What Every Business Leader Gets Wrong About ‘the Workplace of the Future’
The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “As a business leader, what’s your biggest pet peeve?” is written by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people talk about “the workplace of the future,” and mistakenly simplify the meaning to focus on the niceties of the workspace. While healthy snacks and open, collaborative spaces are certainly trendy, and in many cases productive, re-thinking the traditional corner-office style of management means more.
The new way of working is not just about bringing down the walls—it’s about bringing down the old-school style of hierarchical, top-down management. As we reconfigure the space within the four walls we work in, to truly change the traditional workplace model, we need to equally reconfigure the way we think about letting all team members be heard.
I witnessed the evolution of my own company’s workplace first-hand when we moved into open space about a year ago. I thought I might miss the chance to close my door and work on demanding tasks. But I found I very much appreciated hearing open conversations, jumping into lively discussions, and even getting quick input from those around me.
The future of work isn’t just about what’s in the space; it’s about how we engage with our colleagues in new ways, including how we engage with those at different levels than us. As CEO, you might think I work mostly with senior staff, but I work just as much with junior employees, and I feel lucky to have these unique insights and skill sets. As every aspect of our world evolves rapidly with digitization and more personalized experiences, voices at every level need to be heard.
I love working with teams that are comprised of people with varied talents and experience. I once had a senior member of my staff tell me that I was wrong to work directly with junior team members, and should always have a senior person reporting to me on a project. I was shocked. I realized that there are still remnants of the old ways of thinking around us. But we need to refashion our culture to collectively embrace an open dialogue where young people have a chance to step up on important projects and make a difference.
When considering how to build the right culture in which true talent has a chance to rise to the top, a few points are important to keep in mind:
Focus on the whole team
If you follow the strictly hierarchical reporting style of traditional workplaces, ideas and results get filtered up. You lose the chance to authentically hear many points of view in a way that can stimulate new thinking.
Encourage everyone to raise his or her hand
Younger members of the team, or those with less experience, may be uneasy about speaking up. It is important to reach out and reassure everyone that their ideas will be respected.
Find new ways to give leadership and accountability at various levels of the organization
Unlock energy and emotional connection by reaching down into an organization and assigning leadership and accountability for projects. It can bring a can-do, startup mentality to a company, which can be transformative.
Focusing on workspaces of the future only tells half the story. By breaking the mold from the more traditional style of working, you can make all the difference and vastly increase your company’s chances for competitive power and success.