Friday, April 24, 2015

Workplace Trends: An Office Chair That Hides You

Ah, the open office environment. It's like sitting in a churning sea of humanity where no burp, slurp or hiccup goes unnoticed. Plus, your co-workers always know when you're working, because they can see you sitting there in your chair.

Well, not anymore. Welcome to the age of the hide-me-chair!

With so many office employees losing their cloak of invisibility (e.g., cubicle walls), it was only a matter of time before some enterprising design company came up with a solution.

Now office dreamscape designer Steelcase is here with something it calls the Brody. The Brody? Really? Okay, let's ignore the name and talk about what it is, and all the cool stuff it could do for us at work.

Basically, the Brody is an office desk surrounded by a funky-looking, IKEA-ish partition that looks suspiciously like a...cubicle. Here, watch a super-tiny, off-center Mashable video about it. (I've given up trying to re-size and center it, but I'll keep trying!):

Oh, I see. The Brody is a "micro-environment" that "can be optimized for an individual to get into focus." In other words, it blocks out all the surround sound and goings on in our peripheral vision so we can finally get something done.

Hmm. I have an idea: Could we just have the old-fashion cubicle back? Please? Perhaps somebody could re-design the traditional cubicle, only call it a "focused-productivity micropod" or an "introvert's ellipse" instead?

Speaking of shapes, why does the modern cubicle have to be square-shaped at all? We have dozens of geometrical shapes to choose from, from triangles and semicircles to the trapezoid and the rhombus. How awesome would it be to say to our work colleagues: "I'd better get back to my productivity parallelogram, guys!" Let's think outside the box a little bit, designers.

The Brody is cool and everything, but it's really just a modern take on the cubicle. And cubicles are awesome for employee productivity! Let's start a petition to bring partitions back.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done?

If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier!

Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that.

However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company.

Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, and updating spreadsheets.

In fact, 20% of managers report spending 3 days (or more) per week just on paperwork. So much for being a corporate visionary, huh?

Now some companies are deciding it's time to "simplify" things for the sake of overall efficiency and employee collaboration! I agree; simplicity always wins the day. (Sorry, this parody never gets old, and it somehow seems to streamline with this post.)

According to the Wharton press release:

The majority of senior leaders believe business simplicity is beneficial, with over two-thirds (67 percent) saying that it will be very important in the next three years. Furthermore, 42 percent of respondents are optimistic that efforts to simplify business will be strongly effective in three years.

Bottom line? Technology comes with a whole host of workplace complications. Well, I'll let you get back to recovering the spreadsheet you lost when your computer decided to reboot in order to install new software updates. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

No Kidding, Tomorrow Is Take Your Child To Work Day

Do you know that tomorrow is National Take Our Sons And Daughters To Work Day? Here are five tips for making sure our co-workers don't have a tantrum about it.

Taking our kids to work is a great way to show them a real workplace in action. Some workplaces go all out for this annual event by offering seminars on everything from writing your first resume to how to apply for your first job to meeting a real-life HR lady. It's just what every 10-year-old dreams about, right?

Do you know that NTOSADTWD used to be called Take Our Children To Work Week? Yes, this event used to last for an entire work week. Kids were wandering into the average workplace for five days in a row with a parent, complaining about how they feel like they were just here and how it's going to be boring. Welcome to the working world, kids!

Anyway, the name of the event was eventually changed to last one day only, and here we are again, on the eve of celebrating NTOSADTWD 2015. By the way, the acronym doesn't really work, does it? I can see why nobody uses it.

Well, whatever it's called, I'm all for the event. Maybe our kids will learn something new, such as discovering why they don't ever want to follow in their parents' professional footsteps. I can already hear the parental disappointment from a decade away. What do you mean you want to get a Master of Fine Arts in Drama?! I've always dreamed you'd be a lawyer like me, not play one on TV!

First, however, we need to deal with the drama tomorrow could cause for the average co-worker! Here are five tips for childproofing your approach to National Take Our Sons And Daughters To Work Day:

1. Don't pawn your child off on anyone else. That's right: your child is your responsibility on National Take Our Sons And Daughters To Work Day. Don't ask a co-worker to watch your child, to train your child, to walk your child through a procedure or project, to give your child a company tour, to take him or her to the vending machine, or anything else. That's your job. Of course, if your co-worker gladly volunteers for any of these tasks, then I hope you appreciate how lucky you are to work alongside such an awesome colleague.

(PS: The office administrative assistant is strictly off-limits today, since she already does enough babysitting year-round already. By the way, Happy National Administrative Professionals Day!)

2. Explain the rules. Before you arrive at work -- or better yet, the night before -- lay out your expectations for behavior with your child. This is an office, not a playground. You need to be respectful, a good listener, and have good manners. Don't interrupt; wait for your turn to speak. Also, offer an idea of how the day will go so that your child will know what to expect. First, we'll do this, and then I'll take you to..., and so on. Repeat your expectations for good measure.

3. Don't park your child on somebody else's desktop. The office receptionist comes back from lunch and...who is this kid sitting on my computer playing Angry Birds? She would like to get back to work, but she needs your child to move out of the way. Unless you've negotiated computer time in advance with a co-worker, don't sit your child down at his or her desktop. Ask first, or better yet, don't ask at all. (If your child brings his or her own gaming device or tablet, then make sure the volume is off. All the way off.)

4. Don't make your co-workers ask for their stuff back. Um, could I have my chair back, please? Thanks. Don't put your co-workers in the awkward position of asking your child for their office chair back. Part of being a great employee is asking before we take, whether we're hoping to borrow our co-worker's desktop, desk, chair, stapler, favorite pen, or vintage sock puppet. NTOSADTWD is a great opportunity to teach your child that a co-worker's work space is their space, and it should be respected. Be a great role model.

5. Keep your child busy. Your co-worker needs to use the copier. Well, why not ask your child to go make the copy for her? Sure, you'll have to show your child how to use the copier, but in doing so your child will learn how to use it, discover something called "busy work," and your co-worker won't have to stop what she's doing to walk to the copier. It's a win-win! Plus, your child will be excited to be doing something instead of sitting around listening to adults talk about invoicing. Bor-ing! So look for opportunities for your child to help with small, but doable, tasks.

Most of all, make tomorrow fun! Your child will remember this day for the rest of his or her life, so make it special in some way. Maybe you two can go get an ice cream cone at lunchtime, or go out for dinner when the day is done to talk about what he or she learned? You may be surprised at what you learn.

Whatever it is, make some good memories. Maybe in a decade or so, your child will announce his or her intentions to follow in your professional footsteps after all, because going to work with you on NTOSADTWD was always such a blast. Now go make the most of it, parents!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Self-Control, No Service

You're helping an angry customer who suddenly makes fun of your physical appearance, or perceived lack of education. Well, they say the customer is always right. Riiiight.

I've been following the Britt McHenry story, which raises the question: What can employees do when a customer's complaint turns into a personal attack?

Unfortunately, it happens -- and probably more often than we would like to admit. Here in the elitist 21st Century, it can take a backbone of steel to get through daily interactions with some customers who go off script to comment on an employee's weight, nails, assumed socioeconomic status, lack of career ambition, and so on.

Ugh. It's one thing to rant condescendingly on Twitter or Facebook, where such comments are often "liked," re-tweeted and celebrated; it's quite another thing to make such cutting comments in-person, where the optics most likely will not work out in our favor.

Most of us will take a job serving the public at some point in our lives, and we all have a story to tell about That Customer who took out his or her frustrations on us while all we could do was stand there, take it, and practice copious amounts of self-control. We may no longer remember everything the customer said, but we will never forget how it made us feel.

Perhaps we go on to make a career out of working with the public, but still sense a subtle, if not outright, lack of respect for what we do in a culture that pretty much worships career status.

We're also emerging from the worst recession since the 1930s. It wasn't all that long ago that millions of working professionals lost their jobs in the Great Recession. They've spent the last handful of years trying to rebuild their lives and make ends meet, perhaps by working a retail or service job in which they dealt with the public. That "uneducated" employee working at the retail store? Well, he might just have an advanced degree. (He's not going to tell you that, but I will.)

No wonder the public reaction to the McHenry video hasn't been very pretty. The clip resonates, it reverberates in our heads, and it really touches a nerve in many people who might not remember everything the customer said, but they will never forget how it made them feel.

The best thing you can do as the employee on the receiving end of a customer's personal swipe is to tell yourself: This customer knows absolutely nothing about me, or my life. The assumptions this customer has made about me say more about him or her than they say about me. I'm just trying to do my job, and I'm going to maintain my self-control and composure, no matter what. I'm going to stay calm, get through this moment, and when it's all over, I'm never going to forget that I'm a good, hard-working person.

Research has concluded that many customer-facing employees can feel stuck in the middle between angry customers who say whatever they're thinking and disinterested managers who don't want to hear about it. Forward-thinking, 21st Century companies can make a statement by letting customers know that verbal abuse of employees is not acceptable.

Sure, we understand that you're upset about something pertaining to our product or service, Mr. or Ms. Customer, but you can't take personal swipes at our employees, demean them, swear at them, or otherwise be lewd, crude, and/or extremely rude. We are a professional business -- even if you may not personally think so -- and we expect interactions with our staff to remain civil at all times. Thank you.

No, really. Perhaps it's time to update store signage to read:

No shoes, no shirt, no self-control, no service.

No, the customer isn't always right. Stand up for your staff, management. You'll earn employees' trust and respect because they'll know that you have their back in these stressful situations. Everyone in the front office will thank you, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Oh, Snap! Online Stock Photos Reveal Professional Stereotypes

Stock photos. They make the low-paying online journalism world go 'round. But a new study finds that professional-looking women tend to be under-represented in business stock photos. Everyone smile and say: "glass ceiling!"

Researchers at the University of Washington wanted to see "how accurately gender representations in online image search results" match reality. One of the study's central questions: What turns up in Google image search when we search for professions ranging from "author" to "receptionist" to "chef," and how does the gender ratio represented in these images influence our perceptions regarding the actual number of men vs. women who actually hold those jobs?

In other words, does the gender of the professional in the stock photo hold up to every-day reality in the workplace?

To find out, UW researchers compared the number of women in the top 100 Google image search results representing 45 different occupations and compared these results to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. Here's what they found, according to the press release:

In some jobs, the discrepancies were pronounced, the study found. In a Google image search for CEO, 11 percent of the people depicted were women, compared with 27 percent of U.S. CEOs who are women. Twenty-five percent of people depicted in image search results for authors are women, compared with 56 percent of actual U.S. authors.

By contrast, 64 percent of the telemarketers depicted in image search results were female, while that occupation is evenly split between men and women.

Yet for nearly half of the professions – such as nurse practitioner (86 percent women), engineer (13 percent women), and pharmacist (54 percent women) — those two numbers were within five percentage points.

The researchers seem to conclude that online stock photos aren't totally divorced from every-day workplace reality. When they asked real people to rate various stock photos in terms of "professionalism," however, a few discrepancies revealed themselves like forehead wrinkles in a professional head shot.

When the person in the picture matched the "majority gender for the profession," then the person in the photo was perceived as more professional, trustworthy, and competent.

But when the person in the picture didn't match the "occupational stereotype," he or she was perceived as inappropriate, perhaps even provocative. The researchers wonder if present search image algorithms should be changed "to help counter occupational stereotypes."

So what does this all mean, exactly? Are we confirming our professional biases with each stock photo we see? In this case, the fault lies not in our stock photos, but in ourselves.

And what about the journalists and bloggers who search for stock photos every day to accompany their stories? Are they culpable in confirming the public's professional biases, too?

Hmm. All I know is that seeing a stock photo in a news story is much better than reading a "news" story that's broken up into small sub-sections, thanks to a dozen or more moving .gifs that make reading an exercise in motion sickness (I'm looking at you, Buzzfeed and Huffington Post). The overwhelming motion is far too distracting. Besides, the average reader doesn't need a subtitled Peter Brady or Peter Rabbit every other paragraph to support the article's main thesis statement.

Please stop making motion happen, editors. It takes away from the journalism and is rather...unprofessional.

They say that a picture says a 1,000 words, and it turns out business stock photos are saying something to us. What are they saying to you, and how does it compare to your stereotype of a particular profession? It's some food for thought as you search for free, online stock photos of waitstaff later today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Employers Think They Totally Rock At Employee Recognition

So I'm sitting here scanning the cable news channels for workplace news when a MSNBC reporter says that Hillary Clinton's road trip to Iowa "produced the now-infamous photo" of Ms. Clinton ordering a chicken bowl incognito at Chipotle.

Hmm. I never knew that standing in line at Chipotle would be enough to make a person wicked or notorious, which is the general meaning of "infamous." Maybe the reporter was looking for the phrase "now-famous"?

By the way, does Chipotle still make customers order chips as a separate item, which is why I eat elsewhere? Hey, if I'm ordering a $7 burrito, then it should come with a handful of loss-leading tortilla chips. That's my clear position on the issue, and I'm sticking to it.

We all learn something new every day.

Speaking of learning something new every day, OfficeTeam is out with a new survey in advance of Administrative Professionals Week (April 19-25, mark your calendars!) that assesses the now-infamous lack of workforce recognition.

Among the findings: The vast majority (89%) of senior managers surveyed think their companies are "effective" when it comes to sprinkling employees with magical staff appreciation rainbow glitter. Good job, managers. Keep up the good work!

The bad news? 30% of employees surveyed say their employers' staff recognition efforts range from "not too effective" to "not at all effective." Oh, no. This statistic means that one in three employees feels largely unacknowledged on the job. So you might not be doing quite as well as you think, employers.

What kind of recognition do employees want, exactly? Here's an OfficeTeam infographic that lays it all out:

Employees want rewards, "growth opportunities," and praise -- in that order. Meanwhile, 16% of employees seem to want recognition without being recognized, while 4% don't know what they want. Good luck figuring that out, managers. Just get these employees a gift card. It's the go-to employee reward that says: "I can't figure out what you like but I don't want you to leave, so here's $50 to Chili's because everyone likes food, especially tortilla chips."

Whatever you do, let employees know on a semi-regular basis how they're performing and offer well-timed opportunities for growth. As I blogged the other day, however, performance reviews seem to be going the way of the dodo in favor of apps. Simply meeting one-on-one with employees for the occasional (read: semi-annual) performance review could make you a managerial rock star these days! Message: I care.

In a pinch, you can wait for National Employee Appreciation Day to acknowledge employees' contributions. Nevermind, National Employee Appreciation Day happened last month. Oops. Don't worry; I forgot about it, too. Well, keep up the good work, employees!