My ideal office environment...

Category: Work

Published: 01/13/2009 03:56 a.m.

While thinking about my ideal office, I tried to think of situations and rules that weren't ideal, what made them not ideal, and how to change that. Here are some ways to create my ideal office.

Bad: Clock in at 8 am, clock out at 5 pm and 11-12 is for lunch. This is no good. It's too rigid, and it doesn't flow with working styles, with teams, or with the flow of the current task at hand. If I am being paid a salary, why are you counting my hours? If lunch can be used as a tool for work, why does it need to be so rigid?

Good: Be available for morning and afternoon meetings and don't abuse lunchtime. If you need to come in at 8 (or 7) to get things done, then good for you. If we have a 9 AM meeting you need to prepare for, don't show up at 8:55. If you need to pick up your kids 3 days a week, that's fine. Be sure to plan meetings around that time. If you want to "talk shop" at lunch with a manager of another division, that's great. It can be good for business. Just don't talk BCS for 3 hours. Give your employees some respect, set expectations and only set rigid guidelines when those expectations have been broken. This will lead to less micro-managing and more free, happy workers.

Bad: We have a weekly status meeting for an hour every monday (or friday). This again is too rigid. It doesn't flow with the task at hand, it is a waste of most people's time, and it is frustrating to attend. How sure can you be that this will take so long, and will be required every week? What if you only had 30 minutes, could you get it all in? Think about what you would cut, and cut it.

Good: Stand-up meetings in 10 minutes or less. 2 pizza meetings (a small enough group so they can be fed by 2 pizzas). Maybe 2 status updates this week, and a couple of pop-ins the next week. Adjust "standard" meetings with the flow of work. If the flow of work is constant week after week then you are doing something wrong.

Bad: Conference calls with more than 4 people. Any bigger and at least 1 is tuned out at all times. Also, very rarely is there a subject that requires input from so many people. It's another time waster and another time when people feel bored. If there is a way to do it with less people, why not do it that way?

Good: Limited conference call sizes. Quick calls. You don't need to talk for 30 minutes because it's on your calendar for that long. Have a rolling call if you need to talk with many people. Bring one group in at 10, then another at 10:15 to roll the first out, then so on. You (personally) can talk to many people, but you don't require you colleagues to waste their time. Pretend you have half the time you do, and prioritize better. Spend 15 minutes more preparing to save everyone 10 minutes. If that helps 3 others, you just saved half an hour.

Bad: Treating unique days like normal days. If you treat election day like a normal business day, you are not adapting to the world around you. People are focused elsewhere, and instead of ignoring that, you could deal with it. If someone is not busy and not paying attention to work, why are they there?

Good: Treating unique days uniquely. Show your employees that you are not a machine, that the company is more like a person than a robot. It cares about anniversaries and special holidays and does more than what is required by law. Going above here can have a great impact on morale with minimal cost. If there is important business to be done, then make it a priority, and get rid of the rest.

Bad: External efficiency experts (aka the Bob's on Office Space). They have a formula. It works on machines. If you treat your business like a machine, then this is like putting aftermarket parts on it. It should fit well, maybe. We can adjust it if need be.

Good: Ask your employees what they think. Get internal ideas. Do some self-reflection as a company. Make this a priority, but not above getting business done. The people working for you should have a better idea of what goes on in your office than outsiders. Give your employees some respect on this issue.

Bad: Telling people to do things without a reason. Don't just do things because "that's the way they have been done" or even worse, "because I said so". Continuing things without understanding why is bad. Do you know the cost of changing the methods? What about the benefits?

Good: Doing things with a purpose, and conveying that purpose to the employees. Why is it done that way? Answering this question gives your workers more knowledge about the company and its operations. What if they suggest something different? Take a look at it. What does the cost/benefit analysis say? Change is always happening, and it's better to surf the wave than have it crash over you.

Bad: This estimate looks a little low, so I'll add a cushion to it before I pass it along. Or, I bet my guys added a cushion to this, so I'll remove one. If your estimates are inaccurate, then own up to it and take that into consideration.

Good: Here are the numbers. We are not so certain. We did the math as usual, but we expected this but got that. And then, this info is passed this way. Here is the result, but here was an expectation. Guesswork is everywhere in business, and it just needs better honesty behind it and less +5/-5 added in. That way there isn't extra guesswork that can confuse the results even more. Also, look at past results. Data is cheap to store, and if done right, easy to analyze.

As a manager, you act as a filter of information. The people that work for you or with you work to create something and you then pass the relevant, important info on up the chain. So when asking for employees ideas and complaints, you also have to filter out the good from the bad. Good managers are good filters. They take in a lot and pull out the important stuff. Some managers don't ask for enough, so they pass on everything and rely on the wrong people to do the filtering. Other poor managers don't filter properly, and only say what they want, or spin things. Be honest, filter well, and respect people. Treat your business like a person, and it will succeed like one.

The source of this comes from a combination of things. TV, movies, friends, family, and personal experience. I also think calling this a list of complaints is missing the point. The overriding factors here are: respecting your employees, explaining things, being open to new ideas, and doing everything with a purpose. All of the suggestions above are things that would excite me about a workplace. Not free soda or water. Not 5% more pay or 5 more days of vacation. I want my workday to be better. I want to get more done and waste less time. And I want to feel free and comfortable in the office, not trapped. Also, I didn't talk about overtime or long hours. The bottom line is getting your stuff done, and if that takes 10 hour days, then that's what you are going to have to do. While accomplishing all of my dreams is unlikely (except maybe at a startup), having them as a goal is a good place to start.