Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

If you want your company to be more innovative 2: build a creative commons area for a single business location

Posted in HR and personnel, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on July 4, 2013

Improving a business as a competitive enterprise, and making it more effectively communicative and collaboratively innovative, can be as simple as providing employees with a place where they can come together and talk. I began this discussion with a first series installment: Part 1: improve the cafeteria where I focused on a specific working business development scenario that I have seen to hold real value.

• Everyone eats and full time workers who are on the job for a normal length work shift virtually always find their work shifts spanning a meal time.
• Offering an attractive option for addressing that need on-site keeps people together at the workplace. And offering hot meals in a central location offers them value and creates opportunity for them to come together to talk and to share ideas as well as eat.
• When a company cafeteria is set up effectively, that can mean bringing people from the same work teams together where they can chat and share ideas more informally and more freely. But just as importantly it also creates opportunity for people to meet and really get to talk with others from outside of their immediate work areas too – including people from other teams and from other functional areas in the business but whose work is functionally connected to their own. This can mean people responsible for carrying out different aspects of the same larger scale projects coming together to talk and to get to know each other, and it can mean employees who work on projects internal to the organization can come together with their in-house stakeholders.
• The key point here is in creating an open, comfortable, friendly space where people can come together to talk and work and where they will want to do so.

I see the workplace cafeteria as an archetypal example of where this type of open communications and workplace sharing commons can be built in an organization, so I began this series there in Part 1. I expand upon that discussion here where I widen the discussion up to the fuller range of opportunities as to where and how a business can be opened up for freer communications and for expanding collaborative innovative potential.

• When you want to find areas of opportunity for facilitating this type of open collaboration in your organization, start by thinking through your employees’ basic needs and by looking for places where they could fulfill them together. Look for natural and readily accepted and used locations and functional areas for people to come together in.
• Look for activities and for shared needs and interests that would naturally serve to bring people together, and independently of their specific areas of work or position on the table of organization.
• And look for ways to align fulfillment of their interests and needs with your business and its needs.

As a second working example, consider the possibilities of either setting up an exercise and fitness facility in your own business space, or making an arrangement with a nearby fitness center where you can offer your employees free or low cost group memberships – free to them with costs covered as employee benefits. Fitness and staying fit through exercise are important considerations for a great many people, and people do talk at the gym and certainly with others who they consistently see and get to know.

• The whole idea is to facilitate conversations, and help people to network and connect. Even if specific employees never talk about work together when working out side by side on adjacent exercise equipment with a colleague, if they know each other and basically what they do and where they work in their business, that creates opportunity for collaboration between them later, when need or opportunity arise.

And in this, once you have a place set up that employees can use and that they would feel comfortable talking and networking at, you can jumpstart and facilitate this, and between teams and more widely across the table of organization by setting up employee social events – events specifically designed to reward your employees and to bring them together as a single group where they can and will chat and get to know each other better.

Social events cover a lot larger range of possible activities than just office parties here.

• This can mean organizing and encouraging participation in skills development exercises that would specifically benefit the business as well as its individual employees, such as lunch and learn events and with food provided.
• This can, of course, also mean more strictly social events such as holiday parties.

What combination of networking and communications facilitating events and activities would work best for your business and for your employees? With this, I add the issues of actively bringing people together to take advantage of open commons spaces set up, to the issues of developing and maintaining these commons areas in the first place. Both halves of that overall strategic goal are essential for making this work.

As a final area of thought in this for this posting, if you set up a business social commons area, but fail to convey the message that employees are free to and even encouraged to use it this whole initiative will fail. And you probably will not know how or why, simply assuming the space itself was wrong or that this approach just would not work there and for your business.
Support for this and for its use has to come from the top down.

So far in this series:

• I have focused on the traditional bricks and mortar business as physically located at one site,
• Or by extension the business where operations are dispersed to more than one or even to multiple sites but where everyone works at one of those sites and as physically present there, and with focus on collaborative communications within a single office site.

I am going to expand the discussion in my next series installment to include telecommuters and other distant workers, and to include open commons-based approaches for connecting together the staffs of dispersed and distant offices. That is where online counterparts to the open and comfortable physical commons area enter this narrative. Then after discussing the adding in and coordination of local and online commons, I will discuss evaluating their impact and value, and their role in determining a triple bottom line for a business with its economic, environmental and social metrics.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel and Social Networking and Business.

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