Have you ever thought about the unnatural nature of an office environment? I have, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about it since leaving that very environment and what a difference NOT being there has made in my life.
Ironically, I find myself in a place where I want to step back into that environment and help others learn how to solve this problem - because after spending time outside of that hamster wheel, I think I have a pretty good idea of why it isn’t inspiring, and it has to do with people.
I recently realized that as a contractor, there is something that happens quite differently in the way I am treated than the interactions I used to have as a full time employee. Yes, you read that right. And yes, shouldn’t it be the other way around??
In any case, I felt a renewed energy entering the offices of my partners and clients - it was like they rolled out the red carpet, put on their best faces, and energetically thanked and praised my work because I had once again saved the day and brought back the exact work they needed! A great place for me, but it got me thinking really hard about organizational challenges and the problems that exist due to the constraints of the office - including what it does to people.
So - even though I want to believe that I am so fabulous that this is the reason for this fundamental shift in appreciation, I concluded that is not the case. (Unfortunately for my ego.) What was happening provides interesting insight:
1. I am not there every moment of every day. I am new, and simply by being new I change up the dynamic of the group and break up the monotony. My presence is exciting.
2. No one has seen me at my worst. Since I am not there every moment of the day, it is easy for me to put on a happy face and being super excited to be there every single time they see me.
3. I am relieving them of some of their stress. It is not “my job” to do what I am doing - (even though it absolutely is) - I am being brought in because there is a need that can’t be met, and yet it is their job to find a way to make it happen. Often with limited time, resources, and the pressure of the client.
Now, let’s look at the flip side of this.
1. They are there every moment of the day. Forced into the monotony of the 9-5 (or even longer hours), expected to be there in meetings/chained to their desk/churning through the work and being used to being seen. In other words, the opposite of exciting.
2. Everyone has seen them at their worst. Unless you are a flawless actor and can be on all hours of the day, everyone has a breaking point. A sleepless night with the kiddos, a fight with a coworker, a meeting that lasted all day and 150 emails to dig through…I can paste on a happy face for 1-2 hours. Not as easy for 8+.
3. The stress builds within the environment. It isn’t easy to step outside of the office environment when spending so much time in the environment. It is natural for the walls to close in, the space to feel uninspiring, and the people to settle into a comfortability that isn’t productive or interesting. Plus, it is a job - the very definition is the antithesis of fun.
So what to do about this problem? We all see the world changing in interesting ways - remote work environments, work from home opportunities, co-op work spaces, open work environments, pool tables, beer-thirty….the list goes on.
But I would argue that these are artificial bandaids that only ease the problem for a bit, and that don’t get to the heart of the matter - people working together as people, bringing their unique value to work, and finding ways to communicate with their co-workers in a productive, respectful way, thereby being satisfied and happy in their jobs and their relationships. Which, by the way, means producing great work at the end of the day.
Still having trouble with your office environment? Give us a call. We’ve been there.
Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency focused on helping start-ups, small and mid-size businesses quickly capture the hearts of their customers without breaking the bank. They believe in “real-time brand-building”, which delivers strategically-informed execution, creating immediate business impact while also developing equity for systemic growth. And since their team consists of an extended network of talented freelancers and boutique agencies, they do not require hefty retainers and contracts to do it. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com and April@Forthright-People.com.