Disrupting the workplace to make businesses more effective

When Atlassian’s Dom Price took to the stage at the Virgin Disruptors’ event, his emphasis was on producing a happy and engaged workforce. He talked about the difference between being busy and effective. But what does effectiveness really mean in business and how do companies measure it?

Leesman is the world’s largest measure of workplace effectiveness, as measured from more than 150,000 employees worldwide. Leesman’s landmark ‘100,000+ A Workplace Effectiveness Report’ offers companies the opportunity to compare high-level operating results against hundreds of others, offering insight into how the workspace supports personal performance and wellbeing. The report looks at the influence of factors such as age, length of time in an organisation and gender on workplace effectiveness.

Leesman is concerned principally with how the physical workspace affects effectiveness. And companies are quickly catching on to the idea that office design can have a great impact on productivity and engagement. Some companies create open spaces, which can cause chance encounters. Samsung’s new Silicon Valley building famously features places that it hopes will enable engineers and salespeople to mingle. 

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Atlassian has realised other ways of maximising productivity. It noticed that regularly checking emails can be the biggest drain on employees’ time so it recommends designating three email windows a day to maximised personal productivity, as well as encouraging them to use collaborative software to avoid unnecessary meetings.

Atlassian has even designed its own playbook (which it’s now shared publicly) to help its staff focus on team productivity. The playbook contains step-by-step guides for tracking workplace health as well as useful “plays” to help effectiveness. The playbook allows you to assess your team against eight attributes common amongst healthy teams, with a plan on how to address weak spots.

Workplace health is a significant public health issue, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Its statistics show that every year more than a million working people in the UK experience a work-related illness and this leads to around 27 million lost working days, costing the economy an estimated £13.4 billion. So it’s clear health has an impact on effectiveness. 

This issue is something that Rochdale-based media company Zen Internet (and one of the Times Best 100 companies to work for) is keenly aware of. One of the company’s informal policies is to discourage regular staying late. Continually doing so flags up that a member of staff may be struggling with workload. So they’re encouraged to leave on time. 

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“Being skilled and doing a great job is what allows people to progress, not how many hours they work,” says Caroline Taylor, Zen’s HR director. “At Zen, its fairly widely accepted by managers that in order to get the best out of people, we need to appreciate that everyone has commitments in and outside work and it’s not reasonable to ask people to forget about these when they come to work.”

Zen’s mission statement is “Happy Staff, Happy Customers, Happy Suppliers” (in that order) and the values are based on the thinking that if you treat others the way you would like to be treated, with honesty and respect, this makes everyone happy. This, says Taylor, “encourages everyone to do their best by each other, by the customer and when dealing with partners or suppliers.”

Financial reward might be the obvious way to get the best from staff but nobody at Zen is financially incentivised with a bonus. Instead, “Our communication style is open and transparent, delivered through regular briefings and Q&As and includes full disclosure every quarter, of business performance, financial performance (including cash/bank balance) and future plans.” This openness with staff, says Taylor, “encourages them to challenge and question, it also empowers them to take ownership and get involved.”

Call centres aren’t known to contain the most engaged of workers but for global tech company CSC, introducing gamification to its call centre agents’ working lives has had an impact on effectiveness. 

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Company research shows that the agents who used EvaluAgents’ gamification software improved their productivity by 13 per cent. It also greatly improved the culture of rewarding and recognising agents, increased agent engagement, reduced churn, and improved the customer experience.

Other companies use nice quirky perks to increase productivity. Erik Fairbairn, founder of POD Point says, “We have a scheme called ‘Leaders are Readers’. If any of the staff read a book from the POD Point library, and write a one-page report on what they learned from the book, we pay them £50. Why? Well, because the books do no good sat on the shelf. It is the knowledge from them in the staff’s heads which is useful.”

And one company, Time Etc, has got rid of meetings altogether. Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of the virtual workforce platform, says, “We’ve put a blanket ban on meetings. Most of us will agree that after a day of back-to-back meetings, you never feel as though you've actually achieved anything. That's because talking about what you're going to do is never as useful as actually doing it.”

For more on workplace effectiveness, watch Dom Price's talk from Virgin Disruptors 2016.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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