How to Collaborate and Engage in Today’s Mobile Landscape

More and more, we are becoming more networked by technologies. By 2020, the number of devices connected to the internet will far outnumber the amount of people in the world. However, the question is: Are we staying connected as a people?

The short answer: it sure seems like it.

As mobile workforces become increasingly popular, companies are finding ways to still promote collaboration and camaraderie. VP Curtis Patterson at Ring Central recommends digitized social activities where employers host book clubs, fitness groups, and social forums on the company intranet. For instance, a global energy company with hundreds of highly mobile workers promotes a Biggest Loser Weight Loss Challenge every year where colleagues interact via intranet forum regarding their statuses and the challenges they endure. The same company also encourages employees to participate in local community relations activities and share their stories with pictures on the intranet.

Patterson also recommends replicating the ‘water cooler’, the place known for rich corporate exchanges. Through specialized technologies today, like Sqwiggle, workers can strike up real-time impromptu conversations and video chat just as if they dropped by someone’s desk. As we all know, verbal communication is much more transparent than written communication and emails, so keeping this line open and robust is essential to staying connected.

But one of the most interesting practices of modern day collaboration is company hackathons that invite workers from different companies and different industries to hack away under one roof for the day. Hasbro recently hosted a hackathon where hackers created 45 products in less than 24 hours, a prospect that would have cost billions of dollars through traditional R&D. Product Marketers who don’t even know how to code are also able to participate in these hackathon events.  Angelhacker founder Sabeen Ali says,  “Prototypes were embedded with product marketing so all participants had a say in the hacks. And that was a big success because it was an inclusive event with a lot of collaboration and a really interesting turn on the traditional hackathons.” Though it is definitely a cultural change and shift in thought for companies to entrust their intellectual property to non-employees, this type of collaboration is seen as the game changer in today’s technological landscape.

Internet, computers, and cellphones are the signs of the times allowing more accessibility to one another than ever before. But the key is in promoting valuable human-to-human engagement using these new technologies to achieve the best results.


What’s the Big Idea? A Look at the Modern Day Creatives

When you hear the word creativity, what comes to mind? We definitely are prone to think of the arts when describing someone as creative. Most of us immediately envision an artist brushing away effortlessly on a canvas or a graphic designer putting together clever images for clients, or even a dancer choreographing her next masterpiece. However the most encompassing definition of creativity found on is: cre·a·tiv·i·ty [kree-ey-tiv-i-tee, kree-uh-]: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas forms, methods, interpretations, etc; originality; progressiveness.  Surely, that goes far beyond our traditional concept.

Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in 2014 reveals some atypical yet praiseworthy selections. For example, is a successful fight towards women’s rights to work in the Middle East a creative accomplishment? According to Fast Company and our broader definition of creativity, it is. (more…)

The Pros and Cons of Workplace Flexibility

Does the potential gain of knowledge transfer and collaboration from office attendance overshadow the potential gain of talent retention through flexible work arrangements?

Although the United States Department of Labor states that four out of every five workers across every demographic say they want more flexible work arrangements, a “flexibility gap” exists and many companies still debate over the pros and cons of telecommuting.

In Phasing Out Face Time, HR Magazine discusses Yahoo’s decision to nix its telecommuting program in hopes of increased speed and quality. Yahoo HR Director Jackie Reses explained that communication and collaboration starts with “being physically together.” Soon after, employees took to social media with claims that their CEO, Marissa Mayer, was stuck in the 80s and 90s. Yahoo spokeswoman, Lauren Armstrong reacted, “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home – this is about what is right for Yahoo, right now.” While the impact on Yahoo’s talent retention remains to be seen, other companies are not willing to take a chance.

In the meantime, other companies like Unilever were pushing in the opposite direction in hopes of addressing morale and satisfaction challenges. Deeming flexible work strategies as a competitive advantage, the company developed the Agile Working Program in which most if its employees are permitted to work anytime, anywhere, as long as they meet business needs. This Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) allows employees to remain completely autonomous but nevertheless accountable. Outcomes and performance matter more than being on time, looking your best, and being present. Although this sounded like a promising plan, HR Vice President of Unilever, Raia Laird, still had to convince executives that this was the way to go.


Designing a Workspace That Works for You

Photo from Betta Living.

4 Simple Steps to a Better Work Environment

The recent explosion of alternative workplaces, from business-oriented hotel lobbies to coworking environments of every stripe and style, is likely to give the impression that people are abandoning traditional options – including the home office – for the new breed of optimized offerings. Not necessarily. What we’re learning from our members at Serendipity Labs is that many people are opting for variety rather than replacement. Part of the appeal of workplace flexibility is the chance to have multiple options: Keep the corporate office, keep the home office, and get a coworking membership.

One way or the other, the home office is undoubtedly here to stay. So, here are some smart and simple tips for making the home office work.

Time for Creativity: Are Deadlines Dead?

The key is finding the sweet spot between tackling work as soon as possible, and having the flexibility to allow ideas to incubate.

There’s a common and long-held assumption that setting firm deadlines drives workers or teams to achieve their goals. But is this really the case? The very word deadline can create stress for any worker.

For some professions such as project management or production directors, there is no way around deadlines. But what about fields such as marketing, engineering, and top management, where people are tasked with idea and strategy generation?

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Professor Richard Boyatzis, who confirmed through research that “the more stressful a deadline is, the less open you are to other ways of approaching a problem.” A recent Fast Company article also explores the impact of time pressure on creative thinking, and according to research by Harvard Business School professor, Teresa Amabile, workers were most creative when they felt motivated primarily by intrinsic factors like interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself, and not by external pressures or inducements. Additionally, workers were found to be less creative on time-pressured days. We can see how this may prove true in today’s fast-moving society where “unrealistic goals and measurements become a whip rather than a means to encourage peak performance,” says Forbes writer, Ty Kiisel.

Although Kiisel acknowledges the sometimes extreme time pressure of today’s work environment, he is a proponent of deadlines and believes they need to be taken seriously. Expectedly, it was also found in Amabile’s research that too little pressure did not produce ideal results either. After all, sometimes deadlines drive workers to focus on that one goal and set aside everything else. Take for instance a brand manager overseeing five accounts with one account severely behind. Drawing a hardline for that one account is necessary.

So what is the best way to encourage creative thinking and motivate knowledge workers?  Perhaps each situation calls for a different time management approach. But the answer probably is not driving hard deadlines or, on the other end, tolerating procrastination. The key is finding the “sweet spot”, as Amabile puts it, where workers tackle their work as soon as they can, yet have the flexibility to put it aside and allow ideas to “incubate” while they work on other things.


“To me, this is not an information age. It’s an age of networked intelligence, it’s an age of vast promise.” — Don Tapscott

Internet technology and consumer-empowered media have established an openness and interdependence that offers great new opportunity.

What is the best means of knowledge transfer for your business? According to author and business strategist, Don Tapscott, our global society is moving toward a world of openness and interdependence. In Ted Talks, Tapscott describes the openness of our world today which he attributes to the internet, the new generation, and the global economic crisis. He explains the growing need for interdependency and openness amongst countries and the importance of exciting change to form a new global platform that will transform our world and economy today.

His four principles for an open world consist of: Collaboration, Transparency, Sharing, and Empowerment. These principles can also apply to our work environments, especially in a time when knowledge transfer is so critical in light of our aging workforce. Thanks to technology, knowledge transfer can now happen any time and from anywhere.


The Upside of Office Jargon

Though much maligned, those eye-roll inducing words like “leverage” and “overarching” may actually help foster organizational unity.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

T.S. Elliot’s words appropriately reflect an era when businesses and scholars began pondering the idea of organizational culture, ultimately spawning decades of ever-evolving corporate lingo.  Today’s conference rooms and hallways are filled with words like “transparency,”“stand-up meetings,”“bandwidth,” and many more.

But how did this happen?

After concepts to drive efficiency, like the assembly line, made their debut in car factories in the 1920’s, new human-based concepts began to emerge which tied productivity to management engagement and human relations.  With a set of productivity experiments at Hawthorne Works in the 1930s, Sociologist George Elton Mayo triggered a shift in how businesses thought of their workers – no longer as robots, but as parts to a large, complex social organism. This thought movement came at a perfect time, when the Great Depression brought alienation, strikes, and high turnover. It was from here that theories on corporate culture and language evolved.

In her article in The Atlantic, Emma Green attributes the birth of ‘office speak’ to employees feeling disconnected from their companies. During World War II when companies began to enlarge and become diversified conglomerates, businesses began to ask how they could get workers to feel good about their jobs and create an emotional atmosphere to generate profit.  Over the next few decades, academics continued to examine corporate culture concepts and eventually memorable buzzwords like “synergy” and “paradigm shift” were formed.

Green expounds further by breaking down professionals into groups known for commonly used lingo. From consulting groups who love the terms ‘restructure’ and ‘streamline’ to the finance folks who pontificate on ‘value adds’ and leveraging’ to the marketers who claim ‘personal branding’ and ‘mind sharing’ really do work, office speak is all around us, whether we like it or not.

Although some of us cannot resist but to roll our eyes at the sound of a buzzword, we have to recognize that “office language cements the corporate frame, the mental model that carries with it all kinds of beliefs,” as Liz Ryan suggests in Huffington Post. “We don’t have to talk and write like robots at work. We can talk about the culture around us like it’s a living thing, because it is. It’s the most important thing in the mix for us as working people and for our customers.” Even for those who mainly communicate via computer and cell phones, it is just as important to maintain a unified, human voice to your company. Minds create vision, but it is our words that ultimately bring that vision to life.

When Less is Really More: The Impact of Environments on Results

Finding ways to simplify your work environment may be a good start to accomplishing more in less time.

Have you ever had a major project you needed to get done and found you were spending way too much time with little or no progress?  Finally, you sit down in your work area, fully covered in photos, posters, calendars, Post-it notes, and spreadsheets.  After about an hour of surfing the web, you get to work.  Nine more hours pass and you discover that you have only accomplished a quarter of what you set out to do for the day.

What happened?

According to a study performed by Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, “Clutter competes for your attention.  When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.” It turns out that there is such thing as too much stimulation, and overstimulation may be the rival to efficiency.

Research performed at Carnegie Mellon University tied into this same concept when it was discovered how a classroom’s visual environment can affect how much children learn. Children’s accuracy on the test questions was higher in the sparse classroom than in a heavily decorated classroom. While children learned in both classroom types, they learned more when the room was not heavily decorated.  Research also revealed the rate of off-task behavior was higher in the decorated classroom than in the sparse classroom.

So what is the answer for those living a ten-hour workday in chaotic offices with spreadsheet and Post-it® riddled workspaces? Perhaps less really is more. Finding ways to simplify your learning and/or working environment may be a good start to accomplishing more in less time. Although we cannot control the busyness of particular work environments, we can consider adjusting what is within our control.  You can reduce clutter in your immediate surroundings and create an environment free from distraction by only displaying or accessing what is necessary for the task at hand.  It may even mean getting away from your normal workspace to find a more simplified, serene environment with fewer interruptions.

With today’s technology, there are certainly more creative ways to achieve higher productivity and satisfaction.  It’s all about finding an environment where you can achieve results in less time.

To read more on other modern work environment philosophies, check out Why ROWE is a Knowledge Worker’s Dream.



Forget Work-Life Balance. It’s About Achieving the Right Mix.

Serendipity Labs CEO John Arenas exposed the myth of work-life balance in his recent Fast Company article, and author Dean Douglas follows up with an alternative: It’s not about balance but about integration.

Over the past decade, ‘work-life balance’ was the goal of almost every modern day professional. But what does it really mean?  Probably the most common practice of the work life balance concept meant shifting your work schedule a couple of days a week or using paid-time-off to tend to personal events. But is this sufficient for addressing life as we know it today?  Truthfully, there is no one-size fits all balance. Every person is different, as is every day. Life is unpredictable, so the right balance for today may be wrong tomorrow.

What we do know is that the needs of today’s professionals warrant more than the traditional ‘work-life balance’ concept, and with the capabilities of modern technology, a new concept of ‘Work Life Integration’ is emerging rather organically. With a highly mobile and ever-evolving business environment, professionals are seeking to optimize both social and work life effectively.  In his Fast Company article, Dean Douglas observes that “Professionals in all industries are casting out the notions of work-life balance in order to build better work-life integration practices–where work and life are intertwined–by leveraging technology to make it happen.” He refers to these new age professionals as “anywhere workers”.


Workplace Evolution: The Must-Read Series

We see workplace culture changing around us every day and finally, people are really talking about it.

Plenty of people have a love-hate relationship with their office that stems from interactions with co-workers, especially bosses; but what about the relationship with office structure itself?

Just last week the popular online magazine, Slate, published The Longform Guide to Cubicle Culture. The list details the hottest books, essays, and articles on the evolution of workplace culture. Over the next couple weeks we will share thoughts on our favorite must-reads.

The Office of the Future, Businessweek, June 1975

This blast from the past discusses how word processing will change the corporate workplace, resulting in a completely paperless office. At this time the current CEO of Xerox, George E. Pake, believed that in 20 years (1995) the office would be completely paperless. Ironically, in 2014, many offices are still transitioning to electronic filing systems.

Moreover, the author questions if desktops will ever be “friendly” enough for the average worker to navigate. He asks, “Should a lot of powerful machines be moved together with central libraries and thus break up traditional working relationships?” Apparently, people were already dreaming of coworking spaces or collaborative open floor plan offices almost 40 years ago.

The article also speaks to the ways our view of technology has changed. The author repeatedly mentions how people “fear” the coming changes that word processing and electronic filing would bring. Today, changes and technological advances excite us. We’re already skilled operators; and the result of this is a constant craving for faster, better, smarter and more efficient machines.

In contrast, other pieces that made the Longform Guide are more modern. However, they still raise plenty of thought provoking questions that so many of us can relate to, such as, where did cubicles come from? And what is work-life balance?

Stay tuned for more from this must-read series.  You can also read more on workplace culture in “How Did We Get Here? A History of the Modern Office.”