Peter F. Drucker said in Management Challenges of the 21st Century, “The most important, and indeed truly unique contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing”. He went on to say that, “The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker”.
If the revered management thinker of the 20th century, Peter Drucker, states that the most important issue facing management in the 21st century is increasing the productivity of knowledge workers, shouldn’t more attention be paid to the impact of the surroundings of these critical employees? Personnel are the largest single expenditure for most companies. Also, these same personnel create all of the intellectual property (IP) for all organizations. Since the future of the company is tied to the intellectual property that its employees create, then shouldn’t every effort to increase the productivity of these essential assets of the company be made?
Sadly, this is not normally the case. The modern open office plan was developed to foster the building of teams and increase camaraderie. Along with these intentions came high noise levels, lack of privacy and constant human and electronic distractions. Decades of research shows that open office plans are generally associated with greater stress and a productivity reduction of as much as 66% in knowledge workers.
What would these same companies think if their production lines were running at only 34% efficiency? I think they would immediately look for root causes and fix them. Few manufacturing facilities can remain in business at such low levels of achievement.
If companies are confined to the open office plan due to cost and adherence to the “norm”, we can do a few things to reduce the impact on our key resources, the employees:
1. choose background music carefully,
2. foster a positive view by management of ear buds and noise-cancelling headphones,
3. provide, and encourage use of, tele-conferencing rooms, and
4. create a “Do Not Disturb” policy to give cubical dwellers blocks of undisturbed time so they can focus on their tasks.
These 4 simple suggestions can make the work environment for your employees more pleasant AND them more effective. These suggestions are a mix of cultural and low-cost modifications that can be made in a short period of time.