigideassummit.com/big-ideas-sydney

How To Deal With The Office Timewaster In 4 Videos

There are few thing more frustrating in life than a workplace timewaster. And the worst thing? They come in all different shapes and sizes, which makes them harder to spot!

ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

Colleague: “Hey there buddy, did you have a good weekend?”

Me: “Sure did! But I’ll have to tell you about it later because I’ve got such a busy …”

Colleague: [Sits on the desk] “Great, great… let me tell you about my weekend. Let’s see, now. It all started to kick off on Friday, just after our last conversation…”

Sound familiar? We’ve all encountered chronic timewasters at work, which is why I’ve created this quick and easy video guide on how to shut them down so you can Get Sh#t Done.

Let’s start by working out what type of timewaster you’re dealing with.

1. The Chatter

Some of us like to keep our work life and social life separate. For others, their work life is their social life. Of course there should be a fun, chatty environment at work, but again, there’s always one person who doesn’t understand the limits. So, next time you find yourself making sympathetic noises while your colleague is telling you about their various cats’ medical histories, consider the fact that it will be your neck on the line when a deadline is missed.

How to shut down a chatter: Put a cap on their time – tell them before they begin that you’ve literally only got two minutes to spare. If you really want to drive home the point, get your phone out and set a countdown timer and place it on the table between you.

2.The Delegator

I’ve worked in the past for line managers who are guilty of this, although you’ll often come across colleagues working at the same level who think it’s okay to handball mundane tasks your way.  Specifically, my beef is with people who basically treat you like a search engine. For example:

“Mate, would you mind telling me the time difference between here and Beijing?”

“How much is that converted into Euros?”

“How long will it take me to drive to head office?”

Here’s why it’s frustrating – firstly, they’re really undervaluing your skill set. You were hired for your education, your experience and your intelligence, not your ability to type words into a box. Secondly, they’re just being lazy! I’ve rolled my eyes in the past when I’ve received an emailed question (like the above) which would have been answered straight away if my boss had simply typed it into Google instead of sending it to me.

But luckily, there’s a handy tool for just this situation.

How to shut down a Delegator: Six words: Let Me Google That For You. This tool is a brilliant way to answer a question that should have been googled. It generates a short, tongue-in-cheek tutorial about how to use a search engine (starting with “This is the internet”) and finishes with the answer to the original question. Check it out.

3. The sounding-boarder

Extrovert: “Man, I LOVE open-plan offices! They’re so great for bouncing ideas off people!”

Me: “Yes. Every single idea you’ve ever had.”

Okay, it’s true. Open plan offices, and even collaborative online workspaces like Slack, are ideal for airing and sharing ideas. But some people take the concept of the “sounding board” too far. This might involve a colleague regularly reading aloud emails that they’ve crafted before hitting send, or running stuff past you that really doesn’t require your input or opinion.

How to shut down a Sounding-Boarder:

  • Invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and pretend you’re on an important call whenever your colleague gets that “sounding-board” look in their eye.
  • Give them a very short list of high-level areas where you feel you can add value.
  • Give them a taste of their own medicine by sitting them down and reading aloud the longest, dullest report you can find.

4. The Meeter

Me: “Oh, hey, just a reminder that we’ve got that client meeting tomorrow. Everything is under control, and I’ve sent you all the information you’ll need.”

Colleague: “Let’s have a meeting about that.”

Me: “Why? WHY?”

How much time and resources will corporates keep pouring into unnecessary meetings before they see the light?  Unnecessary meetings are so despised that they’ve become a meme. They’re a regular feature in Dilbert, and you can even buy a coffee mug that says “I survived another meeting that should have been an email”.

How to shut Meeters down: Insist that the person gives you some good reasons for the meeting. This includes a stated purpose, a start and end time, and a valid reason for each person to be there.

Do you know any other types of timewasters in the office? Leave a comment below!