While increasing collaboration
The value of a diversified workforce is difficult to overstate. Homogeneous offices struggle to innovate and create. To truly think and act differently from your competitors, you have to have a unique and diverse set of variables and inputs. The more perspectives you seek, the wider the array of ideas your company will create.
Embracing the values offered to your company by a wide range of very different people can be challenging. It starts with reframing your thinking when evaluating talent and potential hires. First, it’s OK to be a specialist. In the offices of old, there was little or no place for a engineer with low social skills who doesn’t fit in. Today, companies like Microsoft and Chase recognize the value of folks with autism or aspergers, and they utilize their unique set of skills in areas like computer and systems security. It’s not about creating an office of like people acting similarly, it’s about creating an environment where all sorts of people can flourish.
Whenever you are looking to instill a culture or foster a new tone, it’s important to consider the realities of your team and also the situation you face in your physical space. Companies that push new initiatives without considering the abilities and willingness of their staff face insurmountable pushback. Companies that don’t properly utilize their physical space or stop to consider their space limitations face a similarly unfortunate fate.
Let’s look now at how we can set up our teams and our offices to accomplish our dual mission of inviting diversity while driving collaboration. It’s a more nuanced issue than it first appears. How do you encourage more teamwork and interaction when your environment is also being filled with people who are very different from each other? It’s not as dichotomous as it seems.
Your people deserve to know what your goals and aims are for the company and for their shared office space. They give you at least forty hours of their lives each week. They are invested and therefore concerned.
Your team needs to know why you want to diversify their colleagues. For many, when they first hear of diversity they are thinking in terms of skin color or gender. Explain that diversity means differences of opinion, taste, upbringing, and point of view. An important kind of diversity is the cognitive kind. People who think differently offer unique skills and insights.
Communicating is particularly important when it comes to changing your office layout. If you hire someone on the autism spectrum to be your new systems security expert, he or she may need a quiet place, completely secluded from the distractions of the office. If you don’t properly and clearly communicate that your secluded offices are for people who absolutely need them, not for high-performers or favorites, you will face a great deal of backlash.
Consider your team and your needs as a company. If you are out selling widgets or gizmos by cold calling on the streets, there is a certain type of person you must have on staff to carry that out. Your introverted artist may not make the best saleswoman. Identify all the folks who are in the right place first, and then take some time to look for people who might be better suited to other departments. It’s a great way to save or retain an employee.
Once you know the team you have, look for places where you can inject unique, diverse personalities and types. Maybe your sales team is full of extraverted athletic folks, so you might bring in a unique set of sales support staff to help round out the profile of the department –– a group full of actors, artists, or accountants to balance the scales.
Remember to take a look at your space as you’re spending all this time considering and consciously building. What are the limitations of your space? Are you in an open or closed office design? Do you have assigned desks, or do you change things up often? What needs to be removed or added to enhance your space?
Because you are clearly communicating the need and aim of any changes you are making, you can be assured that your team understands why things are happening. Now, with each and every project or question that your company is facing, it’s time to consistently seek a wide variety of inputs.
Don’t become a siloed office where experts are performing their tasks behind closed doors. That means you yourself cannot be an island. In order to foster collaboration throughout your company, you need to model the behavior with the decisions and tasks you carry out each and every day, including designing your office space.
The last step is to use your skills of communication, involving the team, and carefully considering your limitations to have your team help you design the ideal office that works for all. Seek their input, consider their realities, and model the tenets of teamwork you want them to carry out. Together, you’ll create an incredibly effective space, and the whole exercise sets the tone for future collaborations.
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