Recent trends point to a future work culture where remote teams are the norm. When geography stops mattering, you can source the best team members from anywhere in the world. And if the creme de la creme is working solo, chances are they’re empowered to focus exclusively on the work at hand and get things done.
But here’s the thing. While we’re most productive when we’re alone, we’re most innovative in groups.
At first glance, it seems like this is an either/or decision. Should we focus on increasing productivity and employee performance or boosting innovation? Or is it possible to have the best of both worlds?
By understanding the dynamics of each realm we can begin to carve out truly exceptional professional lives.
Office environments are jam-packed with distractions. Between ping-pong tables, noisy phone calls, and synchronized brain breaks, getting things done at work is tough. As Virgin CEO Richard Branson says, we’re living in “an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”
Meetings and ideation sessions are important, but here’s the problem… Brainstorming and planning sessions take time away from execution and sacrifice employee performance (aka getting sh*t done). In a recent survey, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of respondents say they spend more time in meetings talking about work than actually working. In order to walk the talk of managing performance effectively, you need to guarantee plenty of healthy time alone for everyone.
Exclusive isolation, however, can kill your business. Just think about it, when has your team come up with their best ideas?
At the round table. In meetings. When they’re together and feeding off one another’s energy and mutual participation.
That’s the rationale behind Marissa Mayer’s controversial work from home ban. Even though people are more productive when they’re alone, they’re more innovative when they’re together.
And ground-breaking innovation isn’t only happening during scheduled meetings. It’s happening during the ‘brain breaks’ that we criticized in the previous section of this post – you know, the ones that are stopping team members from maximizing their employee performance.
The beauty of working together is that there is always an opportunity for unplanned meetings to happen naturally. New ideas come from inspiration, not structure. When you’re all working alone, you minimize the likelihood for that inspiration to occur.
One of our best ideas for the 2.0 version of 15Five came during an all-day strategy retreat. However, it didn’t happen according to our carefully planned out schedule. It happened during lunch when we sat down together, “broke bread”, and threw ideas on the table free of any agendas.
Can we stay productive, maintain efficiency and enable the creative, spontaneous outpouring of brilliant ideas? Absolutely. Like your company’s mission, vision, and hiring practices, it just takes a lot of strategic planning.
Take us for instance. Some of our team is located near our headquarters and others are spread across the map. In addition to our full-time staff, we work with consultants who are based all over the world. We can work from anywhere and often do.
We hold regular in-person meetings. And whenever we’re away from one another, we’re connected with chat programs like Slack — a great way to stay connected without filling up everyone’s inbox. Whenever I have a quick matter or an urgent one, I just shoot employees a message.
Face time is also important for maintaining a healthy work culture, especially when you have remote employees. If your company is geo-diverse, video conferencing programs like Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Skype can facilitate face time. You can also encourage team members to work in co-working spaces with other companies.
On the flip side, your company can make an equal effort to increase productivity when you’re together. Your company can create a virtual wall or collaboration table, especially if you’re working together in an open space. This type of structure will help team members effectively balance their shared vs. alone time.
Your company can also designate regular work from home days. Scripted, a marketplace for copywriting, encourages team members to work from home every Friday. Your company can also try designating blocks of time that are ‘meeting free’ to help ensure that the momentum of productivity stays strong.
To maintain balance, harness the natural strengths of your team members. Some team members will be natural extraverted collaborators, while others will be introverts who generally prefer working alone.
Creating an organizational culture of respect for all personality types in your workplace will go a long way towards harnessing the unique powers of both introverts and extroverts.
It’s okay if some team members have more meetings or alone-time than others. Remember that you’re evaluating your company on the aggregate. Some people will be stronger innovation drivers, and others will be stronger productivity drivers. Recognize strengths and encourage preferred modes of working to get the most out of everyone –not to mention keeping your team a lot happier and professionally healthy.
And don’t feel like you need an open office design just because every other company seems to be doing it. Encourage collaboration via e-mail, instant messaging, phone, and performance management tools. If you are in an open environment, make sure that there are plenty of spaces with closed doors so that team members can have space to concentrate when they need it most.
Conversely if email threads seem to be getting out of hand and valuable ideas are falling through the cracks, reign it in and take it offline. Create a running list of ideas that will best be follow-up in a group discussion around a table and bundle those topics for an appropriate (and scheduled) time.
It all comes back to the company culture that you’re building. Implement a solution that caters to your team’s strengths, but pay extra close attention to the gaps that illuminate your weaknesses too. You can have the best of both worlds when it comes to maximizing employee performance while developing your work culture. Be productive and innovative. It just takes balance. And if you’re stuck, ask your team to design the solution. Let them test and finalize what works best.
David Hassell is the cofounder and CEO of 15Five, lightweight performance management software that includes continuous feedback, objective (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. David is a speaker and prolific writer and was named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes Magazine.
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