Entries in wellbeing at work (4)


Culture and the digital workplace

There is a great deal of activity focused on the growing digital environment -- businesses, strategy consultants, technology experts and academics are exploring how to function effectively in this rapidly-evolving landscape. Yet unless your business is a startup, these new strategies, operational processes and technical solutions must be implemented within an established business, meaning that the culture of your organization is an important factor to consider.

Shimrit Janes from the Digital Work Group wrote an informative piece last year that quite succinctly describes the relationship between culture and the digital workplace. In particular, she notes that the success or failure of new collaboration tools and other digital initiatives can vary from one company to the next due to the alignment (or lack thereof) between the new ways of working and the existing culture.

Through the research carried out so far, a truism has emerged: an effective digital workplace is one that mirrors the culture of an organization.”

Interestingly, this end result can be reached via two distinct paths. The first is by taking an approach to the digital workplace that aligns with existing culture, though there are cases where this is just not possible. So, a second viable approach is the counterintuitive one of building a digital culture at odds with the existing culture in order to precipitate a "values crisis" that leads to positive cultural change.

In both cases, the author recommends taking the time to understand your existing culture(s) before embarking on new journeys. With this understanding of existing values and practices, the right digital "interventions" can be planned and executed.

-- Bojan Angelov

Shimrit Janes

Google, working groups and the nature of work

What happens when a company at the forefront of the digital economy -- one that is known globally for fostering new ways to unleash employee creativity to drive growth -- decides to apply it's expertise in data collection and analysis to improve the performance of its teams? Google undertook this effort, and the short answer is that for a long time, nothing much happened because the data yielded few patterns...and the ones that did emerge were often contradictory.

Ultimately, despite the apparently contradictory data, Google’s intense data collection and number crunching  led it to a conclusion that good managers have intuitively known for a long time: the best teams find ways to listen to each other and read the reactions, moods and feelings of other members.

The team at Google responsible for the ‘‘employee performance optimization’’ research believes the effort was valuable even though its conclusions echo those previously articulated by earlier managers. They argue that it has created a method for talking about our insecurities, fears and aspirations in more constructive ways, and that it also has given us the tools to quickly teach lessons that once took managers decades to absorb.

Just having data that proves to people that these things are worth paying attention to sometimes is the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention." -- Julia Rozovsky, Google

We encourage you to read through the interesting, more complete story in this New York Times feature, What Google Learned From Its Quest To Build The Perfect Team. You can also check out Google's own "curated collection" of tools and lessons learned from its study of the workplace here.

-- Clara Shen


Innovation and the balance between creativity and productivity

We enjoyed this recent analysis of the relationship between productivity and innovation in the Harvard Business Review. Productivity and creativity have traditionally had a level of tension between them in the corporate world. Productivity favors efficiency, while creativity requires time and space to grow. In order to be creative in an organization, people need to have time to learn new things that may not be tied directly to their jobs, allowing for the creation of a “broad and deep knowledge base,” but this takes time, conflicting with productivity.

Companies typically evaluate employees based on measures of productivity. If an organization truly wants to foster creativity and new ideas, it needs to provide employees flexibility with their time, much like Google’s 20% time philosophy, where employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on new ideas. Beyond offering employees time and flexibility, creative efforts need to be rewarded. Author Art Markman concludes that growing a creative culture is possible, however, productivity-obsessed leadership will need to give a little in order for employees to bring new ideas to the table.


Amazon and corporate culture

This week we've watched with interest the attention and debate generated by the New York Times story about Amazon and it's workplace environment that appeared on the front page of its Sunday edition.

The original report cast the retailer as creating an intentionally "bruising" and "thrilling" environment that was an experiment in how far white-collar workers could be pushed. Amazon's founder responded to the NYT piece by saying it didn't describe the Amazon he knows. And, subsequent stories have emerged suggesting that elements of the high-stakes corporate environment can be found in other employers--even some that have recently announced new, kinder policies towards employees.

The issue has clearly struck a chord with a large audience. The volume of the ensuing discussion speaks to the strength of corporate cultures and the importance of how values, assumptions and  expectations regarding ways of working are communicated to employees.

-- Bojan Angelov