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Barry Carson of MojoDesk: Five Things Business Leaders Can Do To Create A Fantastic Work Culture

Rethink workspace organization to promote interaction with employees, but ensure they have a private space where they can get work done. The world shot too far into the everybody in the same open office area and lost some productivity and employee satisfaction. By balancing out private workspaces, and more open workspaces, we can have a more productive team.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Barry Carson.

Barry loves figuring out how new technologies can be used to make someone’s life simpler. In 1991, MojoDesk’s parent company Xybix saw the potential in designing user-friendly, ergonomic, sit-to-stand desks for organizations that needed their employees healthy, alert and productive 24/7.

Since then, they have sold directly to businesses and government agencies such as the FBI, Mayo Clinic, fire departments, and thousands of 911 call centers. MojoDesk division was started in 2018. It is the brand’s first direct to consumer product and built to the same commercial standards.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In the early the 90’s no one had really heard about sit-to-stand desks, it was kind of a rare thing. When we developed our first sit-to-stand desk, most companies we spoke to didn’t really understand why they needed it. They were thinking it would be for someone with an injured back, and not necessarily for increased health and better work performance. So, throughout the years, we developed a product that met the sit and stand ergonomic standard, even before it came out. Because we already knew what the height ranges would be to meet the different sizes of the population. So, when the sit stand standard came out, and there was something to measure it against, we had already met that standard. The whole world started to see that you can sit and stand, then probably eight years ago, we started to hear that sitting is the new smoking, and things have really taken off since then.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Well, the most interesting story would have to be when we were selling our sit-to-stand desks to Hewlett Packard, and Hewlett Packard split from being just Hewlett Packard to Hewlett Packard Agilent Technologies. At the time of the split, they had to integrate all the people in their buildings, because everyone was working next to everybody. To accomplish this, they had to do a ‘re-stack’ — where they tore everything out of the floor — furniture and such, and they rebuilt it back. One floor went to HP and another four went to Agilent, and so on. We had been selling them our sit-to-stand desks at the time, and when the when this change happened, we were not able to provide them with the rest of the furniture in the in the whole office, so they told us they were no longer going to purchase from us. Fortunately, we knew who the furniture supplier was supposed to be. And we knew they did not have a sit-to-stand desk that had adequate range to meet the ergonomic standards. So, we told them to have this company bring in their sit-to-stand desk guy, so they can interview him and find out if his desk can do what they had specifically asked us to be able to do. Once they brought the guy in, and they told him what height ranges they needed to fit different sizes of people, the guy told them flat out a desk like that didn’t exist. So, the HP or ergonomist said, “Well, let me take you out back here. And I’ll show you a couple 100 of them,” he then showed him the specialty desks we had designed. It ended up that we built the sit-to-stand desks inside the cubicles of about 3,500 workstations. It was a huge launching point for our company. The project enabled us to buy new machinery and equipment which really upgraded how we did everything to improve our product.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have several new products in the pipeline. And some of them deal with the whole experience of the worker. So, instead of just the sit-to-stand desk, they also take into account lighting, temperatures, heat and all the things to make your work environment more comfortable so you can stay focused, and stay in the groove longer to get more work done.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I think a lot of that is attributed to people learning to be a good CEO, supervisor or boss, and learning how people work. Now there are lot of other factors too — That’s probably 50% of it. The other half could be environmental, like, “I’m always cold in my desk, or I’m just uncomfortable. I go home and I’m tired. I don’t have energy to go play with my kids.” So, if we can make the work environment the best it can be, hopefully, we can fix some of those problems. And then we just need people to go learn how to be a manager, more often, because people get thrown in that position usually with no training.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Unhappy workforces do the minimum that needs to be done to get by, rather than sticking their neck out with something that could be risky, but game changing. Which results in an organization that moves very slowly. When moving slowly, you can’t break out into new categories.

The products that make bigger margins are the ones that are unique and special. To innovate, somebody has to present an idea that may not be accepted the first time, or at all. Of course, you’ve got to start somewhere. It may not be accepted because it might be such a revolutionary idea that it takes a while for people to let it soak in and understand it.

As we move into the new world of the office, it’s going to be a mix of more at home and in the office. A lot of that is going to be people wanting to be healthier and not wanting their work to be impacting their health. So, it’s critical that we have work environments, work schedules and locations that enable people to stay moving, have different exercise options to move around and change environments. One of the risks we have with the new work at home is a lot of people are working on a terrible old steel or wooden desks that don’t adjust and are not the right height for them. In turn, we’re actually inviting more ergonomic injuries by having them work at home. So that’s an area that’s going to need some attention to get appropriate ergonomic furniture within their own offices.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. We need to get people reengaged in-person. Once the vaccines are in, we need to get people back together. Because in a lot of companies, a lot of new teammates have never even met. And the togetherness is what helps build company culture.
  2. Management needs to show that we do care for employee needs at work, their space needs, and just their physical setup. Even down to the details like temperatures, lighting, their desks — the whole thing. We’ve got to make sure our people can focus enough to get their ultimate work done.
  3. Provide a new level of flexibility with employees to mix and blend the work from home and work from office. Because COVID has set a new standard of what can be done at home, we need to, as management, accept the benefits and try and tie in the benefits of that work experience to create a better overall employee experience.
  4. Have in-person meetings with our new teammates that some of us have never met. It’s a good idea to schedule in-person meetings with new teammates, so they can get to know our company and our culture. How we built the company, why we’re good at what we do, and how we make our customers’ lives easier
  5. Rethink workspace organization to promote interaction with employees, but ensure they have a private space where they can get work done. The world shot too far into the everybody in the same open office area and lost some productivity and employee satisfaction. By balancing out private workspaces, and more open workspaces, we can have a more productive team.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

I think a lot of the change in work culture has already happened because of the pandemic. Companies have accepted, work from home as a real possibility in many positions where it would not have been considered before. The challenge now is to not go back to our old ways. Rather learn how to mix ‘work from home’ with some ‘work with people’ to get the benefits of both a better culture and a better home life.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I like to get out with my employees and find their wants and needs outside of work because it helps us align goals and rewards for their successes.

I have an employee who is big of fishing, and I am not a big fishing fan. I went out and did some fishing with him and learned and understood what they enjoyed from it. I’ve learned it’s the separation and break from work life. Gives them an escape. So, I can use that with rewards — a trip or something to help with those breaks.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Sure. Well, I’ve been in business with my father since 1991. And he’s always given me good, solid business advice. kept me out of trouble when I was a young, feisty 20-year-old in the business world and made sure that we always do business, ethically, and financially sound.

We had a big project we were in the running to win. We were a small, scrappy startup at that time and we really needed that business. The potential client asked us for essentially a kickback if they awarded it to us. And that’s where my father immediately said, “no way, we don’t even want to do business with these guys.” At the time was hard because we needed the project but in the end, turned out we found other projects and we succeeded. But it was definitely a good lesson.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My brother, father and I have been volunteer ski patrollers for about thirty plus years each. During the winter, we go on weekends and help people injured people off of the mountain.

Another thing we do with MojoDesk is, when we make videos for our products, we also take our videographer and make videos for small businesses throughout the community. This initiative is called “MojoDesk Give back.” We once did a free video for a hairstylist — so they would have good content to use. We’ve also done that for 911 call centers. We have made recruiting videos for them because like a lot of companies these days, they were struggling to find good employees. We gave them a killer video to help entice people to come and sign up. And we’ve seen success with that! After one of our videos, the amount of new applicants doubled.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

We do a lot of R&D and product development, which never is linear. This enables us to discover things that work or don’t work. Things change a lot. But I think probably one of my favorite quotes on that is “fail fast, fail often fail forward.”

The goal is to break things quickly. To identify problems and address them when they’re still a small issue or you’re in the design phase where it’s easy to change, rather than leaving an error until you’re at the very end, and fixing it becomes too much work. When you push out a product it shouldn’t have flaws. SpaceX is a great example, they’ve crashed many rockets and blew them up as they go. But it gave them good data which enabled them to figure it out on the next one.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Finding a way to teach people empathy and how to see it in others. Right away, it takes away a lot of anger and differences between people.

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