This is PART 2 in a series discussing ways to build a better workplace, check out PART 1!
Also, check out Ron Friedman’s book here.
Lesson 2: Organizations are more successful when they address the limits of the mind and body
We are limited beings.
We don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, we can’t fly at will, we can’t teleport to work, we can’t count to infinity and we can’t magically summon our favorite foods.
Ok, that’s not really what I meant. Although, being able to do any of those things would be awesome!
Speaking more realistically, we experience smaller but equally significant limitations in our day-to-day lives, especially at work. For example, our level of concentration seems to lower every afternoon, we become easily distracted by small things, we have a hard time multitasking, we experience cravings for food and drink regularly, etc.
Knowing that we have limitations, what can we do?
Friedman says we should embrace, rather than ignore our limitations.
But what does that even mean?
It means that we should design workplaces that take into account employees’ limitations and address their needs. We should also allow employees to adapt their work settings to the demands of their work rather than the other way around (46).
Friedman offers many actionable tips to do this (271-272):
Create spaces that empower employees to choose an environment best suited to their task.
Create a variety of workspaces
We know that environment has a profound effect on our work. We know that different environments have different effects on work outcomes. We also know that people have different work styles. This is why creating a variety of workspaces and letting your employees choose where they want to work is a great idea.
Try incorporating communal spaces, spaces for individual work and ‘fun’ spaces. No budget for that? Try using your existing spaces and relabelling them. Conference Room A can now become ‘The Innovation Room’, the break room can now become ‘The Sanctuary’.
Labelling creates expectations, and thus shapes the experience of the people who enter the labelled environments; when you anticipate having a positive experience, you are more likely to actually have one, and vice-versa (40).
Use nature to your advantage (35-36)
Research has shown that natural settings are catalysts for creativity, and they make us happier. Your office is likely not located in the middle of the jungle, but there are ways to enjoy the benefits of nature in a more urban setting.
Some ideas include granting your employees access to natural sunlight, making sure they have a view of the outdoors, purchasing decorative plants, installing aquariums or fireplaces, importing pictures of natural scenery (i.e. landscapes), etc.
Incorporate sound into the workplace
Working in total silence is unnatural and not conducive to productive work. In such environments, the human mind tends to focus on small noises that can distract us.
An easy way to address this? Let your employees bring their headphones or earphones to work and play sounds that replicate the low hum of a café or the constant swish of white noise.
Mimic the home experience at work
Studies have shown that employees who work from home are more productive than those who work at the office.
Why? One reason is that they have greater freedom; they can satisfy a food or drink craving at any time; they can leave their workspace whenever they want; they can take a nap; they can personalize their workspace, etc. Also, there’s less pressure to multitask at home, which eliminates a source of distraction.
How can you produce a home atmosphere at work?
Try replicating as best as possible the conditions and features of a home workspace, at work. This can mean designating a small room as a quiet and private space or even just bringing slippers into work. Or, if it’s possible, allow your employees to work from home sometimes.
Get your employees personally involved in the design and creation of the workplace
This creates opportunities for employees to be engaged, creates a sense of ownership and attachment to the workplace, and makes everyone happier!
Allow exercise, play, occasionally nap (even on company time)
The cognitive benefits of exercise are very well documented. Studies show that exercise carries with it a whole list of benefits, which include the release of endorphins. These chemicals heighten our mood and prime our brains to absorb more information through the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Quite literally, exercise makes us smarter.
Since we don’t all have truckloads of money waiting to be spent on fully-fitted and all-inclusive gyms, there are some low-cost options: giving your employees wireless headsets so they can move during long calls, offering free weights to be used during the day, granting an extended lunch period, purchasing stationary bikes, offering incentives for biking to work, planning for a meeting at a nearby shop or restaurant that is within walking distance from the office, etc.
Have you ever been faced with a difficult situation or decision, spent hours thinking about what to do, carefully examining all the variables involved, only to find that your final decision missed the mark?
According to Friedman, this happens because our conscious minds are limited; we can only process so much information at a time. When we are faced with too much information at once, we have a tendency to simplify the decision by focusing on only a small set of facts; then, we overestimate the importance of those facts, which ultimately leads to a bad decision (55).
To avoid this, we must let our unconscious minds work. Our unconscious, Friedman explains, is much better at processing large amounts of information simultaneously, thinking in terms of the bigger picture and generating ideas that are outside-of-the-box.
So, how do we make use of our unconscious?
We have to give ourselves ‘mental space’, which means walking away (literally and metaphorically) from a situation to allow our unconscious to kick in. Interestingly, it’s during the moments when we are away from a situation that our best ideas come to us.
“Frequently our most brilliant insights come in the gaps between hard work, when we let our guard down and allow disparate ideas to emerge. […] Think back to your last truly great work-related idea. Now ask yourself: Where were you? Chances are you weren’t sitting behind your desk.” (58)
How can we get the most out of our unconscious mind? Friedman says we must think and act like a child. A great way to do this is by engaging in play. Rather than simply taking our minds off work, play is a much better way to allow unconscious thinking to occur.
Playing makes us better workers; when we play, we explore new possibilities, solve problems, take risks, cooperate with others, and more. It also triggers our curiosity and makes us more optimistic, which benefits our work.
As a business owner or manager, does that mean you should buy a foosball table, arcade machines, or an indoor pool for water polo? Not necessarily.
Friedman explains that play is more of a mindset than a specific activity; it’s about allowing your employees the freedom to pursue non-work-related activities and interests and conveying to them the notion that it’s OK to do so.
You might be thinking: “Sam, napping? You’re telling me that I should actually pay my employees to nap??? You must be out of your mind.”
Well, if I lost my mind, I’m definitely not the only one; apparently, napping is all the rage nowadays.
More and more companies have been reading the research and buying into this new initiative. Companies like Google and Procter & Gamble are now using nap pods (AKA energy pods), cool new apparatuses that provide employees with an environment made specifically for sleep; after 20-30 minutes (i.e. the ideal nap time) in the pod, employees are gently woken up.
Since napping has been shown to boost productivity, increase alertness, elevate mood, enhance creativity, lower stress, bolster memory and strengthen stamina, it’s a no-brainer. Besides, who doesn’t need more sleep?
If you have no budget for sleep pods or think they’re hideous, try segmenting off a room or space specifically designated for quiet time. Add some pillows, yoga mats, lavender-scented candles (if you’re feeling fancy), or eye masks. Your employees will love it!
What do you think about these tips? Are you already doing some of them? Are you doing none of them? Do you want to try some of them? Let us know in the comments.
Friedman, Ron. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Perigee, 2015.