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Re-imagining Work For More Creativity And Productivity

We live in a world of technology that is supposed to simplify our lives, not just at home but also in the workplace.  It’s surprising to find that despite modern conveniences designed to increase productivity, 71% of Americans report that they are unhappy at work and feel disengaged by their employer.  

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft UK, has examined this anomaly and is working to reimagine how businesses can foster more creativity and productivity. Re-imagining business is about creating a new environment based on collaborative and flexible working which liberates rather than constrains employees. Coplin has identified four areas of the workplace where change is necessary to foster a spirit of innovation instead of mindless productivity.


RSA ANIMATE: Re-Imagining Work

1. Publicity vs Privacy

In our digital society, the world of social media has created a fundamentally different culture of collaboration.  In our personal lives, the default is that everything we do can be viewed publicly on a number of social media sites, with the exception of the limited situations we are able to keep private.  At work, most organizations implement a policy of privacy.  Employees are discouraged from using social media and in extreme cases, employers will prohibit co-workers from interacting with each other on social media even outside the office setting.  This dichotomy between the publicity of our personal lives and the privacy of our work lives is just one of the indications that cultures in the workplace have become outdated and focused on past experience instead of innovation.


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2. Productivity

Even though we’ve been working towards increased productivity for years, it’s this very productivity that is quickly becoming the problem.  We are focused on being busy instead of being innovative.  Email is a prime example of how we work harder and not smarter.  The goal of email should be to facilitate communication, instead, we often spend hours of our day reading and answering emails that bounce back and forth.  This prevents us from spending time thinking creatively.  Businesses need to learn to use technology in a different way to readdress the balance and get people more engaged in what they do at work.


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3. Open Office Space

The biggest challenge we face is more about our office space than the tools we use in it.  Office design has changed because of the world we live in and the way we live our lives.  In an effort to create a more collaborative environment, many offices have opted for an open office floor plan.   Data shows that 70% of US workers are in open office plans and 71% of workers don’t feel happy or productive at work.  It stands to reason then, that there is a great percentage of workers who don’t feel happy or productive at work because of the open floor plan.  

In theory, it makes sense that to foster collaboration you need to remove the barriers that separate people.  In reality, people in open office plans will often send an email to a nearby coworker instead of having a personal interaction.

The open floor plan setting causes people to feel exposed.  The typical layout is setup with computer screens facing outward, visible to all, creating a sense that you are being monitored.  Often times, managers are set up in an opposite manner with the screens facing a window or a wall for privacy while allowing them to watch their subordinates.

This leaves employees feeling vulnerable, creating anxiety and stress. The sense of constant monitoring creates a change in how people choose to do their work because instead of seeking collaboration, they are seeking a way to create personal space.

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4. Flexible Working

Work is no longer a destination, we have the tools we need to be able to work from anywhere, at any time.  Yet a majority of employers insist that workers still need to commute every day, to the same place, at the same point in time.

Most people think flexible working means working from home. Working from home is part of it, but it’s more about choosing the location where you want to be.  It’s also about taking control of how you work and how you use the tools you have at your disposal.  Flexible working empowers workers to choose a place that will allow them to be mindful of the tasks they need to accomplish whether that place is in the office, at home, with a customer, or anywhere else.

When offices do not allow employees to the flexibility to work remotely, it is usually related to trust issues.  Often, it’s the employers who don’t trust what their people are doing, but sometimes it’s the employees who don’t trust each other.  This lack of trust creates a sense of guilt for remote employees who then end up overcompensating.  They send more emails and make more phone calls in an attempt to be more visible, working up to 30 % longer hours in an effort to prove they are not shirking their responsibilities.


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The point that Coplin wants to get across is that we should be focused on creating cognitive space for people to do the thinking and innovating that needs to be done.  We need to reduce busywork like excess emails and phone calls so that we can truly work smarter, not harder.   

Organizations need to have the confidence to empower their employees and the people they work with to choose the best place to work for the task at hand, as well as choose the tools that they need. When this happens, will we have created a work environment that allows people the freedom to be truly innovative and productive.


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