News that Amazon is looking for a new London base has prompted speculation about where they could find offices big enough for their needs, which at 750,000 sq ft, is the largest the capital has seen for 2 years. It raises an interesting question about how much space per employee you need to make a successful work environment. In recent years, the average employee work area in London has fallen from 190 sq ft to 120 sq ft. But does anyone need that much space if increasingly, many of us work quite happily at home with a macbook, a mobile phone and a beanbag?
As prime London commercial rents push £40 a sq ft, most companies are having to take a serious look at how they use space. So many office environments are crammed full of depressingly drab furniture: cupboards and pedestals that store little more than an employee’s food stash and malodorous gym kit; wall cabinets chock full of out-of-date publications that no-one can be bothered to archive or shred. Even desks are becoming redundant as desktops give way to laptops and desk phones are replaced by smartphones; punching a telephone number into a keypad now seems like so much effort.
Interestingly, the UK legal minimum for office space is a mere 40 square foot per person, which, depending on ceiling height, seems barely enough room to swing a cat. But with more companies adopting enlightened attitudes towards flexible working and hot-desking, 60-80 sq ft per person will become increasingly achievable. Provided that companies think creatively about their environment, this does not need not be at the expense of employee engagement. Getting rid of all the hideous grey furniture is an opportunity to open up the environment to creative meeting areas and quiet zones with the kind of furniture that people would choose to have in their own homes.
In creating inspirational office spaces for tomorrow’s employees, facilities management and employee engagement professionals should be each other’s new best friends, for the benefit of both employees and shareholders.
Attending an event this evening hosted by Crelos, the organisational change consultancy, I was persuaded that social media has finally emerged as a major tool for employee engagement. Entitled ‘Into the Ether? Harnessing Social Media to Engage in Change’, the event launched a research report by Crelos consultant Alana Inness. I highly recommend having a read – it’s packed with useful insights about how enlightened companies are using social media tools right now.
Over the years, I’ve encountered several failed attempts to engage employees through social media. One that stays in the mind was an early attempt to introduce facebook like software to a bemused internal audience. Although the site was beautifully designed and attracted hundreds of sign-ups when launched, a year later it was as dead as the proverbial dodo. People could simply not see the point of it, in spite of the majority of people being enthusiastic facebook fans outside of work. Similarly, I recall a highly charismatic leader whose enthusiasm for yammer introduced a new era of direct communication with his team, while his somewhat obsolescent internal communication manager watched from the sidelines. But when the leader left, the company’s flirtation with yammer ended. In both examples, it was a case of the right idea at the wrong time.
Yet it is as a collaboration tool that social media is now truly coming into its own, enabling organisations to harness the collective power of their people to solve problems. And if one of the essential principles of innovation is learning how to fail fast, social media has an important role to play. A memorable quote from the event was that there is ‘something very powerful about having a rubbish idea rubbished’ by your peers.
A reassuring message is that there are no real social media experts yet, because the technology is still too young. Everyone is still learning. The best way to start is to begin. If you don’t yet know what social media can do for you, then sign up and give it a try. That advice applies to organisations as well as to individuals. If you are one of those leaders whose idea of being on LinkedIn is to hand your PA all the business cards you collect, then now is the time to have a go yourself and see what it can do for you.
Not often that I find myself tearing out a page from the Evening Standard freesheet but an article this week by Niki Chesworth on ‘brain fried’ bosses caught my attention. It quotes research findings from a survey by Orion management consultancy that only one in twenty bosses are good leaders and four in twenty do more harm than good because they are ‘brain fried’. Would you agree? Certainly the concept of brain fried bosses, stressed out with dealing with the now and unable to focus on the future has a ring of truth about it.
Orion’s website includes a fun little video about the importance of designing ‘brain friendly’ leadership development programmes, based on neuroscience – a scientific understanding of how the brain works. To summarise their five principles for ‘brain friendly’ learning:
– we are best able to digest information fed to us in small chunks when we’re mildly stressed (by which I think they mean being awake and alert)
– we only remember information when we have used it several times
– we will only change our behaviour when we understand why something is good for us personally
– for new behaviour to stick, we need to make it a habit
– the brain learns best after a good night’s sleep!
Although much of this may be familiar, I think this it’s a useful model to stress test any employee engagement programme you are planning. Although learning about new things may be in our best interests, we always have to remember that positive change can be just as threatening to people as negative change. So, it’s important that we invest time and effort in helping people to see the benefits for them personally of any new learning. It’s also essential to follow up on the learning experience to reinforce the new behaviours, rather than simply assume that everyone will becomes an instant convert to the new way of thinking.
The final point about getting a good night sleep is a theme that I will return to constantly in this blog, as I genuinely believe that our 24/7, always on, digitally overloaded lifestyles is the hidden asbestos of our modern day corporate lifestyles.