What’s A Work-like Environment Like?
I was pondering analogies to help me start writing this article. (If you don’t know what an analogy is, it’s like a simile or a metaphor. An analogy is comparable to metaphor and simile in that it shows how two different things are similar, but it’s a bit more complex. Rather than a figure of speech, an analogy is more of a logical argument).
Analogy is a great joke-writing mechanism. If comedy pixies sprinkle their inspiration dust on comedy writers and jokes just occur to them, then that’s great but inspiration is fickle. If you’re hosting the concrete awards then you need twenty original concrete jokes in a hurry and that can be hard, um ,challenging. So, writers develop systems to prompt the elusive creative juices. Edward DeBono, in his book ‘Serious Creativity’ wrote about how many of these same creative processes can also be applied to innovation and problem solving in a workplace context.
One common comedy creation approach is to brainstorm around a topic and list those things which are both similar to, or different from, that topic. Recently, when the news was all about a property developer’s proposed plan for a flash new waterfront stadium for Auckland, I applied that technique to create a joke. Jokes can be simply entertaining, or at least attempts to be entertaining, or they can also make a point. The point I wanted to make was that ambitious plans by private folk for public projects are notorious for big promises up front followed by cost escalations. You could write a thousand-word editorial about it or you can make the same point impactfully in an accessible joke, such as “The proposed Auckland waterfront stadium is estimated to cost 1.8 billion dollars. Although, that is just a ballpark figure”.
My theme for this article is the workplace environment, so let’s analogise the workplace environment with the environment per se. If life is like a race and finding the best employees is like looking for a needle in a haystack, then maybe the workplace environment is like the actual environment?
The environment is everything that is around us. It can be living or non-living things. It includes physical, chemical and other natural forces. Living things live in their environment. They constantly interact with it and adapt themselves to conditions in their environment. Sounds like work to me.
Fun fact: In 2011, Matthew Davis, a psychologist and business professor at the University of Leeds, reviewed more than a hundred studies on workplace environments. His findings conclude that the noise and interruptions by colleagues in open offices had a negative effect on employees’ productivity, creativity and satisfaction. I work with a couple of big firms that have taken up brand new premises recently. They had every opportunity and the budget to pour over all the research on how workplace environment affects productivity and retention. They chose modern technology and it’s all very shiny. One choice interests me. They did their maths and found that on average only eighty percent of their people were in the building at any one point in time. Why, therefore, should they provide enough workspace for all one hundred percent? They provided space for just over eighty percent. Oh, and it’s all open plan. This goes beyond hotdesking and into ‘Lord Of The Flies’ territory as people battle for primo real estate as they arrive. Not to be confused with ‘Lord Of The Fries’ which would be a welcome addition to any workplace environment.
‘Lord Of The Fries’ claim to aim for ethical fast food, including sustainability. Noble intent. Some workplaces are going for that too. Recycling grey water, solar panels and providing homes for bees on their roofs, these firms not only want to have noble intent, it is very important that everyone knows they have noble intent. I think this is wise. Sure, talented potential employees comparing firms competing for their talent will think prospects, remuneration and skill development but, all those things being equal, this aspect of workplace environment could be a difference maker. Carbon neutral could be employee positive.
Earlier I wrote that creativity can be stimulated. The environment can do this, or it can suppress it. In researching a presentation on creativity, I found a survey of executives ranking the locations where ideas were first come up with. In last place was ‘the office’. In first place was ‘travelling’. In second place was ‘the bath’. I found a chap who was a former bigwig in an international advertising agency based in London. They had a big map into which they would push pins to mark the geographical location where every account-winning idea was first concocted. Again, in last place was ‘the office’. In first place was ‘the pub across the street’. All of this certainly has implications for workplace environment. If nothing else, it’ll give the twenty percent who couldn’t find a desk somewhere to go with some justification.
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