Workplace Wednesdays: Do open floorplans always stir the creative juices?

May 2, 2012

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Ed. note: This is part of a new series on Afternoon Shift called Workplace Wednesdays, exploring issues that affect us at work.


In a recent interview with The New York Times, Phil Libin of the tech company Evernote said: "Just on a whim, I thought that at every company we start, and this is the third one, we’re going to eliminate one piece of unnecessary technology." The technology Libin seeks to remove from the office? Telephones. Now, it may not seem that out of the ordinary that the head of a company that creates technology that aims to make your work easier would not see the necessity of such an old-school piece of equipment. And seriously, how many of us really even have a landline anymore? But, how many offices have you been in where there are actually no phones? In the cubes, in the conference rooms, at the reception desk.

Libin's approach to seeking harmony and balance at the workplace is not just about taking away. He says he also offers employees unlimited vacation time and even gives a stipend to take along on the trip. Libin says that part of the reason he encouraged unlimited vacation is so that people actually take it. No time off from the grind doesn't make for the most productive worker. Remember how you felt sitting at your desk, answering email, going to meetings when you realized how long it had been since you'd seen what the world actually looks like between 9-5? In a word: Annoyed (of course substitute your own adjective here; I was trying to keep things a little light).

Unlimited vacations sound great, but Joe Reynolds of local events planning company Red Frog Events takes it one step further. In a recent column for Inc. magazine, Reynolds lauded the benefits of offering his employees one-month, paid sabbaticals. The trek can't be in North America or Australia but workers can indulge in their fantasies of seeing the world and it's all on the company dime. Reynolds says, "Plain and simple: Sabbaticals make business sense. Bolivia, Morocco, Vietnam, and many other exotic locations worldwide, have taught me valuable business lessons."

Practices like this probably helped land Red Frog Events on Crain's Chicago Business' annual "Best Places to Work" list (Red Frog is #9). The list highlights several companies in Chicago and the surrounding area that make moves with employee satisfaction in mind; the theory being that happy workers means a happy environment means happy to get the job done! But does the unconventional approach always work? Pamela Meyer is an executive consultant and director for Center to Advance Education for Adults at DePaul University. She advises companies on how to bring creativity back to the workplace. She joins Afternoon Shift to explain what works and what doesn't work at companies here and Chicago and around the nation.

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