How to create a truly stellar workplace experience, from 5 industry experts

Workers want more. From intuitive digital tools to dynamic company culture, today's employees are attracted to companies that do more than feed their bank accounts.

ARTICLE | 4m read
June 29, 2020

Even as a pandemic upends what it means to be “at work,” organizations have a critical role to play in shaping a stellar workplace experience.

So, where to start?

We talked to five industry leaders to learn helpful tips and insights. In conjunction with Quartz, we also unearthed thought-provoking data that—at a moment when the very idea of a centralized workplace is being rethought—can help light a path through a disorienting time.
 

Productivity has nothing to do with being at work

Jason Fried, CEO, Basecamp

Basecamp offers employees unlimited work-from-home, a capped 40-hour work week, a four-day summer work week and a 30-day sabbatical every three years. Crazy—or crazy effective? Nearly 60% of Basecamp employees have been there at least four years. What happens when you allow employees more time and mental space away from work?

WE DON’T DO CATERED DINNERS AND WE DON'T WANT A FANCY CAMPUS. THOSE ARE CREATED TO KEEP YOU AT WORK… A REAL BENEFIT GETS YOU AWAY FROM WORK.

Jason Fried
CEO
Basecamp

1.2
Number of uninterrupted productive working hours

Creativity’s biggest enemy? Distraction.

Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist and Sloan lecturer, M.I.T.

All business leaders want a creative, engaged workforce. Research shows that the most creative companies tend to also be the most financially successful. It turns out that mindfulness—the practice of overcoming distraction—can be a key to unlocking creativity.

  • “Your brain has different pathways for logical thinking, creative brainstorming and emotional intelligence. When doing a specific type of thinking, your brain transports blood to that pathway. But as soon as you get distracted, the blood flow becomes diffuse.” — Dr. Tara Swart
  • Let employees work remotely. “Using biometric sensors, I researched stress levels of one organization. It was striking how everyone was much less stressed and distracted when they worked from home for a day,” says Dr. Swart.
  • “A 2010 study of U.S. Marines showed that those who did 12 minutes of mindfulness meditation per day had increased mental resilience on the battlefield compared to those who did less than 12 or none,” says Dr. Swart.

Top-down doesn’t always fly with a remote workforce.

Alex Le , VP of Product and Community, Reddit

The workplace has been virtualized. The break room is now a chat room. In a largely distributed and digital workforce, how should leaders approach implementing top-down initiatives?

Tips:

  • Lower the stakes by setting up a beta test.
  • Find champions within, then communicate and collaborate with them.
  • Field user feedback and sow the impact of that feedback.

IF YOUR COMPANY HAS AN INTERNAL CHAMPION WHO WANTED TO SHAPE COMPANY CULTURE—AND THAT CHAMPION IS EMPOWERED TO BE THE FACE OF THAT CHANGE, TO DELIVER THE MESSAGE, AND TO FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN—THEN IT IS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO SUCCEED

Alex Le
VP of Product and Community
Reddit

Openness should be optional.

Benjamin Pardo, Design Director, Knoll

In the 1990s, hoping that a loosely unstructured, airy layout would spark collaboration and serendipity, a few Silicon Valley companies introduced open office arrangements. The concept didn’t take. This cautionary tale is especially relevant as organizations consider how—or even if—to head back to the office.

  • In 2013 the Journal of Environmental Psychology published several studies on open office design. Authors found that open office design doesn't work because privacy and productivity suffer.
  • Today’s office worker may be distracted every three minutes, and will spend on average 23 minutes getting back on task.

IN ANY SORT OF STATIC LAYOUT, YOU HAVE PRIVACY TRADEOFFS. TOO MUCH. TOO LITTLE. THE OFFICE SPACE SHOULD BE A CONTINUUM OF VARIOUS ENVIRONMENTS THAT GIVE THE INDIVIDUAL OPTIMALITY, SO THAT CAN MAXIMIZE THEIR CAPABILITY TO GET WORK DONE.

Benjamin Pardo
Design Director
Knoll

Upskilling is your next big investment.

Aaron Ignan, Founder, The Ready

If nothing else, the past 140 years of innovation have shown that technology helped create countless more jobs than it destroyed. That’s not to say workforces shouldn’t evolve as tech advances. That’s why employers currently investing in upskilling their workers will always be ahead of the curve.

  • “Researchers have concluded that non-routine skills—anything that does not conform to checklists and rules—is far less likely to be automated in years to come. Drones can water vines but they can’t run a winery.” — Aaron Ignan
  • Microsoft partnered with General Assembly to train 15,000 workers in growing fields like machine learning and data science. Amazon is spending $700M on retraining its U.S. workforce. At Google, where did STEM rank in the list of useful skills? Eighth. The top seven were actually soft skills.
  • “Systems run on social coordination. They run on relationships. If you suck at relationships, you’re going to suck at the future of work.” — Aaron Ignan
  • Soft skills to cultivate:
    • Adaptability
    • Communication
    • Stress management
    • Optimism
    • Creative thinking
    • Initiative

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