The impact of the ecology of the workplace on innovation and business success is still often overlooked.
As many business owners and employees end 2011 wondering what the upcoming year holds, the reality is that many staff work in an organization that is obsolete. While many companies are espousing innovation and new ways of working, most organizations have failed to bring together the people and issues with the physical environment in a way that will allow them to remain relevant.
For frighteningly too many people in these organizations, work and life are ordinary. And at some stage in life one can’t help but ask “is this all there is?”
Work isn’t working. For many of us, life is not a pleasurable rhythm flowing from one interesting experience to the next, but a series of suffocating regimes that leave us gasping for a sit down, lie down, or on the verge of a breakdown.
Two businesses on Australia’s Gold Coast are showing how many of the problems of modern corporate life can be overcome by changing how we both design and operate our organizations.
Tucked away in a re-fitted factory space on Queensland’s Gold Coast, Quadrant Creative CEO and Founder Tony Scott and his team have created a stunning workplace that is an inspiration to everyone.
A mezzanine meeting room space with glass balustrading and wide, unpolished reclaimed timber floorboards overlook a space that is dramatically different from the everyday office.Ãƒâ€š By blending materials and spaces from the coolest warehouse apartment, Scott’s entire team became involved in creating the workspace they enjoy today.
Beyond the beauty and function of the space itself is the building, which epitomizes the work undertaken by the group. Said Scott:
“This building represents the creativity of everyone here. We started with the spark of an idea and everyone added his or her piece. We layered the skills and talent of each person in an organic way. We had no preconceived idea of what this would be when we started.”
Scott says the benefits have been overwhelming including productivity increases of between 10-20 percent. It’s demonstrative of his taking bold steps to embrace a new concept of working.
“In recent years, there has been a blurring of work and leisure. There are few boundaries between the two now, and things are out of whack.Ãƒâ€š People are stressed, and the concept of lifestyle is a challenge for many people. The crash has changed thinking; we reinvented the way we did everything.”
To CEOs and business owners nervous about such radical change, Scott recommends being brave.
“Our people have freedom to take ownership for the business outcomes and design their work around that.Ãƒâ€š We’ve taken away all the policing – policies, hours of work, what you should wear – everything is transparent and we have an implicit trust in our people.”
He said that the workplace design itself was inexpensive because it was a traditional fit out, but the gains in productivity and innovative thinking were even sweeter.
“Our people are healthier and happier; they care because I care.Ãƒâ€š When the pressure is on, they do whatever needs to be done to get a result; they really rise to the occasion.”
Scott said that it’s inspiring to see the ownership his staff now takes in the business, adding that everyone now works to live — rather than the other way around. And he thinks that commitment makes a big difference in balance and sustainability of success in a rapidly changing industry.
“With the advent of digital TV and the demise of a lot of print media, we can’t be doing the same things and thinking we will operate in the same way in five years time. Instead of managing unnecessary things, we are now freed to devote more time and mental space to ideas and innovation about our business.”
For NetEffects CEO Warren Chapman, the realization was more gradual in coming but equally transformative.
NetEffects manages more than 100 customer networks, and in doing so, he gets to see the vast differences across many different companies’ cultures.
Chapman said that a few companies consistently exude a positive glow — the staff members are busy, excited, and very happy. And when everyone is active, NetEffects actually has a greater challenge of finding downtime to make necessary updates.
“Finding a maintenance window at this type of company is difficult. But at the other end of the spectrum, there are companies that we can shut down the entire server room at 5:10 PM and no one would know.”
Which kind of company would you rather be running?
This was the question Chapman answered when, while doing an office refit, he decided to make some dramatic changes.
“I never realized what an antiquated company I was running. We called things processes but in reality we had rules for everything. When you start work, when you finish, what you wear, where you sit, who you report to, what computer you could use, when lunch was – the list went on. It was a management-knows-best scenario.”
Chapman and his team had three basic functions and dozens of processes for those functions.
“If you look at each rule in your employee handbook and ask yourself, what if it wasn’t there? What would happen? You will surprise yourself. We did this when we decided to throw the whole rule book in the bin and start again.”
Their new handbook now has just three lines.
“I don’t care what hours the staff members work or where they work from. I pay for the ongoing education of my staff whether it is University Masters degrees or industry certifications.”
Two years on and turnover is negligible, sick leave a rarity. Interestingly, though staff can work anywhere, they all choose to come to the office each day.
Never one to get caught up in the latest trend or management hype, Chapman is pragmatic about the drivers for change.
“In the end it comes down to is it better for business? In our instance it has been. We have happier more productive staff. We have customers that are very happy with us and a far lower management overhead. The staff members have taken to their new freedom and responsibility well, and the additional responsibility they have taken on has made my life easier.”
Today, Chapman says that they have created an attractive work environment where teams can get to work on cutting-edge technology projects while having the freedom to carve out their own niche. And in one of the best places in the world to live.
With many businesses still nervous about what the future holds, Quadrant and NetEffects are a testament to the power of what rethinking assumptions about business can achieve.
Let’s hope more business is inspired to follow their lead in 2012.