I’ve been trying to escape the office for 20 years. Literally the physical environment of the office, the bleached floodlit anonymous supervised space where humans are packaged in tin units like robots. And the psychological office, where we meet in grey rooms without food or water to present competing intellectual arguments devoid of emotion. The emotion is there of course, poorly concealed as logic, but since it’s unacknowledged we don’t have to name or deal with any of it: the bullying, the cowardice, the checked-out passive aggression. We can just let hierarchy and bias do their important work and pass this off as a state of neutrality. So what’s the leadership challenge in this? To humanise the workplace, physically and psychologically.
Where to start? Firstly, with flexible working practices so my team can work at home whenever they want to. So far, so good. Working at home has helped them to deal with their own health crises and their children’s illnesses, without having to take sick leave or salary cuts. They still ask for permission, so my next step will be to discourage that. They can choose where to work like the conscientious responsible adults they are!
Secondly, with some basic humanisation. Water and hot drinks in all meetings. Comfort breaks before people pass out. Lunch if the meeting runs across lunchtime (Yes! It’s rocket science!). Walks in the park during work. Research shows that natural environments have a positive impact on stress levels and help people to function more effectively. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272494405801847
Lately we have been including nature walks in team meetings and brainstorming sessions. Does it work? Hard to assess but people enjoy it, and it prevents that after-lunch energy sag in the all-day meeting, the dreaded 2pm shift. It impacts some more than others: the introverts seem to talk more while we are walking, so it helps increase their contribution to the conversations.
Thirdly, I’m incorporating more variety into the way we run meetings. Its not the what, it’s the how. More on that in the next post.