Do you have to be business-like to do good business?

Work is the place where we spend the majority of our time — some might say unhealthy amounts of time. So how can we make it a place that doesn’t feel as much like work while still getting things done?

There’s a hangover from our old industrial ways, one that’s getting in the way of modernising how we work. Despite the proliferation of devices that mean we don’t need to be chained to a desk to do our day-to-day tasks, the idea that sitting down in front of a computer is the way to get the best out of people is still pervasive.

There’s an oft-repeated quote that is attributed to everyone from Steve Jobs to Albert Einstein:

“Hire good people and then get out of their way.”

While it doesn’t matter who uttered this phrase, there’s an important truth at its heart. If you’ve hired someone to do a job, let them do that job their way. Judge them on results not methods. So, if that means not being at their desk all day, then so be it. No one chooses drudgery, it’s forced upon them.

Does this mean the answer is just letting people work how they want?

No, it’s not. Trust is a huge step; however, it’s not going to be the magic spell that makes workers satisfied, productive and rewarded. Creativity is the other ingredient that should be added to the mix.

I’ll do anything except a team-building away-day

When there’s a challenge, the same refrain echoes along the corporate corridor: I know, let’s get everyone together in an event space, maybe bring in a facilitator and spend the day working out what we should do next!

The idea of a team-building day out of the office is likely to strike fear into the heart of most people. They usually have the opposite effect of that intended; one person often takes over as ‘self-appointed leader’; everyone uses their breaks to check email, or do some work.

And why just one day?

What if tools and frameworks could be introduced to the organisation that allow people to find the right way for them to solve the challenges they face? What if they could create their own activities and share them with colleagues? What if they occasionally failed?

These tools and frameworks can be introduced — and should be. They don’t need to be complex. Some will work, others won’t. Find those that work for you and your organisation and use them. Adapt anything useful to suit your needs.

Here’s an example: one of the simplest tools is to bring people from entirely different sectors and disciplines into your organisation. Give them a desk and Wi-Fi. The value exchange lies in them being a sounding board for your business. Get their input — what have they spotted that no one else has?

“But what if something doesn’t work?”

This will definitely happen. The simple law of averages says so. Yet, things should fail. Not often, and certainly not regularly. Occasional failure is good. It’s a chance to test an idea, to learn from that experiment and to incorporate any lessons learned into future ways of working.

It’s just another type of trust: freedom. It engenders a collaborative culture, stimulates debate and ideas. Done well, it can develop a philosophy of innovation within the business, one that questions how things are done and brings new ways of thinking to the table. It’s a positive step, too. Staff will want to come to work, to get stuff done, to carve out time to find real change.

It’s just that they might not (always) be sat at a desk doing it.

Simon White

Simon has spent the past 20 years using his problem-solving skills for organisations as diverse as Sony, Audi, RBS, Philips and adidas, helping them to devise and deliver new products, launch advertising campaigns, and develop social initiatives. His consultancy, Formation London, provides organisations with the skills and frameworks to work through their challenges by using a mixture of creativity and innovation workshops, alongside experiential sessions that use play to open up participants’ thinking.

Originally published at on October 12, 2016.

Image by JonoMueller on Flickr.