When I first started work at my current job, I was bowled over by the overwhelming sense of fun that permeated the office. There were video games, BBQs, raffles, and frisbee tournaments on the patio. Free food and schwag was so prevalent, you couldn’t walk 500 feet without encountering a giant plate of cookies or a comfy new t-shirt.
We were all about that hip ‘tech company culture’ — that is, until it backfired.
When Internal Culture Goes Wrong
While the effort to keep company morale sky high 24/7 was appreciated, it was also abused. The abundance of distractions competed for the attention span of the employees — and eventually, some of my colleagues just quit working all together.
We had no system in place to make sure employees were meeting their production goals, and no real threat to anyone’s job if poor performance was noticed. Once that became apparent, quite a few people took advantage of the system.
Upper management was confused and unsure of where things had gone wrong. With so many fun happenings around the office, why weren’t the employees happy and productive?
The problem really boiled down to one thing — engagement. Did our employees like the company? Of course, they were paid to sit around and play all day, what’s not to like? Were our employees engaged? No — not even a little bit.
Engagement & Culture
Engagement is more than employee attraction or retention. Employees who are engaged are emotionally connected to and passionate about their work. They’re proud of their company and look forward to coming to work each day. They’re willing to go the extra mile to make sure the organization is successful.
Furthermore, engagement and culture go hand in hand. Company culture impacts how an employee experiences and perceives the organization they work for. Engagement is how an employee feels about themselves and their work.
If the company culture is toxic or apathetic, and employee won’t have positive feelings about the organization and their role in it then they’ll end up just coasting along instead.
My coworkers and I weren’t emotionally connected to our work at all. Hell, half of us had never even heard of our product before we started working here. And as for being proud of our company — well, that’s hard to do when the only way you know what the company stands for is a values poster in the lobby. Without strong leadership, clear communication, and solid expectations, our employees were set up to fail from the very start.
Management eventually identified the problem with both our internal culture and lack of engagement and began to take steps to set things right.
Our leadership made three main changes:
- We all created agreed upon goals with our team leader.
- Communication channels were opened up.
- We began to hear more about what our company really stood for.
And you’ll never guess what happened.
Distraction’s Impact on Engagement
It’s hard for an employee to be fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, their work if they can’t actually get any work done.
Employee distraction is one of the biggest hurdles companies face, and my company is no exception. While the X-Box and popcorn machine no longer pull focus like they used to, the open office environment is another story entirely.
Open offices are incredibly popular in many tech companies as they’re considered a boon to communication and camaraderie. In truth, lack of privacy, uncontrolled social interactions, and constant noise pollution have left workers more dissatisfied and unproductive than ever. Not to mention, open offices make it far easier for illness to spread.
I loathe open offices. I am quite easily distracted and the uninterrupted stream of noise from my coworkers keeps me from reaching my potential. I don’t think I could be more productive in a private office or cubicle, I know I could.
But one major upside to the open office is cost — they’re incredibly cheap to set up. Expecting my employer to pony up the dough to set us all up with our own private space is, frankly, ridiculous.
The trick is to find a middle ground.
There are a couple of easy to apply solutions companies can employ:
- Within the open space itself, they can create different zones for different types of work (collaborative, individual, etc) using architectural elements like alcove sofas, low walls, or sheer paneling.
- They can give their employees the freedom to move around campus by supplying tablets or versatile 2-in-1 laptops. Individual rooms can be set aside for quiet, independent work.
In order for an organization to see its workers reach the highest level of engagement and productivity, it will need to cultivate an environment that supports optimal performance — both physically and psychologically.
My company is young. We’re learning a lot as we go, and playing many things by ear, but I have high hopes that one day we’ll be considered on of the top places to work in Idaho.
What does your company do to limit distractions so people can be productive and get in the zone?
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.