It was coincidence that my blog last week was about office space and that in the same week, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ended telecommuting at her company. Also last week, the buzz around Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book about re-inventing the role of women in the workplace generated healthy dialogue about the working environment. And last night, I read an article of some offices that had built afternoon ‘nap’ office spaces where employees could take 20-minute naps and the very positive impact this practice has had on productivity as sleep deprivation amongst working professionals, some argue, is reaching epidemic proportions. I read a few weeks ago about how technology and mobile devices had added 2 hours on average to the work week, making the desktop almost obsolete.
Suffice it to say, the workplace is transforming itself. As a former business owner, I can appreciate the power of collaboration and innovation that can only come when professionals are sitting together face-to-face and wrestling with ideas and solutions to challenges. I can also understand the dilution of these two critical attributes, collaboration and innovation, if professionals show up to work tired from long commutes, fearful of retributions, or distracted about their sick child or family member. I also have argued in previous blogs about questioning the work “day” or “week.” Why does a work day have to be 8 hours long or a work week 40 hours long? There is no study I have found that shows that 8-hour days or 40-hour weeks are the optimal amount of time to spend to achieve high performance, collaboration and innovation. These blocks of hours are financial models (for pay) being used for performance models. This is the same flaw in academia. There is no study that shows 4 years is the right amount of time for college, or that a semester is the right amount of time to take a course. Again, academia is using financial models (paying for a semester) as opposed to learning models. Questioning existing models can be a very productive exercise in finding the right solutions.
So what’s the solution? In my opinion, Emotional Safety more than any other singular workplace attribute should be the center piece of the workplace and working environment. This is above all other important attributes like telecommuting, gender and other equality, mental and physical health, compensation, benefits, etc. If the workplace is emotionally safe, whatever the right answer is for every business, and let’s be honest, the right solution will vary per business, will surface as a result of open dialogue between all constituents of the business. I was a consultant for almost 20 years and some of the best ideas I brought to my clients were ideas that employees of my client gave me, but did not have the courage or forum to tell management. I am not suggesting businesses become democracies and decisions be made by popular vote, but instead that collaboration for business purposes starts with collaboration with employees. The best ideas are almost always right under our noses, and fear alone keeps us from unwrapping them.