Two months ago we relocated to a new office. The move itself wasn’t out of the ordinary. The reasons for the move on the other hand represented what I see as a sign of the times.
What happened next was a fascinating social experiment.
You see when you throw these items into the mix of a normal office environment, people don’t know how to deal with them. I mean seriously, should they be playing darts at 9am? Or are they all supposed to line up to play pool during their lunch hour? There was absolutely no rule book, and no frame of reference for anyone to work within. Its been absolutely amazing to watch.
Other business owners I’ve known for years thought I was crazy. Surely productivity will nose dive. People will treat the place like a social club and work will begin to slip. Client relationships will suffer, ultimately leading to a total business collapse. Presumably followed shortly afterwards by either a zombie apocalypse or devastating meteor strike (or both).
So what prompted the move in the first place?
Typically I spend 3-4 months a year out in Northern California. I’ve witnessed first hand an evolution (some might say revolution) in the way people are working in the digital economy. I’ve spent time with people who are almost evangelical about their employers. Not only do they benefit from phenomenal working conditions, they are much more importantly lavished with trust on a scale that I’d never witnessed before.
Up to this point, tradition dictates that the employer vs employee relationship is ultimately adversarial. Owners want to make profits, and employees want benefits. Its like some giant game of seesaw. As the list of benefits increases, so profits must fall. The more the owners give, the more is expected. Where will it end? Its a pretty bleak and depressing outlook at business life.
After 17 years I needed to change.
A relationship lacking in trust, is a corrosive thing. It eats away at things over time, its unhealthy for all parties. No one wins in the long run. It becomes all about short term victories. You wouldn’t accept this in your personal relationships, so why do so many people, in their business lives?
I read somewhere (forgotten where), that its unforgivable to be miserable in your own business. The power to change everything is within your grasp. I found myself with the conflicting goals of running a business to provide freedom, and at the same time felt trapped by a status quo that was eating away at me bit by bit.
I realised that in my rush to build a business that scaled (more on that another time) I had implemented processes and procedures that would allow me to manage a much bigger organisation.
I found myself managing a team of 10 people, most of whom have been with me for 5 years or more, utilising systems and rules that were intended to manage strangers. Procedures intentionally designed to remove the need for trust.
All of this seems really obvious to me now, but back at the end of 2012 this was pretty depressing set of conclusions to reach.
So far so awesome
So in 2013 I took the leap. I systematically began breaking down walls (even physically in some cases) and opened up the business to a new way of working. An office move was inevitable as we embarked on this new chapter.
Well that brings us up to-date. So far the move has been a fantastic success. The team is working better than ever. I’ve trusted everyone to know what needs doing. In return they get to work in a great environment.
In many ways all of the above is done with a selfish agenda. I too wanted to come to work and enjoy myself. I wanted to be around happy people enjoying their work and having fun. I’m “happy” to report that part of the experiment has been a great success too.
I’m all too aware that this works for us because we have such an established business and knowledgable team. I’ve no idea how things will work as we inevitably introduce new people to our environment. What i do know is I’d rather take that gamble than embrace the status quo for the sake of avoiding risk.
This probably isn’t for everyone.
Now I’m not saying this is for everyone. I’m not so idealistic to realise that some people own businesses where this model of working simply isn’t practical. I’m guessing the people that clean our offices would love the flexibility to take a break for a game of pool now and again (yes we thought the same thing, they probably do in our office)
What I’m really saying, is that ANY business can afford the time it takes to look at what they do and how they do it. To take time out to look at the people that together make things happen in their organisation. Then find a way to show them the Trust and Respect that your relationship deserves. I guarantee everyone will be healthier for it.
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