Workplace Strategies by the Swiss-American coach C.Elliott


Dear friends of Selfarmonia,

Of course, I wish every of you, a GREAT YEAR 2014, with joy, hope, and abundance so as a comfortable fireplace to sit in front, wherever you are, in France or Switzerland !

May I introduce this time my Swiss American colleague, Clark Elliott, a bright and nice consultant – both are not so easy to find together - in his field, i.e Workplace Strategies ?

© C. Elliott

© C. Elliott

« It is recognized that today in the developed world 70% of business is now based on services, knowledge and innovation, not factory production. Unfortunately many people still see the workplace as if it were a factory floor. People in the Knowledge Economy are not factory workers. Some call this new type of employee Knowledge Workers. Clark Elliott Pro-Active ® connects the dots between management vision, business processes, new technologies, people’s requirements and optimal contemporary work environments. This approach treats people as adults, collecting input about their requirements and giving them solutions with choices for doing different activities in different spaces. With Activity Based Design work environments, with smart phones and with wireless everywhere, people can now be liberated from a one-size-fits-all traditional desk solution and discover the benefits of moving around and using the right spaces designed for different activities.  

Flexible work modes help people to perform better and unleash potential

Activity Based Design features encourage collaboration by creating workplaces with abundant meeting spots, rooms for brain-storming, phone boxes, face-to-face discussion areas, spontaneous meeting zones and convivial pause areas with social settings. These solutions help people to communicate more effectively. The different features help break down barriers and mix the diverse generations.  The spaces are designed to share information better, help mentor colleagues and transfer knowledge in natural ways. New hires are immersed in learning from the day they start. Virtual teams connect to colleagues with appropriate technology. 

ABD effectively supports emotionally intelligent management activities. Using the ABD menu of choices, managers can seamlessly interact directly with staff face-to-face. The beneficial results are more timely decisions, quicker comments for important feedback, more friendly and human ways of giving recognition and effective hands-on coaching. Providing lots of transparency helps people see who is present and helps generate respectful interactions in the workplace as opposed to interrupting or distracting colleagues without even realising it. This aspect of ABD can serve to diffuse tense situations between co-workers. Choices for working anytime anywhere invites people to discover what works best for them for different activities. Producing in optimal conditions brings optimum performance. Creating inspiring spaces that stimulate people and support their work also makes them proud to be part of the organisation. This is good for everyone and good for the bottom line.

Appropriate Activity Based Design and Clark Elliott Pro-Active ® solutions can remove many typical stressors in today’s workplace by making sure there are comfortable lighting levels, the right temperature levels and good air quality. Professional work environments with ergonomic furniture, especially height adjustable desks and ergonomic chairs respond to what people consider the two most important features in the workplace. Ergonomics is important for well being at work. So many people make the mistake of sitting in front of a window and constantly causing themselves eyestrain and headaches working against glare. Desks and computer screens should be at 90° angles to the façade.  This way people can take a mini pause and look out the window at something distant to use different eye muscles and then come back to the screen and be sure to have visual comfort.

Worldwide surveys of office workers show that noise and distractions from co-workers is a major cause of stress, loss of concentration and source of errors. Good design brings appropriate visual and acoustic protection into spaces. It’s bad for business to not invest in adequate facilities.  Bad open space is bad for business. Activity Based Design offers people choices for using customized spaces for different activities. Moving away from noise is now an option thanks to wireless networks and mobile phones.  Using phone pods for serious client calls when the rest of the team is doing a TGIF drink can avoid confrontations. It makes sense to support high-concentration work with focus pods, study rooms and other flexible options so people can choose the best setting for the activity to be done.

Moving around and doing different activities in different places refreshes people between activities.  It is good for the body to stand up and move. It is good to get people to stand up and walk to the filing cabinets and use different muscle groups.  It is good for people to learn to relax and apply breathing techniques. In all my projects, I guide design decisions to provide elbow height cabinets for 3 levels of binders. This works for quick stand-up meetings and organizing paper files.  This also keeps sight lines open for more respectful behaviour as people can see more of what’s going on and avoid causing distractions and interruptions for their colleagues. When corridors and the spaces in between the workplaces are also designed for quick conversations with colleagues, bright ideas and creative solutions to problems are more likely to pop up. This also helps to reduce the number of emails and can help avoid misunderstandings.

Good workplace solutions avoid stress at the source with acoustic treatments in noisy areas and as mentioned before, offering choices to move away from noise. Research supports the benefits of clearing the mind before doing new tasks. In a few recent projects we installed Turbo Siesta rooms where people can take a 25-minute mini-nap to really refresh.  Other projects have time-out spaces where people can play mini-golf, “ski” on a Wii or play mini-foot.  Good office support services, healthy food and good hydration are often overlooked in the workplace, but essential for even the most basic levels of human performance. A few years ago I wrote an article for one of the big water companies about the benefits of meeting at the water cooler.  The old paradigm saw coffee breaks as downtime.  Recent research confirms that the best ideas do not come to people chained to a desk in noisy open space fighting to keep their concentration. Ideas are usually generated in different settings, especially social areas, while walking around or during spontaneous informal meetings.  If leadership is seeking innovation and creativity, intelligent investments in workplace transformations bring tremendous ROI.  

How can the workplace become a strategic business tool?
With a systemic approach that aligns all aspects of an organisation, the Pro-Active workplace is developed to specifically support and encourage the behaviours and activities that leadership identifies as important.  Greater collaboration, more effective teamwork, increased idea generation and more innovation can be cultivated by using Activity Based Design features. 

Measurable results are increased employee satisfaction, higher client satisfaction, more market penetration, increased market share, quality improvements, new product development, quicker time to market, continuous learning, easy accommodation of changes, improved use of Real Estate, optimised operating costs, reduced absenteeism, improved attraction and retention of the right talent. 

Management by walking around makes no sense when there are long corridors full of closed doors and no convivial areas to exchange information in informal ways. Pro-Active projects support ways to break down silos and encourage the flatter hierarchies that most contemporary organisations are putting into place. The transparency, easy connections and new features that encourage teamwork are all sources of added value.

The subject of emotional intelligence was mentioned before.  As companies move from command and control methods to more contemporary management practices, the role of managers now is to focus more on coaching than controlling. The many features of ABD provide new options for managers to interact easily with their people.  

It is quite old fashioned to measure time at the desk but not measure results. Presenteism is wasteful and even toxic. With nomadic work modes becoming more common every day in nearly all sectors, true leaders see the value of management by results. Management by results requires new levels of trust and confidence. Once these trust levels are in place, they must be complimented of course by good goal setting, clear job descriptions and emotionally intelligent management.  

It’s good for business to implement work environments that are aligned with management vision and created to truly support the many different activities people are paid to do in the “knowledge economy”. The work environment should not be viewed as merely costs and overhead to be reduced to the bare minimum.  Investing in such a strategic business tool liberates significant potential across an organisation and brings measurable results to the bottom line along with improved employee satisfaction and true engagement. Which organisations can afford to not treat the work environment as a boardroom issue?  

Perhaps you know that great French expression “Il faut remettre l’église au centre de village.” Leadership today should put Human Capital in the centre of work environments and recognise the importance of Human factors in workplaces that really perform. Bad open space is not a good solution for anyone, especially Knowledge Workers. Workplace Strategists give people what they need to be productive at work and help to balance work-life with work and life. 

Well, it is a « self harmonious » way to live any better inside a company, isn’t ?

Helen, Selfarmonia