By now, you’ve heard the tales of workers who head to the roof with baseball gloves for a quick game of catch when they hit a creative roadblock, employers who allow dogs in the office and companies where everyone has shed the traditional shirt and tie for more casual attire.
Some view these as case studies in inefficiency, but Kenneth Kovach and Gary Bunch of Cleveland-based Creative Stages argue that exactly the opposite is true. Design a flexible workplace attitude, they say, and you will inspire creativity and productivity in your employees.
“People are begging to bring in their pets and some companies are allowing that,” Kovach told a crowd of business leaders at the October Employee Resource Council’s annual meeting. “Pets and Ping-Pong do have an impact on productivity.”
But creating a casual workplace attitude, and still getting work done, is a bit more difficult than simply buying a pool table for the break room. Workplace flexibility must be carefully designed to walk the fine line between stodginess and anarchy.
Even if you’re not ready to let dogs into your office just yet, Kovach and Bunch offer pointers for creating a more flexible and productive company.
Set the tone
If you want to create a flexible work environment, take the old advice about leading by example. A relaxed atmosphere must be developed in the top office and filter down through the work force.
“Be flexible if you want employees to be flexible,” says Bunch “Don’t expect employees to just be flexible. It is not the real world.”
Break old habits
Part of shedding an uptight office atmosphere is breaking the old patterns of work that have contributed to a stressful environment. If there is not significant change in the physical part of the job, Kovach argues, employees will not buy into the shift in attitude
“As long as we have the old pattern thinking going on, we’re never going to be able to break out of it,” he says. “Our brains respond to novelty and incongruity.”
That may mean giving the boot to stodgy company meetings or changing the physical environment of your workplace to reflect its change in personality. The more change that is fostered, the more creative and productive your work force will become.
Draft some rules
Dress-down days have been adopted by many business, but Bunch warns that even the most relaxed companies have rules to make sure their office space is conducive to work no matter how at ease they want employees to feel.
“Draft some guidelines to casual clothes,” he says. “Companies often find they created a policy to create more flexibility and they’ve created a monster. Sometimes what people wear is so incredibly bizarre it makes matters worse instead of better. Obviously, you have to have some compromise. Anything goes is not the answer.”
Stoke the fire
The reality of such a fundamental change in a company’s culture is that it will not stick unless there is a sustained and concerted effort on the part of management to feed a creative approach to work.
Bunch says there is an 80 percent chance that companies that try to change their workplace will end up reverting back. If there is good communication within an organization, the odds of it reverting fall to about 60 percent. However, Bunch, who along with Kovach makes his living helping businesses become more creative, say nine out of 10 of their clients usually see long-lasting change.
“We can take it up to a 90 percent chance when we continue to come in on a regular basis,” he says.
How to reach: Creative Stages, (216) 921-0900
Jim Vickers (email@example.com) is an associate editor at SBN.