I always thought that employers are afraid of remote working, because their full time employees would work less. There’s no trust in self-organization and the fact that we cannot see what they are doing form 9 to 5. (What if they are sleeping or doing laundry?! A nightmare!)
When I lost my last job and didn’t find myself diving into a new one straight away, I spent few months “in between” and promised myself that once its over I’ll write about it, so i don’t forget what this time meant to me.
Not having an employment contract, monthly salary and daily routine is only one side of losing your job. Finding yourself on the edge of vulnerability, learning how to ask for and accept the help of others, having to deal with change, expectations, uncertainty, reinventing yourself and going far outside your comfort zone is what you really get. Here are few things I’ve (re)learned during this time and why it was worth not having a job to do so.
In a search of a coworking space in London.
Holidays are finally over and its time to go back to the office. Thousands of people were dreading coming back to work this week and wishing they could at least work from home to avoid facing the reality for longer.
I don’t have to go to office this week, but I feel you, people. Office is not (always) for everyone. But so is home office. I always envied people who could use their home as office, properly focus and get things done. I manage, but I have to fight hundreds of distractions, and managing time or focusing is not always easy. I prefer to have a desk and a white noise in a place that is not mine to distract me. I like to have people around. But not always people I work with. So I used to crash local coffee shops and just use it as my working desk. Luckily, a lot of modern workplaces offer flexibility of working from where ever you wish, as long as the work is done. And luckily urban co-working spaces are up and coming.
I remember when I was a student and wanted to write an essay in the coffee shop, I was reminded that “this is not a library”. Fortunately, the times have changed and now you’re welcomed with the laptop and provided a free wifi at variety of places. My hometown Kyiv saw few amazing spaces being created last year to host entrepreneurs, remote workers and other wondering souls. Vibrant, dynamic, diverse, they attract lots of creative and restless people. Still mostly for the young, therefore they are very reasonably priced and flexible to attract the crowd.
A quick search in London gave a big variety of choices, mostly with a monthly rate and are offering wide range of services from a free shredder to a gym access or even a nursery. If you want to leave a family picture and a favourite mug, you can even have a permanent desk or if you need flexibility – rent it by day/hour. Check out wiki.coworking.com or www.sharedesk.net. Here’s also a good review from Deskmag.
And did you know you can also work in the legendary Google London campus? You can drop in as a visitor (cafe only) or apply for Google campus residency for wider access.
But what I am looking for is a drop-in option and all I really need is a table, free wifi and a cool atmosphere. I’d also like it to be just down the street. In that case Worksnug is a valuable resource, where you can find the nearest “laptop friendly space”, mostly cafes with free wifi and confortable desks (rated by other users). They also have an app!
Coworking spaces though are not only relevant for entrepreneurs. For smaller companies its a great way to keep the office costs down, for companies that follow their customers its a way to have a temporary, well-equipped office in the required location etc. It’s flexible, someone takes care of the little things, you can choose the design/atmosphere you like and you can meet some new interesting people!
And here’s an idea for benefits packages! Many employees will be happy to work from coworking spaces (less distractions, no need to have office desk at home etc) once in a while, so why not offer a monthly subscription in a coworking space of choice? I’d be up for it!
So if you ever think of dodging your office, but not staying in your pyjamas either, here’s where you can find a suitable place in London that will host you and your laptop:
Every time we come out to speak to new people (be it a networking event or your friend’s birthday party), the first question you’re asked is “What do you do?“. Understandably so: its a great conversation starter. However most of us while being asked have troubles finding the answer. Do I say what my title is or should I just go ahead and explain what I actually do? While title is a quick answer, it often means nothing to people you speak to and brings no joy to the speaker.
There’s a lot of buzz now around unconventional companies who gave up on traditional employee titles. Apple introducing a Genius role, Google’s “Jolly good fella“, start-ups full of Sales Ninjas. Is it just a trend or a change coming in the way we see our employees impact on organization? While I am intrigued but still undecided about the issue, I will analyse pros and cons first.
Where do the titles come from? Most of jobs are created before the person is hired. Something needs to be done and it needs to be packaged to be sold to a potential hire. So we come up with a title and a job role description, and that’s how we find the matching candidate. However if we’d be really honest, most of the times when role is created we don’t know what this role will evolve into. While we know what we need to be done in the next year, we don’t know what we’ll need afterwards.
The trouble with the titles is that because of the uncertainty, we try to keep them flexible and a bit vague. We do this to give room for initiative, opportunity for growth. That’s how everyone ends up to be a “project manager”. While we are working on keeping things “general”, titles have less and less meaning. When you meet another “PMO” or “operations manager”, for some reason, you still need to ask what exactly it means. Even HR managers all do something different. So why giving a generic title that means nothing?
There are few key practical reasons that come to mind:
- Experience level. If you’re new you get to be a coordinator, not a manager. Earn your title by years in the industry. Titles is the easiest way to build the hierarchy.
- Job needs to be done. We need a certain skill, we name the job the same way.
- Compensation grades. Title often defines how much you’re paid.
That’s how we know that a new hire in sales reporting to a “Director” cannot be higher than a “Manager”, will have the same function name (sales) and will be paid significantly less. The title shows clearly the place in the hierarchy while not saying much about the actual job.
Here are few reasons we should consider rethinking how to call our employees.
1. Motivation & Ownership. One of the key drivers of engagement is giving employees a purpose. Why don’t we let them choose a title that manifests it? Imagine having a title you’d be proud of, that would clearly reflect the role you do or want to play. Let titles describe an impact/purpose rather than every day routine. By giving a higher purpose, we give freedom of achieving it and having an ownership of the process.
It also seems that some titles always meant to say “you’re not important”. Better sounding job roles can improve engagement and feeling of ownership. I came across an awesome title while writing this – Director of First Impressions. You know who that is? A receptionist. Maybe it’s too much, but try to do a poor job with that title!
2. Hierarchy weight. While we established that titles define levels of authority well, maybe we can get rid of its negative implications. Employees already know who they report to, no need to point it out every time they introduce themselves. Let them feel important in their field and have autonomy of decision making within their area of expertise. How about being an IT Guru or a Solutions provider , rather than an IT support team member or a sales executive.
3. Flexibility. What we do often changes every few months, but our job titles stay the same. Don’t make titles set in stone, – focus of the role can shift depending on the time of the year, projects you’re involved in or even company’s direction. How about reviewing the job titles (and job descriptions) every year?
And here are the few things we should consider before making a change:
- Preparation. Don’t go crazy. Before changing everything, consult your employees, think about implications externally, design communication plan, make sure your comp&ben processes are ready, create a framework.
- Comp & Ben. People still want to grow and be promoted with a salary increase and a grade system helps. Keep a background grading scale, but not depending on titles, but scope and level of work.
- External recognition. If customer wants to meet with a Sales manager, why not be a sales manager. If candidates would more likely search for “marketing” than a “customer happiness” , make your roles more visible by using a more popular title. If needed, have external titles for creative internal ones.
- Reality check. Don’t overshoot. Don’t call a “guru” someone who is not an expert in the field. It can only damage reputation internally and externally, for the employee or the whole company.
- Do not decide for the employees. Let them agree with how they will be called. Maybe even let their colleagues come up with the titles, this way recognition will be guaranteed as well.
As someone who puts employee engagement first, I am pro-choice, however considering the world is a place that likes structure, – I am voting for double titles. There has to be one that we can use internally, among colleagues, to give a sense of purpose of the job; and one external, more traditional, that will still help people relate.
It’s amazing though how a different title can light up a conversation about work, give a sense of purpose and a reason to wake up smiling on Monday morning. Why would we say no to that? 🙂
What would you call the most important place in an office? The most important spaces in an office are not the boardroom, nor your own desk. In fact, most important places are those where a company’s executives aren’t regularly hanging out. But you’re busy, I know that. So I’ll just tell you.
The most important places are the places where ideas are born. Not where they are executed, polished, reviewed and approved. Where they are born. Ideas that potentially will take your company to another level, or at least move you forward. And where do ideas come from, you ask? Coffee machines.
The space around coffee machines is long known to be a creativity hub. “Let’s go get a coffee” you’d say to a colleague to go bounce off some thoughts casually. Or bump into someone unexpected and catch up on what they’re doing. However you look at it – the coffee machine is a place outside of routine. And breaking the routine is potential inspiration.
How to make it a creativity hub?
- Make sure there’s enough space for people to hang out without creating a corridor traffic jam or occupying the coffee machine for half an hour. Create space; put a couple of chairs and a small coffee table. Do not encourage a ‘get your coffee fast and go back to your desk’ behaviour. Let people talk!
- Encourage people to take coffee breaks by offering good coffee (or a good range of tea). Connecting people from different projects and departments can be a hard task with great benefits, so don’t be cheap on this one.
- What’s on the wall next to a coffee machine? While waiting for coffee to pour, I often read what’s around (if there is no one to talk to). Place some ideas boosters. But not company propaganda. You don’t leave your desk to go to a coffee machine in order to find what your mailbox is already full of. Make it a break – some industry news, some office projects, some crazy ideas from management magazines? Or maybe even leave it up to employees and ask them to share stuff on an empty cork board.
And when next time ‘Creativity’ or ‘Networking’ are on your board meeting’s agenda as issues preventing you going forward, – maybe there are easier solutions to this problem you can think of.
Ever played office buzzword Bingo? It’s also known as Bullshit Bingo game and if it’s still doesn’t ring a bell – even Dilbert has known it since 1994. Basically, it’s a bingo game with most commonly used words in meetings, and if you hear one, you cross it out, until you can claim BINGO. It’s very engaging. It’s all about the words most used in your meetings, words that fill up your conversations, presentations and ‘motivational posters’. If you could create one for your corporate meetings, what would the words be?
The challenge with buzz words is that we hear them so often, that we stop question their meaning. People often rely on subconscious knowledge of words they heard before. We don’t question what ‘running’ or ‘breathing’ means, as we don’t question ‘creativity’ or a ‘true leader’. We either use words for something we once defined or in worst case scenario for something that we never explored the meaning of. Often when people join a company, they hear about ‘leadership’, however often we don’t explore together what it means, we just assume we all know what it means. And when we stop questioning the definition, what happens is that the word loses its meaning. We continue using slang that doesn’t mean much to us, doesn’t motivate us and can potentially lead us in a wrong direction. By placing more and more buzzwords in our communication to employees, in reality we only cultivate indifference and boredom.
The good news is that lately we’ve seen new trends rising to create new, more engaging company vocabulary. From more casual and more exciting language in the meeting rooms, to letting employees to choose their own job titles (when did job titles mean anything anyway). Instead of making it more ‘corporate’, many companies now create a feel of entrepreneurial spirit. The corporate language is now more and more in the hands of employees. They are the ones who make things happen in your company, so let them decide how to speak.
How to encourage revamping your corporate lingo? Here are few simple suggestions:
- Redefine. Do not assume that we all know what being ‘proactive’ or ‘agile’ means. You might all be thinking different things and someone in the room wondering what the hell it means. Sit down and discuss what it means for you and your team. Align. See if the word is still relevant or if you want to call it something else.
- Listen. What do people talk about outside the meeting room? What words do they use when discussing ideas that engage them most? Listen, and help them feel comfortable talk ‘normal’ in all meetings.
- Rename. Some words are too vague. Discuss in a team and break down a concept to specific words or something that sounds more human or familiar to everyone. This will also help to prioritise action instead of chasing big-concept-words.
- Review. It’s good to change every-day talk, but if corporate communication is still full of buzzwords, it won’t get much credibility or meaning, and therefore, attention.
The key is to keep things simple, clear, genuine and human. Say it like you mean it. Say it if it means something.
Have you ever felt shivering inside when hearing an idea that you disagree deeply with? That’s how I feel when I hear “job is only a job” saying. And I know what people mean. It’s not that job is not important, but it’s just saying that there are more important things in life. Reminder of priorities. I get it. But I still disagree. If you spend doing something 8 hours a day, regardless if it pays you or not – that IS your life. You can extend it to 14 hours or reduce to 4 hours but it is still big part of your living.
Now think about all the things you enjoy in life. Things that keep you feeling alive. A food for thought for each one of us, so I’ll stick to my own answers here.
So these are the things that make me feel alive:
- Curiosity, having my mind confused and challenged, moments of new realizations, constant learning.
- Beauty of moments, emotions, feelings. When everything is turning inside as you witness kindness, courage, determination, honesty.
- Having fun, laughing, randomness, enjoying it.
- Having like-minded people around, having people I love around, having people around that challenge me to be a better me.
- Witnessing and causing a positive change. A little or a big one, as long as it is meaningful to someone out there.
…too name a few.
(now think about what makes YOU feel alive)
How can we add more of those things to our job? How can we make our living not having those things waiting for ‘after hours’? Instead of ignoring work/job and hiding it behind ‘priorities’, mix it up and make it part of your priorities, because you’re enjoying it so much, it actually becomes important.
We live in times when we are finally talking a lot about work/life balance and we finally understand that it is not enough. We now started talking about work-life integration – “Do what you like and you won’t have to work a day in your life”. However it’s not only about what we do, but mostly about how we do it. Who do we surround ourselves with, what emotions we get in touch with,are we motivated by the outcome of our work, what is the rhythm of our work lives, how do we feel before/during/after. Think of the answer to the question earlier, and step by step make it part of your working experience. No matter if flexible hours or 9-to-5 – make them happy and enjoyable. Live a little. Live all the time!
How to retain people through learning to let go and why company-centric cultures are not any longer working.
In between restructurings, talent upgrading and performance management we seems to have lost the art of building long-lasting relationships – although it is so simple and all it needs is a little bit of an attitude change.
When I was in the University I was involved in an amazing non-for-profit organization. I was engaged, committed, worked day and nights simply because I believed in my work and shared the values of the organization. In fact, 5 years later, I still feel I am a part of it – because it united more than people currently working there – it united people sharing the same values and vision. 5 years after my last project with them, I would still gladly support, help and get involved if needed. How many people would gladly do that with the past companies on their CV? That is when the concept of “loyalty” takes the whole new meaning.
There are few lessons I believe companies can learn here about building long-lasting relationships with their current/past employees:
- Build organization seen as community of shared values, vision, principles rather than an “employer”. Employers come and go. Values stay for a lifetime.
- Value employees for what they are and what they want to achieve in life, not only in your company. Allowing them to be honest and driven by their true passion, might cost you an employee in a short term (it would anyway), but would earn a future customer and informal promoter.
- Take pride in being a part of someone’s career on the way of unleashing their greatness. Of course you want talented people to stay and become the next CEO. But let’s be honest there’s only few roles of that level in the company, and we still want ambitious people with us – so maybe we should be ok with letting them continue reaching their ambition somewhere else.
- Be ok with people not staying with one company forever. It is not even healthy – we all need diverse experiences, different perspectives, change to continue growing. Since we love hiring externally, maybe we should be ok with people consciously deciding to leave.
- When employees leave – don’t slam the door in their faces, keep it open. Regardless of whether they decide to go or their manager decided to let them go, keep the good relationship, celebrate what they did while being here, wish them good luck in whatever they decide to do.
There are already quite a few organizations in the world that have Alumni networks. Just by having one companies state that they appreciate people that were there at some point of their careers, regardless how long they stayed, they were part of a shared experience. These companies recognize the changing world and celebrate themselves as those who were and keep attracting the brightest minds and support those in their aspirations.
Many companies see this change of attitude as a risky encouragement of people leaving and failing making a long-term talent investments. But in reality, treating and appreciating people in this way would result in higher engagement, increased retention, better reputation on the market and would attract diverse ambitious talented people you always wanted to hire.
It’s time to realize that organizations on their own are not the centre of the universe. We are: the people regardless of the position or role. Because we change working places, we grow, we have our reasons to engage, and if we decide, the organization would cease to exist and something new would be created.
We all have our own paths and our greatness to achieve. All the roles and positions are simply the steps and tools to deliver the greatness. Organizations should understand that and change. As so should we by consciously taking charge of our careers.
HR reflections on a non-HR related matter.
So last week I attended a sales training with a bunch of sales people. As HR, I wanted to have a better idea of what day-to-day challenges of our sales force are. Get the insider information. To save myself from trouble, before the beginning I approached facilitator to let her know that I will be a mere observer as I am not actually in sales, when she replied “well…maybe see it from perspective of HR, you also have customers, right? – aren’t employees your customers?”. Hmm. “Employees are our customers” – I heard this before. We also call them “internal customers”. But do we actually treat our employees as we would treat our customers?
Why customers? Employees are offering companies their only scarce resources – time and energy. Company pays back. However as in sales – there are short-term transactions and there are long-term relationships. First based on regular standard reward for services, the latter – on investing in the future, building trust and a long-term win-win partnership.
So here are some key learnings:
Know your customer.
Before even suggesting that you know what your customer needs – understand what they are going through. What is their long-term strategy? What are their key business objectives? What are their key challenges? What measurement of success is important to them?
What do we know about your employees? What truly motivates them? What are the key challenges they are struggling with that you might be able to influence? What is their long-term goal? When was the last time we were asking these questions?
Do not assume. Ask!
Any training will tell you , that if you don’t have information about the customer, making assumptions may lead you to offering a wrong solution or ending negotiations earlier than planned. Do not assume what’s important for the customer. Ask!
How often do we assume what trainings, what support, what working conditions the employee needs? Most of all, we assume what motivates people, while everyone’s motivation is different. Simply asking the right question will help you to understand what unique development support will help a specific individual strive.
Don’t sell a product – offer a solution.
Don’t push for a product sell. If you do everything right, you will know what your customer needs – offer a solution that will cover their short-term and long-term needs.
It’s not about getting everyone to go through that very important course or about giving employees n days of “some” training. Standard approach will not take you anywhere; you might only accidentally meet 5%or so employees’ needs. Work on customized solutions to meet individual needs; be creative; think out the box. This will bring you a motivated and engaged employee for a longer period of time.
Sometimes we really have to practise what we preach. Calling employees ‘customers’ doesn’t only mean we offer them services. It’s about how we do it. It’s about what difference it makes to them.