People who work in poorly-ventilated offices with higher levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) have significantly lower cognitive functioning which severely damages their productivity.

Linda Trim, director at workplace specialists Giant Leap, says that good ventilation is often the last thing people think about in an office.

“But it should be far greater consideration when you realise most people who work spend 90% of their time indoors.”

She notes that when designing offices, people typically think about layout and the look and feel of the space.

But interestingly, as buildings have become more energy efficient, they have also become more airtight, increasing the potential for poor indoor environmental quality.

“While design and energy efficiency are of course important, little regard is given to air quality. If it isn’t good, none of the other stuff matters because it diminishes worker productivity so much.

“It should no longer be an afterthought when you consider the high cost to businesses of having staff performing below par.”

Trim cited an October 2015 study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Syracuse University which assessed indoor environment.

“The researchers looked at people’s experiences in which both the participants and the analysts were blinded to test conditions to avoid biased results.

“The findings suggest that in office spaces in which many people work daily could be adversely affecting cognitive function—and conversely, improved air quality could greatly increase the cognitive function performance of workers.”

These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.

The same study also ran cognitive tests on people working in enhanced ventilation conditions and compared them to those working in elevated levels of carbon dioxide which replicated the typical workspace.

They found that cognitive performance scores for the participants who worked in the enhanced ventilation environments were, on average, double those of participants who worked in conventional environments.

Researchers found that the largest improvements occurred in the areas of:
• crisis response (131% higher in enhanced ventilation work places over conventional environmental with elected carbon monoxide)
• strategy (288% higher as above )
• information usage (299% higher as above)

“Our understanding and refinement of the best working environment is still developing however it is clear that poor ventilation has a marked effect on worker performance.

“Improved air quality is a simple yet very effective way to get more out of people and help them feel better and more energetic at the same time,” Trim concludes.

If you frequent the conferences and launches held by technology companies, you would surely have come across statements similar to the following: “Up to forty percent of today’s Fortune 500 companies will not be around in a decade’s time. They will have disappeared into mergers, acquisitions or extinction.”

This is not a new trend. According to the American Enterprise Institute, nearly ninety percent of Fortune 500 companies that existed in 1955 are no longer with us. Modern emphasis resides on the speed at which companies change and disappear. This has increased the Corporate Burn Rate which is indeed running at high levels.

Yet even here we are not in uncharted territory. A company from the first half of the Twentieth century could expect a lifespan of at least fifty years. By the Seventies, that had dropped to roughly thirty years. We can look to the Seventies as the first definable major milestone in this trend. The rise of business machines, automation and other technologies were creating a new breed of company.

Those were the years that saw the rise of Microsoft, Intel and other technology game-changers. The mainframe computer had graduated from high-end hardware used by militaries and governments to a mainstream business tool. Consumers were starting to enhance their lifestyles with cheap televisions, ATMs, microwaves, economical cars and a bevy of other innovations.

The world was changing rapidly, and with it, companies rose and fell on their ability to respond.

The eighties and nineties became the eras of rapid productivity. Based on US figures from the Heritage Foundation, productivity has doubled while the average hourly rate has declined from 1970 to 2010. This is both good and bad, but it illustrates with certainty, the impact of productivity technologies during the last decades of the Twentieth century. From spreadsheets to email to switchboards to fax machines to ERP suites: these were productivity’s catalysts.

Eventually though, every pendulum has to reverse course. Those innovations started attracting complexity. In the early nineties you were lucky to get an email a day. Today you are lucky if you can read a hundred emails and get through your daily workload. The same systems that have granted us more space to accomplish, have also grown bloated. This is not new either: the reason why technologies in the Seventies boosted productivity, is because they were replacing overwhelming complexity. The mainframe was so popular since it was a lot simpler to use than the boxes of punch cards demanded by older systems. Then it became cumbersome, eventually challenged by leaner desktop and server PCs.

Today we are at that stage again. The standalone server is being replaced by the cloud. Email is being joined by collaboration suites and messenger apps. The spreadsheet is making way for dashboards and analytical machine learning. Why? Because complexity is at a saturation point and the world is demanding simplicity to drive new levels of productivity.

It is important that we appreciate the nature and inevitability of the sea-change that companies are currently experiencing. Now to my point: your business processes have been born and honed through those productivity technologies. Your fax machine sits idle – all that has shifted to email. If your email ceases to function, several of your processes will grind to a halt.

Thus, it is paramount that you take stock of your processes, consider what powers them, and see if there is a better way. Let’s consider the highly impactful example of data. Your company generates a lot of data, which until now, has likely languished in storage or was sent to the afterlife of deletion. But today data is a differentiator. Your ability to understand your data is crucial to your success, while the speed at which you access those insights defines your productivity. So it’s a simple question: are you making use of your data?

There are many more examples: can the cloud improve the speed and expansion of your products? Can machine learning automate manual processes, freeing up your staff and time? How are you using mobile devices to empower your workforce and yourself? Do you understand the benefits of in-memory computing? Is there a role which technologies such as Blockchain can play in your organisation?

What you are looking for is Corporate Cholesterol: the fatty bits that have started to narrow your company’s arteries. What are those processes and technologies that once made the enterprise’s heart beat, but now threaten to choke it off?

As a guideline, I can recommend three areas to consider. Firstly, look at how your customer experience drives your strategy. Customers are often familiar with innovations that make life easier. If you aren’t appealing to them, your processes are lagging. Secondly, don’t view your decision and the resulting transaction as separate entities. They feed from each other, so rather ponder on how you can enhance that relationship and learn from it. Thirdly, remember that data is the new centre of gravity, and speed matters. If your organisation is not responding as fast as your market expects it to, you need to address that.

No such transition is easy. There are challenges in terms of security, regulation uncertainty, skill-sets, creating new mega-processes, disruption and more. But the only people who experience smooth sailing all the time are those who never leave the harbour. The storms of change cannot be avoided. However, they are key to ensuring business longevity. Cast a critical eye on your processes and contemplate on how new technology can help cut the bad fat.

By Brett Parker, MD of SAP Africa at SAP

Top tips for total productivity

Post-holiday gloom, the 3pm slump, stiffness from sitting down all day, annoying colleagues … whatever the cause, everybody experiences a lag in productivity in the workplace from time to time.

But Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says the responsibility of managing staff health and well-being falls on both employer and employees.

“Often neither party knows how to get the most out of a working day.

“So we’ve put together this handy guide to help boost happiness, health and productivity, and achieve more each day:

Step away from the desk
No matter how fit you are, sitting for more than an hour at a time raises your risk of heart failure, diabetes and obesity. “We recommend taking at least a two-minute break from the desk every half-hour to stretch the legs, hydrate, get some natural light, and clear your thoughts,“ says Andrews.

Being active can improve output and work satisfaction by 80% according to the UK’s Business in the Community.

Test alternative meeting styles
Meetings that lack focus are a drain on productivity, time and motivation.

Says Andrews: ”Conducting a meeting while walking, standing or even exercising encourages employees to step away from their desks, inspires ideas and introduces exercise into a typically sedentary day,” Methods such as this let you exercise, brainstorm, refresh and build relationships while being part of a meeting.

Fuel body and mind
The food that you eat has a real impact on your energy levels.

Sugary snacks and caffeinated drinks give you a spike in energy, but this is often followed by a crash where you feel more tired than before.

Berries, vegetables, nuts, wholegrain cereals, yoghurt and biltong are better than junky snacks. If you feel the need for something sweeter, a few squares of dark chocolate is a good compromise.

Choose perks wisely
An office games console and on-site bar may win you likes on Instagram, but it’s important to consider about whether your work-space perks will benefit your staff in the long term.

“Rather than always spending funds on boozy nights out, introduce fresh fruit, flexible working, gym memberships or healthy away days,“ Andrews advised.

An interesting UK survey by Labour Force shows that 30.4 million working days were lost in Britain in 2015-2016 through sickness. Stress, depression and anxiety caused 11.7 million days to be lost, while musculoskeletal problems accounted for 8.8 million sick days. With such losses at stake, looking after staff health has to be a priority.

Being efficient at work helps staff to reach their targets and keeps clients happy.

“However, efficiency levels can fall when staff are stressed, constantly reaching to meet high expectations, lacking in confidence or under the weather. Maintaining a friendly atmosphere, having clearly defined roles, and setting realistic goals are essential for an efficient workspace, “Andrews concludes.

The world over, savvy businesses are rapidly moving beyond shared desks to flexible workspaces, which is having a profound effect on job satisfaction and staff turnover.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says: ”The hot desk concept is on the wane.

“Many more people have higher expectations for their working lives now want to be able to work in a more flexible way. Offices are adapting to meet that need. A bonus and a pat on the back is no longer enough to retain staff.”

Recent research by a UK social research charity The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that almost half the UK workforce would like the opportunity to work in a more flexible way. Job search firm CareerBuilder’s research revealed that 56% of employees who describe themselves as satisfied in their jobs cited work/life balance as a key factor.

Only 39% cited salary as the root of their job satisfaction.

Said Andrews: “Rather than setting up rows of traditional desks, each with their own power point and telephone, firms should consider shared spaces with work benches and social hubs where staff can work in a group or on their own in a more informal setting.”

Companies are seeing rewards from a more flexible approach. US retailer Best Buy adopted flexibility at its headquarters, resulting in a reduction in staff turnover of 45%.

“As technology develops to enable access to corporate systems, services and applications from any location at any time, employees are increasingly questioning the need to sit at a particular desk in a specific office at set times each day,“ Andrews noted.

The future of flexible working can be divided into three areas – space, location and time.

Flexible space

Flexible work spaces have the advantage that they don’t “belong” to any individual or team, meaning staff are less likely to get territorial over a particular place. They are also a great use of space for businesses looking to get the most value out of building costs, as they can be used in different ways – from a short meeting to an employee needing to focus on a particular project away from their team.

A clear-desk policy is a must when considering any of the above, ensuring that staff don’t reserve a certain seat or desk even when they’re away from an office.

Flexible location

Remote working is being embraced by many businesses to allow staff to work while travelling or offsite. Whether it’s letting staff head home after an external meeting to carry on working, or a more formal arrangement enabling workers to be at home for certain days per week, employees are increasingly demanding these opportunities. Enterprises that fail to offer flexible working policies and options will soon find they are unable to compete with larger companies when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent.

Flexi-time

The most radical of the three options, but it’s one already widely practised by micro businesses, startups and entrepreneurs. However, we have yet to see a real shift to flexible hours among larger enterprises.

“Most companies expect their staff to work set days and hours, even if they happen to be working at home or from a hot desk. As offices decrease in both size and number of people on the premises at any time, as more of us choose to work remotely, so the need for staff to all be working the same days and times decreases,” said Andrews.

The most forward-thinking firms will start considering roles and functions in their organisation by employees working their own chosen hours – whether that’s compressed hours, weekend or night-time working – rather than those dictated by the business.

It might be that only one or two of these three options are feasible for your organisation at present, but for all firms it is worth assessing pilot programmes to try out the trio of different

Let the light shine in

A recent survey of office workers across South Africa has revealed the top five things people want from their office space.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that the survey was carried out late last year and queried just over 3000 office workers on what mattered to them most in the workplace.

“Unsurprisingly 42% said more natural light was the the most important element.

“It so simple but often design gets so caught up in the fancier things, people forget the importance of sunlight to humans’ sense of well-being.

“This is especially true in the workplace, where traditionally there has been a focus on issues of layout and safety – important factors, but not the only elements affecting happiness at work.”

Second on the list was ‘quiet working spaces’ at 22% and in third ‘was a view of the sea’ at 20%.

“Increasingly we are installing quiet zones for our big clients. People need to escape from what is often a noisy and disruptive environment to really get work done.

“A typical office work switches activities about every three minutes and half of these switches were caused by interruptions. Interrupted work is usually resumed however it takes workers about 20 minutes to get back to what they were doing.”

She adds that views of the sea were a nice to have but not practical for inland cities. “We have found however that placing large pictures of peaceful natural places like forests, mountains or the sea does create a calming atmosphere in the office.”

Rounding out the list was ‘live indoor plants’ at 18% and ‘bright colours’ at 15%.

“The recent trend to create clinical uncluttered offices doesn’t make people more productive or help them concentrate better.”

Trim noted that a green office signals to employees that their employer cares about their well-being.

“Adding live plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.”

Another factor that made offices better places to work was the right use of colour.

“Bland colours induce feelings of sadness and depression while grey and white can also contribute to feelings of gloom and anxiety.

“Scientific studies have shown that colours don’t just change our moods, they also profoundly impact productivity.

“That’s why it’s best to decorate your workplace with a vibrant mix of stimulating hues that increase output and spark creativity,“ Trim says.

How space affects learning

South Africa faces a particularly challenging teaching environment with often overcrowded classrooms, distracted learners and hard working but sometimes under-qualified teachers.

And another, more subtle challenge is that traditional teaching classroom experiences are often not aligned with how the brain works, particularly as it relates to attention.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says that learning institutions in South Africa can achieve far better results by better understanding how learning works.

“There are so many things vying for student attention today it makes it harder to get attention and therefore engagement but there are five things that can be done to dramatically improve results:

Seat location impacts attention

A study by Kennesaw State University revealed that where students sit in the classroom impacts focus. Says Andrews: “Students in the front and middle of the classroom stayed on task, while those in the back were more distracted. An active learning classroom where students easily moved and rearrange their seating enables them to stay attentive.”

Classrooms configured with no fixed position where the instructor must stand and mobile seating create better results. Here an teacher or student can address the class, lead a discussion and share content from anywhere in the classroom. There’s no front or back of the classroom, and since the seating allows students to change posture and position easily, every seat is the best seat in the room.

Active learning

Research by Diane M. Bunce, et. al. on “How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class?”, compared a passive lecture approach and active learning methods. Researchers noted fewer attention lapses during times of active learning. They also found fewer lapses in attention during a lecture that immediately followed a demonstration or after a question was asked, compared to lectures that preceded active learning methods. This suggests active learning may have dual benefits: engaging student attention and refreshing attention immediately afterward.

Physical movement fuels the brain

Schools are starting to incorporate more physical activity in the classroom, such as Delaney Connective, a high school in Sydney, Australia, where students do “brain pushups” each morning: five-minute, Tai Chi-like exercises that get the blood flowing and help students focus.
“Physical movement increases alertness and helps encode and trigger memory. Yet schools and teachers traditionally train students to be sedentary, and equate sitting still with greater attention and focus,” noted Andrews.
Simply allowing students to get out of their seats to move while learning provides the brain with much-needed novelty and change.

Novelty and change get attention

Our brains naturally seek out what’s new and different. Therefore varying materials and breaks facilitate attention. A study by Kennesaw State University found that students paid more attention when the professor reviewed quiz answers, presented new information or shared videos, essentially by changing things up.
Novelty and change facilitate learning in another way too. Repeating important points by engaging multiple senses helps to reinforce learning. There is a greater likelihood that learning will generalise outside the classroom if it is organised across sensory, physical, emotional and cognitive networks.

Learning has a natural rhythm

The need for periods of both quiet focus and healthy distraction finds its parallel in learning.
Our brain can focus on a task for only so long, after which it needs a break for renewal to achieve high performance on the next task. Ignore this rhythm and we tend to lose focus.
“Researchers have found that people who respect this natural rhythm are more productive,” says Andrews. Breaks for rest and renewal are critical to the body and brain, as well as to attention span. The work of education is similarly organic, changing at different times of the term, week, even during a single class period.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t just about diets, marathons or finally growing that vegetable garden you promised you’d start last year – they’re pertinent for business too. In the same way New Year’s resolutions help you focus on personal goals for the coming year, so can they improve productivity in the office – no matter what your business. Here are resolutions you can make to thrive professionally in the year ahead:

Write a growth plan
The first step in ramping up your business and career goals is putting a plan in place. Research shows there’s substantial benefit in having a formal, written strategy for growth, as opposed to pie-in-the-sky hopes for development. If you have one already, now’s the time to do a quick review and consider updates where necessary.

The goals should be achievable, like improving office communication, meeting deadlines or acquiring new skills. Unrealistic ideas will only lead to frustration rather than improvement. Once you’ve formalised your plan, share it with key staff members and get their buy-in before the year kicks off.

Get organised
Success is in the small things as much as the macro goals. Tasks like organising office space, computers or the server are essential before heading into the year. De-clutter your inbox and organise files into designated folders on your computer – then encourage all office members to do the same. Remove unnecessary clutter around your desk, store what you still need and throw away what’s not being used.

Having a clean workspace – physically and electronically – will help you start the year with a clear, stress-free mind. Allocate time for an office clean-up and make de-cluttering a fun activity – with an incentive at the end, like pizza for lunch. Organise stock rooms and shuffle the floor plan if necessary.

Communicate with staff members to get their input on logistical office-related issues – then workshop some solutions. Consider automating processes, such as workflows, to make the office more organised and decrease paperwork.

Improve well-being
Employees and managers should realise looking after themselves (and their teams) is as important as the time put into work. If you’ve been struggling to establish a work-life balance culture in the office, now’s the time to reset.

Encourage employees to free up time to recharge by working smarter, not harder when in the office. Consider introducing ‘power hour’ to kick-start productivity (slots of time when employees can’t disturb one another). If personal well-being isn’t managed, it impacts on performance and effectiveness.

Schedule health checks with each staff member in the first few weeks of the New Year. It’ll give you a good idea of what needs to be adjusted going forward.

Embrace new trends
New technology emerges every year in vast quantities. Rather than trying to embrace every new trend, success can be found in honing in on one area in which you want to up-skill or improve – then seeking out tech and software to enhance it.

There’s huge benefit in embracing new and adaptive technology and leveraging it so it works for your business. You might be keen to improve communication within the team and could explore messaging software or tools to streamline project management. If your business needs it, it’s probably out there.

Introduce training and development
In the New Year, prioritise personal development. In reviewing your own goals and the goals of your team, evaluate skills and set-up training sessions within the organisation. Pair employees up with mentors to help them grow and pursue new career opportunities. Encourage team members to send out calendar invites for mentoring sessions ahead of time and, where possible, stick to them religiously.

To help keep your New Year’s resolutions, make sure you have an actionable plan with defined goals and a process for monitoring progress. Just like the vegetable garden you want to start, businesses take time, investment and nurturing to grow. So plant new seeds in the New Year – then watch business flourish in 2017.

Office trends for 2017

The workplace is changing rapidly, with businesses focusing on the war for talent, creating a more satisfactory employment experience for workers and adapting to changing demands of new technology and new generations of workers, like millennials.

In line with these changes, Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, has identified five major office design trends she believes will come to the fore in offices across South Africa in 2017.

1. Being much closer to mother nature

Bringing the outdoors inside is an office design trend that won’t be going anywhere soon and its one that coincides with productive well-being. With office workers spending around eight hours a day inside, we can see the benefits of bringing more natural elements into the workplace. Said Trim: “Living Walls for example create an element of nature that also helps with air purity, and perhaps even lunch, if you incorporate plants for eating such as lettuces.”

2. Time to collaborate – better and faster

“When it comes to collaboration and team meetings, diversity is key…not just among the company, but among the collaborative furniture options available,” noted Trim. If you have small meetings of two to six people, you can easily implement an acoustic furniture pod in the middle of your open office. Many commercial workspaces are finding a way to blend acoustic seating and collaborative furniture while simulating the relaxed atmosphere of an employee lounge. “This encourages people to get away from the formal conference table in favour of comfortable chairs and intimate surroundings,” said Trim.

3. Integrated technology

Workspaces that integrate with technology is a logical design trend that is on the rise. “We can expect to see wireless charging of devices become commonplace soon. And they are likely to be embraced quickly in the workplace if Apple supports the feature on the next iPhone which many analysts are expecting,” added Trim.

Office furniture with built in power adapters and multimedia capabilities will be seen in well designed and flexible work environments this year. It also helps offices to ‘future proof’ because technology use will only increase in the years ahead.

4. Future-proof design

Part of designing flexible layouts is the need for furniture that will adapt to new and changing requirements. Modular soft seating, modular workbenches, desk pods, meet point tables, collaborative and breakout furniture, and acoustic elements – are examples of smart office furniture choices to support a well designed, high functioning and adaptable workplace that will move efficiently into the future.

5. Design for productive well being

Said Trim: “Productive well-being is an aspect of workplace design that has been heavily embraced by architects and designers of late. With the health and well-being of employees being central to design, we see a positive impact on health, happiness, and productivity in the workplace.” And with this comes less staff turnover and decreased employee costs overall. “Things like sit-stand desks areas for both collaboration and privacy, comfort, airflow, lighting, indoor plant life, accommodating healthy lifestyle options like starting later in the day or gym memberships – all increase the productive well-being of your staff,” Trim concluded.

The way you dress says a lot about you – especially in the workplace. Dress codes differ across sectors (that’s a reality), but the general rule is: at work, keep it professional.

The way we dress at work not only affects how others perceive us, but affects the way we feel. Research shows the way you dress can significantly increase your confidence which results in increased productivity – what psychologists call ‘enclothed cognition’. Even if you’re not into fashion, it’s something to consider.

Research also suggests it takes just seven seconds to make a first impression. Fashion missteps can create misconceptions about your skills or how seriously you take your job. If your wardrobe is holding you back, it might be time to revamp this year. Here’s why:

What not to wear
Company dress codes are a good guide as to how to dress in the workplace. Informal attire in a corporate can suggest you value comfort over anything else and send the message you’re in cruise-mode. Casual attire might be well-received in certain workspaces, if everyone is on the same page. It’s about knowing what the boundaries are, so you don’t overstep them.

When you join a company, ask management or HR for guidelines on the general dress code and use them as a starting point. If you’ve been with the company for a while, it’s never too late to start over and it’s worth asking what the dress code in the office actually is, to find out if you’re on track.

The new formal
Workplace research shows more offices are moving towards ‘business casual’ in place of suits, but often the rules aren’t clearly defined. Even experienced professionals sometimes have trouble deciding what’s appropriate. If there are grey areas (or the dress code seems to be shifting), chat to colleagues or management to get a more definite idea of what’s appropriate, before going full tracksuit-and-trainers.

No end to the ’80s
Vintage styles are having a revival, but it’s wise to mix old-school trends with modern clothes. Dressing like it’s still the 1980s can give the impression you’re out of touch and find it difficult to embrace change. If you’re into vintage, mix it up with classic pieces to keep it professional.

Work wardrobe goals
It may be tempting to don a different look for each day of the week but it’s not always sustainable. In fact, Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg swears by t-shirts and jeans every day to eliminate unnecessary decisions and implement routine. Although a ‘one-look-every-day’ approach is a bit extreme, there’s value in simplicity.

A minimalistic wardrobe is about quality over quantity. Stick to fewer quality items that last longer and look more professional. A capsule wardrobe will save you infinite time deciding what to wear in the mornings – and you have less chance of committing a serious office-wear faux pas.

The right fit
Believe it or not, psychologists say poorly fitting clothes give the impression the wearer is unrealistic about their abilities. If clothes are too small, it suggests the wearer is lacks confidence. Oversized clothes allude to the fact that the wearer is trying to hide from the spotlight. Buy clothes that fit. And if your weight fluctuates – adjust accordingly.

Start the New Year with an objective assessment of the message you’re sending to colleagues. You want to be known for the things you say and do, not your outfit malfunction.

Happy workers mean more revenue

Is a company a great place to work because it is wealthy, or is it wealthy because it is a great place to work? Ron Friedman has gathered a vast array of quality research to answer this question. As you work your way through this exceptionally valuable book, the answer will become increasingly clear and compelling.

Fortune magazine has ranked Google the world’s best place to work 7 times in 10 years. Employees can have massages, haircuts, foreign language courses, doctor’s appointments and more, all on the campus and free of charge.

More instructive is Wegmans, a US grocery chain that has been high on the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list for the past 14 years. During this period, annual sales have nearly tripled! Whereas many retailers try growing by squeezing labour costs, Wegmans did the opposite: they invested more in their people.

The conclusion Friedman has drawn from wide research is that “the more invested and enthusiastic people are about their work, the more successful their organization is on a variety of metrics”. Happy employees are more productive, more creative, provide better client service, and are less likely to call in sick. They also act as brand ambassadors outside the office.

Focusing on workplace happiness doesn’t cost the company money in the long run, and ensures revenues will grow. Those on the Best Companies to Work For list outperform the market as a whole, by a factor of 2 to 1.
Friedman demonstrates across the 11 chapters of this book that very little wealth is required. All of the advantages can be achieved by any company, irrespective of the staff or balance sheet size.

Failure is the only reliable path to success
In a chapter entitled “Success Is Overrated – Why Great Workplaces Reward Failure”, Friedman shows that accepting failure is not only a way of making it easier for employees to be risk-takers, but often proves to be the only reliable path to success.
Shakespeare, Beethoven and da Vinci were all far more productive than their contemporaries. Their most interesting common denominator is the volume of attempts they made to produce great work. Thomas Edison’s hundreds of failures led to his successful invention of the lightbulb.

Prior to the huge successes of the iPhone and iPad, Steve Jobs racked up a remarkably long list of failures that includes the Apple I, the Apple II, the Lisa, the Newton personal digital assistant, and NeXT hardware. As Larry Page of Google points out, “Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely. That’s the thing that people don’t get.”

But failure alone won’t add to success unless the failure is interrogated for insights that can help the next attempt.
I was particularly intrigued by chapter five: “How to Turn a Group of Strangers into a Community”. Dr Donald Clifton, founder of the Gallup organisation, developed the Q12 survey to identify employee engagement.

One of the items measured is whether employees have workplace friendships – one of the strongest predictors of productivity. Employees with a best friend at work tend to be more focused and more loyal to their organisations. They are sick less often, suffer fewer accidents, change jobs less frequently and have more satisfied customers.

In a variety of clinical studies, friends outperformed acquaintances. Friends were more committed at the start of a project, communicated better, and offered teammates positive encouragement. Acquaintances preferred to work alone and did not help others avoid mistakes. They engaged others only when absolutely necessary, and were less comfortable seeking help.

The reduction of staff churn is particularly important in contexts where there is a shortage of talent. If co-workers are friends, it is harder to leave. The opposite is also true.

Workplace friendships, however, do not have to be left to chance.

Fostering friendships at the workplace
What can organisations possibly do about employees’ friendships, since friendships are voluntary and people can’t be persuaded to become friends? There are three ingredients in building friendships and they are all surprisingly straightforward. All have been verified by research.
The first ingredient for friendship is physical proximity. Co-workers who work nearby increase the chances of forging friendships more than if they worked in different departments.

The second ingredient is familiarity. Psychologists call this the ‘mere exposure effect’ and argue that our minds are designed to distrust the unfamiliar. Studies show that the mere exposure effect doesn’t just affect our impressions of people: it also applies to paintings, songs and consumer products.

The third and strongest contributor to friendship is similarity. The writer C.S. Lewis once observed, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another,’‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one’.” Similarity is reaffirming. If I like what you like, your opinion validates mine and increases my self-liking.

Even if all the ingredients are present, friendships might still not blossom. Research by Art Aron shows that factual exchanges aren’t enough to create friendships. People need to reveal intimate information about themselves in a reciprocal fashion; both partners need to self-disclose. This self-disclosure needs to progress because without deeper revelations a relationship can stall.

Is mutual self-disclosure with co-workers really wise? Research conducted by Professor Patricia Sias suggests it is, at least if your goal is to make friends.

How can you tell if coworkers are friends? By the amount of time they spend discussing nonworkplace topics. When talk is only about work, you might develop a reputation for being competent, but you’re not likely to develop many friendships.

While we know a lot about the formation of friendships, we seem to apply very little of that knowledge to cultivating relationships in the workplace, despite their proven work value. “Surprisingly little thought is given to the way onboarding can contribute (or undermine) a sense of connection between team members.”

Most company introductions to newcomers consist of little more than being shown your workspace and going through the corporate equivalent of speed dating – back-to-back meetings with key people, at breakneck speed.
Intelligent onboarding must reflect the reality of the needs of employees as well as those of their companies, and must accomplish two major concerns: demonstrating competence and connecting with their colleagues.
Introducing new employees by more than just their professional background, such as their hobbies, their favourite entertainments or an unusual talent, is valuable. The Great Place to Work Institute’s Best Companies to Work For award in 2011 has made personal interests a key feature of their onboarding practices.

Providing a colourful introduction makes it easy for teammates to have nonworkplace topics to talk about the first time they meet, a short cut to possible workplace friendships.

There are so many superb insights and so much practical advice for anyone who recognises the value of creating a great place to work in this book. Such a place is unlikely to happen by chance. Friedman offers advice across too wide a range of issues to cover in this column. The book should be read by all HR professionals and managers with organisational responsibility.

By Ian Mann of Gateways

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