Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com
In a paper published last week, Harvard Business School professor Ethan Bernstein and co-author Stephen Turban set out to measure the impact of open offices on how employees communicate in the workplace, using sociometric devices to track employee interactions at Fortune 500 companies that were transitioning to open office plans. Quartz’s Lila MacLellan explains their counterintuitive findings:
In two studies, the researchers found that conversations by email and instant messaging (IM) increased significantly after the office redesign, while productivity declined, and, for most people, face-to-face interaction decreased. Participants in the first study spent 72% less time interacting in person in the open space. Before the renovation, employees had met face to face for nearly 5.8 hours per person over three weeks. In the after picture, the same people held face-to-face conversations for only about 1.7 hours per person.
These employees were emailing and IM-ing much more often, however, sending 56% more email messages to other participants in the study. This is how employees sought the privacy that their cubicle walls once provided, the authors reason. IM messages soared, both in terms of messages sent and total word count, by 67% and 75%, respectively.
Bernstein’s paper adds to the growing body of research questioning the value of open-plan offices, which came into vogue in the US over the past decade as part of an effort to make the office environment more interactive and collaborative. Critiques of the practice usually focus on the distractions and lack of privacy an open office provides; the proliferation of open offices in the US has even been suggested as a possible factor contributing to the spread of the flu virus in American workplaces during winter.
Other research, like Bernstein’s, has found that open offices don’t improve employee communication as advertised, and can even have the opposite effect. A major study in Australia in 2016, for example, found that workers in open offices form poorer relationships with their colleagues and managers, making fewer friends at work and seeing their supervisors less supportive.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has been consuming the attention of football/soccer fans around the world over the past two weeks and will continue to do so until the final match on July 15. The world’s most-watched sporting event, the World Cup has viewers tuning into matches from every country and at all hours of the day—including during work hours. Just as the Super Bowl and the National College Athletic Association’s Division I basketball tournaments have been demonstrated to cause a dip in productivity in the US, this quadrennial international event is bound to have an economic impact in many countries.
New research attempts to calculate just how big that impact is likely to be. Maude Lavanchy, a research associate at IMD Business School, and Willem Smit, an assistant professor of marketing at the Asia School of Business and an international faculty fellow at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, built a model to predict the productivity cost of the 2018 World Cup in a number of major countries based on how many matches were scheduled to take place during work hours in that time zone and how the expected outcome of each match (based on betting odds from UK bookmakers) would affect workers’ happiness—positively if their team wins, and negatively if they lose. The researchers outlined their findings in an article at Bloomberg earlier this month:
In all, we found that half of the 48 group-stage games could have economic consequences. Although such calculations are inherently speculative, they can nonetheless tell a useful economic story. And in this case, it doesn’t look good.
It’s impossible to hide from your coworkers. Whether you work in the office, from home, or at a coffee shop, any of your colleagues can instantly interrupt (and perhaps ruin) your day with a “tap on the shoulder” thanks to a plethora of communication technologies. At Bloomberg BNA Last week, Genevieve Douglas highlighted some new data illustrating the negative impact this constant onslaught of communication is having on a growing number of employees. Many are either missing critical information they need, or are considering changing employers to get away from the deluge of chatter and information.
Douglas points to a survey published in March by the communications software provider Dynamic Signal, in which half of respondents said they felt overwhelmed by the proliferation of these tools and pressured to use multiple platforms. A third of the employees surveyed said they were so stressed out by the state of communication in their workplace that they were ready to quit because of it.
Having personally tracked the reasons why employees quit with my colleague Brian Kropp for over a decade, I’m skeptical that employees will really quit because of poor communication alone. However, our latest research does substantiate the claim that providing employees with “on demand access” to information and HR solutions through more channels and new technology platforms really does hinder their performance.
Business leaders are aware of this problem of communication overload and looking to address it proactively, Natalie McCullough, general manager of MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics at Microsoft, told Douglas. When it comes to enabling employee collaboration through technology, our new research points to a useful rule of thumb: If you want to improve employees’ performance and experience at the same time, focus less on providing new ways for them to communicate and more on enabling them to act.
Adding a communication channel should not lead to more communications, but rather better communications that are ‘effortless’ to process and use. This, paradoxically, requires employers to restrict the sharing of information and communicate in ways that nudge employees to act. We call this “guided action.”
Time management is a perennial challenge for any professional. As HR practitioners’ roles become more strategic, they find themselves under increasing pressure mitigate the time costs of non-strategic activities, as well as to figure out ways to improve time management throughout their organizations. A recent study led by London Business School professor Michael Parke points toward a possible solution.
Parke and one of his co-authors, Justin Weinhardt from the University of Calgary, discussed their findings in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Workers juggling competing demands on their time, they explain, can significantly increase their engagement and productivity at work by moving away from the traditional time management approach, toward a new approach they call “contingent planning.” In this type of planning, people “consider the possible disruptions or interruptions they may face in their work day and devise a plan to address them if they occur.”
“Contingent planning is less commonly used than time-management planning because individuals frequently make plans that overestimate how much they will get done and underestimate (or fail altogether) to account for how their work will be disrupted,” they add.
The researchers found that either type of planning positively impacted daily engagement and daily productivity in the absence of significant interruptions. However, when employees faced many interruptions in the course of a day, only contingent planning had a positive impact.
Talent Daily reached out to Parke for more ideas about how professionals can practice contingent planning in their day-to-day work, and he provided the following five tips:
While smartphones have revolutionized the way business is done, employees having the Internet in their pockets all day also has the obvious downside of making limitless distractions available to them at work. Whether they’re on social media, streaming movies and television shows, or getting addicted to mobile games like Pokémon Go and HQ Trivia, smartphones offer employees all kinds of ways to waste time. It’s no wonder that so many employers say their employees’ smartphone use decreases productivity in their workplace.
Even when we aren’t actively using our smartphones, new research suggests that merely having them in sight can be distracting. At the Harvard Business Review, business and behavioral science scholars Kristen Duke, Adrian Ward, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten Bos present the results of an intriguing study they conducted, which suggested that the mere presence of a smartphone reduced people’s cognitive abilities:
Our intervention was simple: before completing [a series of cognitive] tasks, we asked participants to either place their phones in front of them (face-down on their desks), keep them in their pockets or bags, or leave them in another room. Importantly, all phones had sound alerts and vibration turned off, so the participants couldn’t be interrupted by notifications.
The results were striking: individuals who completed these tasks while their phones were in another room performed the best, followed by those who left their phones in their pockets. In last place were those whose phones were on their desks.
The National College Athletic Association’s Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, better known as March Madness, are upon us in the US. In the next few weeks leading up to the championship game on April 2, millions of Americans will devote millions of hours to watching the games, talking about them, betting on them, checking scores, and comparing tournament brackets with other fans. Last year’s tournament was watched by an average of 10.4 million television viewers and generated 98 million live streams, while the television audience of the championship game averaged 23 million viewers.
So if you’re a US employer, it’s reasonable to assume that at least some of your employees are going to come down with March Madness this month, potentially distracting them from their work. An OfficeTeam survey conducted in February found that the average worker spends 25.5 minutes per workday on sports-related activities during the tournament, or a total of about six hours. Nearly half of the professionals surveyed said they love celebrating sporting events like March Madness in the office.
The cost of that distraction? According to an estimate from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, US employers could stand to lose “$2.3 billion per hour in time employees are engaged with the tournament at work”:
More than 40 million Americans fill out tournament brackets, according to the American Gaming Association. Applying the current employment-to-population ratio to that figure indicates that 23.7 million workers will fill out brackets for this year’s games. Of course, the distractions do not end with filling out the bracket. Even more productivity is lost over the first two full days of tournament play (Thursday and Friday), when a dozen games are played during work hours.
HQ Trivia, a mobile game where players compete for cash prizes in live quiz-show style games, has been described as “the future of both mobile gaming and live TV,” as well as “the best worst thing on the Internet.” Whatever it is, it’s growing fast: Launched on iOS just a few months ago, with an Android version released just before New Year’s Eve, the app attracts hundreds of thousands of users to each game and topped one million users last Sunday night. A product of the startup Intermedia Labs, founded by two of the co-creators of Vine, HQ isn’t making any money yet but has attracted plenty of interest from venture capital investors.
A game of HQ lasts about 13 minutes, during which players must rapidly answer a series of 12 multiple-choice questions and are eliminated when they answer incorrectly. Those who get every question right split a prize pool, usually of $250, which means each player usually stands to win a few dollars, at most. The app comes alive to host a game at 9 p.m. Eastern time every day and at 3 p.m. on weekdays.
Of course, that means many users are likely playing it at work. SHRM’s Dana Wilkie solicits the opinions of some experts as to how employers should handle the latest craze:
“Like anything else, if it is causing harm or lowering productivity, nip it in the bud,” said Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications for HALO Recognition, an employee rewards and incentives company based in Long Island City, N.Y. “However, if it engages your employees well and it’s something they really like, embrace it and set boundaries. It’s important to give it as fair of a shake as March Madness and Super Bowl pools, two things that, over time, have found a natural fit and flow in the modern workplace.” …