As leaders of our organizations we’re facing unprecedented challenges. The pace of work has accelerated. We’re constantly under a deluge of information and expected to rapidly shift between various contexts throughout the day. Our schedules are more fragmented and span multiple time zones. As a result, a loss of connection with people across our organizations is a frequent casualty. And we’re experiencing heightened demand to be more agile, innovative and growth-oriented.
As the business world is changing, so should the way we lead. The concept of “The Entrepreneurial Society,” which I had the pleasure of deeply contemplating and discussing at the recent Drucker Forum, offers guidance for leaders today (though Peter Drucker saw it coming in the mid-1980s). The notion of enabling employee ownership, responsibility and autonomy is key for driving innovation at any organization. Empowering others can alleviate many of the mental and physical challenges we as leaders experience daily.
Many leaders recognize the need to foster a culture of entrepreneurial behavior, and are looking for tools to help them do just that. I believe the workplace itself can help leaders lead better and, in turn, help others around them succeed. Think about your own work environment and ask yourself:
- Does my office facilitate connections and collaboration?
Historically, executives were top-down decision makers. In today’s business world, exemplary leaders are those who are more connected and in tune with the organization. Doing so enables them to cultivate a positive corporate culture, help people do their best work and find the best ideas from all levels of the organization.
The office can also facilitate better connections between people and information. It can provide remote workers with a virtual presence similar to those who are physically present. We’ve all experienced a poor connection when calling into a conference call. A well-designed, technologically advanced conference environment can make that experience better for everyone.
To facilitate these types of collaboration:
- Provide casual meeting places like a lounge or café area that encourage people to come together and meet.
- Incorporate technology into these spaces so people can easily tap colleagues who may be located elsewhere by phone, video conference or other connection.
- Does my work setting make my job easier?
When I first began my career, the corner office was a sign executives had “made it.” But think about the implications of a corner office; the physical space shuts the leader off from his or her colleagues and provides only a singular layout that doesn’t offer flexibility. The old model just isn’t cutting it today with the new challenges and intense distractions of today’s new world of work.
Many companies have made changes to their offices, including executive leadership spaces, to make them more open, transparent and flexible. For some leaders, this change is well-received. For others, this change is too drastic. It’s about striking the right balance. For example:
- Designate leadership workstations in or around a main thoroughfare within the office. This will create visibility and enable leaders to keep their finger on the pulse of the organization, so they can understand and recognize promising talent and ideas outside their direct reports, and mitigate inefficiencies where needed.
- Incorporate a mix of shared spaces which people can use depending on the type of work they need to accomplish.
- Provide spaces not just for maximum performance, but for rejuvenation and recovery, such as a private enclave for an executive or employee to decompress, rest, stretch or have a personal conversation during a micro “down moment” between meetings. This can improve the wellbeing of your employees and help them maintain focus and engagement.
- Does my office encourage flexibility and autonomy?
I’m often surprised to find many leaders at major companies still have an owned workspace and rarely work from other spots within the office, other than to attend a meeting in a conference room from time to time. Often, this is because there aren’t many other desirable places for a leader to use, due to technology constraints, a lack of comfortable seating or other issues. When the workspace features a variety of work stations leaders can use effectively, they will be more likely to identify and use the right place for the task at hand. And, when other employees see leaders take advantage of this flexibility and autonomy, it allows them to do the same.
To provide your leadership team and employees with more choice and control over where and how they work:
- Create spaces that allow personalization and individual customization, instead of tightly enforced workplace standards.
- Provide a mix of types of work stations open to everyone: both open and private, large and small, options for sitting and standing, etc.
As approaches to leadership evolve in this new world of work, it’s critical the office also evolves to support these expectations, challenges and behaviors. It’s critical executives lead by example. This means stepping out of the corner office and moving around the space. In doing so, we enable an entrepreneurial culture, and can unlock the true promise of our organizations.
About the author:
Sara Armbruster is Vice President, Strategy, Research and New Business Innovation, at Steelcase. She oversees strategy creation and corporate business development, as well as Steelcase’s design research activity. Find her on Twitter: @saraarmbruster.