Jul 08, 2013

    Homely office feeds innovation

    The Star/Asia News Network

    LAST year, I became worried about my employees at Leaderonomics.

    I noticed that fewer of them were interacting with each other, with many opting to work from home (we have a flexi-work policy).

    Working from home was great for work-life balance, but it did nothing to help ideation and foster creativity.

    I had a significant problem - working from home had become a habit for many.

    I could have made it mandatory for staff to work in the office, but that would have created very unhappy employees.

    Knowing full well that such a change would have resulted in negative sentiments, I decided to tweak the environment instead.

    We made the new office feel like home. Everyone has to remove their shoes before coming in. We even have patches of grass to create a homely vibe.

    The result - without any new rules - was that employees started making the office their home.

    They stayed late, had numerous casual conversations with each other as if they were part of a family, and frequently stayed at the office overnight, interacting and ideating.

    I recently read a great book by brothers Chip and Dan Health, titled Switch. Their research concluded that our brains have two systems - a rational and an emotional system.

    When these two systems are in alignment, change comes easily. When they are not, change can be gruelling.

    In their book, they provided an example. History teacher Bart Millar was frustrated by two students who were frequently late and disruptive in class.

    Most teachers would have assumed that the two students were "bad apples" and kicked them out of the class.

    But Mr Millar assumed otherwise. He believed that cool students mistakenly believe that their disruptive behaviour makes them class "protagonists".

    So, he decided to "tweak the environment". He bought a cool couch and put it at the front of the classroom. The first students to class daily could sit on the coach (and slouch).

    Guess who immediately started coming to class early?

    His two disruptive students came early each day and "volunteered" to sit in the front.

    Mr Roshan Thiran is chief executive officer of Leaderonomics, a social enterprise passionate about transformation through leadership development.