Escape to Powder Mountain for Digital Innovation

Outdoor, untethered, off-the-grid retreats are becoming highly valued for their ability to break the digital routine and open the gates of inspiration and creativity.

Sometimes, every knowledge worker needs to unplug. At least, that’s the unique proposition that started Summit Powder Mountain. In 2008, four twentysomethings started planning ski trips and other outings with entrepreneurs across the country. Over five years, these annual get-togethers have turned into invitation-only Summit Series conferences held on mountaintops, cruise ships and other scenic locations.

Last April, Summit cofounders Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal and Jeremy Schwartz took their efforts up a notch and purchased 10,000 acres of land on the southern side of the renowned Powder Mountain. This breathtaking terrain is found in Eden, Utah and has become the permanent home of Summit.

While Summit is still organizing life-changing annual conferences that gather entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, artists, scientists, athletes and other change makers, the organization’s focus has progressed to building a community of innovators and game changers.

In an NPR interview with Elise Hu, Summit founders explained how the community will include 500 home sites and a retail village. As Jeff Rosenthal put it, “Return on community is our number one intention, followed by a return on investment for the people that back this project.” Investors include PayPal cofounder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel, Olympic snowboarder Danny Davis, and record producer Dr. Luke to name a few.

At the core of their mission at Summit lies the urge to continue creating. In another interview with Forbes’ Steven Bertoni, Thayer Walker—Summit’s chief reconnaissance officer stated:

“What we’re looking to create is a place that houses all the ideals Summit embodies: entrepreneurship, altruism, art, science, culture, exploration of the physical, intellectual and spiritual components. We’re gathering the changemakers and thought leaders of our time in a spectacular, surreal setting that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.”

As our society continues to speed ahead and forge a dependence on digital connectedness, innovators like these are reminding us of our roots in nature. To learn more about the benefits of unplugging your devices and creating meaningful human connections check out this story. And for more on Summit and Powder Mountain, check out David Sable’s Summit experience, “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”

Why ROWE is a Knowledge Worker’s Dream

The Results Only Work Environment seeks to to make employees completely autonomous but still accountable.

ROWE or “Results-Only Work Environment” is a concept pioneered by Best Buy’s Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson in 2003. Their vision allows employees to remain completely autonomous but nevertheless accountable.

Specifically, knowledge workers are given permission to work at home or take days off whenever they would like. In exchange, they have to remain accountable to expected results. For example, if the goal is to increase sales by five percent, it doesn’t matter how you go about securing those sales; what matters is whether the goal is met.

You can imagine what this outlook does for workers. It makes them feel like they have control of their lives again; and when they do meet their goals, it generates a sense of accomplishment. In other words, the reward system shifts from “Thanks for showing up for 40 hours each week,” to “Congratulations on reaching—or exceeding—your objective.” This type of environment makes workers want to go the extra mile because in the long run they feel empowered.

Slate’s Seth Stevenson reminds us, “Decades ago, sure, it was useful to be physically present in the office…Now, though, we have mobile phones and email and instant messenger and collaboration software. It’s quite easy to get things done from different places and at different times.” This is the obvious reason why ROWE works. The elusive, but far more beneficial result that ROWE offers, is overall employee satisfaction.

Wouldn’t you be happier if you didn’t have to commute in traffic each and every morning? Or if when you’re feeling sick you could go to the doctor instead of feeling guilty for missing a day of work?

However, like any new method that strays from the norm, ROWE has its opponents. Some CEOs, like Marissa Mayer for instance, stress the importance of face time within their companies. What these opponents fail to understand is the complete communication channel work life. Technology has blessed us with the tools we need to work remotely; why not take advantage of them?

Overall, whether a company offers a 100 percent ROWE, or benefits that include occasional telecommuting privileges, workplace culture is evolving. If you’re looking for a position that offers their knowledge workers a generous amount of freedom, make sure you’re branding yourself as a telecommuting professional.

How to Connect by Disconnecting

Many prominent leaders are beginning to realize that 24/7 interactions are not the answer to success—and they’re most certainly not the answer to happiness.

“Stay connected.” Essentially it’s the be-all and end-all of work life, home life and social life. But many prominent leaders are beginning to realize that 24/7 interactions are not the answer to success—and they’re most certainly not the answer to happiness.

David Sable, the Global CEO of Y&R, recently wrote “From the Mountaintop” in response to his experience at Summit Powder Mountain. During this Summit Series, a group of entrepreneurs, artists, social activists, inventors and environmentalists turned off their devices for an entire weekend. By doing so, these influencers were forced to live in the moment and communicate with their peers face to face.

Imagine turning your back on your cell phone for two days. Most people can’t even put it down for two minutes, as evidenced by the rise of cellphone parlor games. But apparently, that’s what it takes to convince people to have face-to-face conversations with one another.

Over the weekend, many inspiring professionals share their journeys and shed light on creating and cultivating lasting connections. Paired with hiking and skiing on one of America’s most beautiful mountains, the experience helped Sable transform the way he thought about the digital world.

“But the truth is, we don’t have to climb a mountain to have these kinds of interactions. All around us are people to inspire us, ideas to build on and creativity to unleash. All we have to do is open ourselves up and who knows what we might find, discover, create.”

—David Sable

The TED Office Salons: Not Your Father’s Corporate Training

Above: Charles Duhigg, Amy Web, Jay Silver, and Jill Duffy at the TED Salons.

TED walks the talk when it comes to training, learning, and inspiration in its own organization.

TEDTalks and conferences are great resources for anyone looking to gain insight on a variety of intellectual topics. But what would it be like to work at the TED office? Well for one, they hold “salons” for their employees where noteworthy speakers lecture on innovative life hacks.

So what separates this lecture series from any other? Often when larger companies bring in experts, the goal is to improve workplace productivity and efficiency. Their bottom line motivation is money.

Not TED. Recently, the TED offices featured four speakers that shared advice about finding flexibility in life and becoming happier, more productive people. Their focus wasn’t on pumping out more results in the workplace, but rather discovering life hacks to help employees become happier overall. Moreover, many studies have revealed that a balanced life outside of work results in more productivity and overall job satisfaction.

Nevertheless, many of these life hacks will help employees perform better at work; more importantly though, it will make them happier at work. Speaker and tech reporter, Jill Duffy shared tips to help manage emails. Specifically, she explained, “Keep your unread emails to about a page, save canned responses or email templates so you don’t always end up typing the same thing, and don’t be afraid to delete emails — and let go of the obligations that they represent.”

These salons are just one more way we’re beginning to see the workplace transforming. Change agents include bosses who are becoming more flexible and compassionate, and HR representatives who are thinking outside the box when it comes to face time.

How Did We Get Here? A History of the Modern Office

We can be inspired by the modern office or take it for granted, but how exactly did it become what it is today?

In his new book, “Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace,” Nikil Saval interweaves history and personal experience to share the story of office evolution. Specifically, Saval details the impacts of workplace visionaries as well as their ideas and inventions. He then goes on to explain how these concepts shaped the workplace we know today.

“Today’s office is a wasteland. It saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort.” –Robert Propst, 1960.

In response to this conclusion, Propst launched his concept of the Action Office system in 1964. This system opened the workplace by transforming permanent or fixed structures into configurable furniture options. Propst wanted to change the way people worked for the better. Needless to say, many copycats distorted his plan and now we are blessed with the cubicle.

In an NPR interview with Rachel Martin, Saval reveals his personal experience with limiting workspaces. Specifically, he mentions that although he was moving throughout different companies and gaining experience, his cubicle always seemed to be closing in.

Saval’s experience mirrors how many people feel about cubicles or closed off workspaces. Of course privacy is great sometimes, but studies have shown that open concept environments inspire greater efficiency and increased happiness at work. In reference to his career journey, Saval concludes, “And finally I was actually a freelancer, and that meant the cubicle had been squeezed out of existence.”

Moreover, the ever-increasing demand for coworking spaces stems from society’s urge to break free from the traditional workplace. Many corporations are falling in line as well and redesigning not only their offices, but also their company policies. Another important point that Saval makes is that it’s not just the aesthetics; it’s the culture too.

If you’re interested in learning more about modern workplaces that are beginning to break the mold, check out our Workplace Wednesday features.

Office Features of the Future

The U.S. Government is beginning to overhaul their offices with efficient workspaces and more flexible structures.

In 2013 they put the finishing touches on the General Services Administration headquarters, which will serve as precedent for future remodels of government buildings.

This detailed graphic explains the changes government employees can expect to see over the next ten years. First, environmental efforts will include features like solar panels, rainwater cisterns and high-efficiency air systems. When it comes to security, offices will offer assigned lockers with keypad combinations that allow space for storing personal items, files and laptops.

Other additions will include features that mirror coworking spaces. For one, office space will be provided on an as-needed basis. Additionally, conference rooms will be available through an online booking system, and employees will share workstations. While they’ve only revealed their structural plans, it seems that the government is preparing for a more flexible, telecommuter friendly scheduling system.

Considering the number of corporations moving in this direction, the change wouldn’t be too surprising. Allowing staff members to telecommute not only saves companies money, but also makes their employees happy, thereby increasing retention rates. Also, job seekers everywhere are looking for flexible opportunities that allow telework. For further food for thought on the more flexible future, check out “Facing Down Face Time” to learn more about how companies are adapting to address the needs of employees.

Facing Down Face Time

Rarity increases value. That goes for face time, too.

Is face time still a major part of moving up in your company? Studies suggest that in spite of increases in the amount of organizations that allow you to work from home, putting in a little eye-to-eye effort may still help in the way of promotions.

Does this mean flexibility is an issue because it detracts from that experience? Only if you don’t see the possibilities of a complete communication channel work life. Regardless, the face time issue is one we should face sooner rather than later to understand how to provide better for employees without holding back their advancement.

Michael Giardina of Employee Benefits News explains how HR professionals are the change agents in developing innovative benefits options for their organizations. Many studies reveal that benefits plans offering flexible work schedules are highly sought after by job seekers. Likewise, a national survey of one thousand employers disclosed motivations for changing work arrangements. As it turns out, 35 percent of employers said they offer flexible schedules to increase employee retention rates.

The good news is, if you’re a recent grad or just re-entering the workforce, you may be pleasantly surprised with the changes being made in many organizations. For one, leadership tactics are changing as bosses are beginning to retire the iron fist. On the other hand, some companies like W.L. Gore & Associates are completely redefining the workplace hierarchy for the better.

Why Multitask When you Can Supertask?

Through extensive studies, researchers have found that some people have a unique ability to block out distractions and effectively complete multiple tasks at once.

To balance work and life, or keep them separate? To stay connected, or turn it all off? We’re surrounded by conflicting advice and confusing studies that leave us questioning our choices even more. At the core of these lifestyle challenges is the ability to multitask.

Ironically enough, earlier this year, scientists spoke out about an almost super-human ability called “supertasking.” Through extensive studies, researchers found that some people have a unique ability to block out distractions and effectively complete multiple tasks at once. They realized that what most of us consider multitasking actually involves transitioning between different assignments. However, these “supertaskers” were able to simultaneously complete numerous tasks without the anxiety most of us feel when we try to multitask.

Moreover, the key to being a successful supertasker is to block out distractions. Researchers found that this ability was what actually separated the supertaskers from their counterparts. Furthermore, blocking out distractions is the first piece of advice Fast Company’s Lindsay Levine offers. Sometimes it’s better to isolate yourself if it means getting the job done on time.

The next is to focus on what you can control and ignore the rest. In other words, make choices about what you can and cannot handle, then you remain in the driver’’s seat. Taking on too much at once is most likely the root of failure for those who try to multitask.

Last, Daphne Bavelier suggests that playing video games is one of the best ways to train your brain to “supertask.” For example, in a game like Call of Duty, Levine explains that players are challenged to “read instructions, make quick strategic decisions, and concentrate to complete tasks amid many distractions such as whizzing bullets and sound effects.” Mastering games like this will train your mind to quickly process an abundance of stimuli.

Of course, everyone has his or her own “life hacks” or ways of coping with an always-on lifestyle. For more on this topic check out “Meditation: Pressing the Reset Button May Be the Cure to Workplace Stress.”

Best New Workplace Seating Concept: The CrossChair

Standing desks have been hot lately. But ergonomics as a whole is a growing field with a wide variety of solutions to varying problems.

Meet CrossChair, the chair that allows you to change your sitting formation as needed, when needed. It’s a whole new way to think about sitting, especially when at work.

The CrossChair transforms from a standard office chair, into a V-shaped seat with a footrest that allows users to sit cross-legged. This not only reduce fatigue and back pain, it actually promotes flexibility and good posture.

What, you haven’t sat in that position in years? Not to worry, the adjustable footrest allows people at all levels of flexibility to sit comfortably.

The CrossChair is one of many designs competing in the ever-growing office ergonomics market. To learn more about the CrossChair or to back the product, check it out on KickStarter.

Enterprise Technology May Finally Be Catching Up

For the past few decades, stuffy “enterprise solutions” have lagged behind the consumer hardware revolution. So while our domestic lives are blessed by the magic of iPhones and Xboxes, our professional lives are still filled with confounding telephone systems, stuffy task management software, and at least one piece of printing equipment you’d like to take a baseball bat to a la Office Space.”

Mark Wilson in Fast Company

Enterprise technology, or “infrastructure,” has a reputation for being boring, cumbersome, and often troublesome. One New York based company is working to break the mold and make infrastructure look cool. Control Group believes enterprise technology should be future-proof and built to scale. And not only do their systems look sleek and innovative, they are actually useful.

In Fast Company’s review of the new design at Brookfield’s World Financial Center location, they explain how Control Group’s wall-sized screen takes the intimidation out of interacting with new technology. By creating an interface that lessens the possibility of error, it encourages users to feel safe and embrace their natural curiosity.

If entertaining people waiting in your lobby isn’t a top priority, Control Group provides software solutions that are designed to make life easier and more organized for the people who really matter, your employees.

First, they have streamlined the teleconference meeting. An iPad outside each conference room takes care of the scheduling so meeting members will never end up in the wrong room. In addition, the system does all the work for you so your not spending the first ten minutes of your meeting trying to work out the last minute details of the call. The most useful feature of all though, is the feature that saves and tracks any file changes made during the meeting so you can always look back in time and see what progress has been made. This also makes it easy for any absent employees to catch up when they return.

So maybe it still sounds and smells like infrastructure, but it certainly doesn’t act like it. Rather than making life more complicated, Control Group’s solutions make work seem easier, possibly even bordering on fun. For more examples of innovative workplaces, check out some of our Workplace Wednesday features like “Epic Workplace Design,” or “Amazing Offices Don’t Have to Break the Bank,” and stay tuned each week for the latest in flexible workplace design.