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Via Nextgov : Open-Plan Offices Have a Surprising Effect on Workplace Communication

A new before-and-after study led by a Harvard Business School professor might bolster the already strong case against the open office plan.

Unlike previous research, it uses empirical evidence rather self-reported data to show that airy, communal spaces do not a buzzing, collaborative environment make.

Ethan Bernstein, an associate professor of organizational behavior, built the research around a real-life renovation at the headquarters of an unnamed Fortune 500 company engaged in a “so-called war on walls.” He had employees wear people analytics badges that track (but do not record) conversations through anonymized sensors, which gave the professor and his co-author data they could compare against changes in online communication. (To minimize the effects of outside factors, their research took snapshots of two three-week periods that fell at that same point in different business quarters, one before walls were banished, and one after.)

In two studies, the researchers found that conversations by email and instant messaging (IM) increased significantly after the office redesign, while productivity declined, and, for most people, face-to-face interaction decreased. Participants in the first study spent 72% less time interacting in person in the open space. Before the renovation, employees had met face to face for nearly 5.8 hours per person over three weeks. In the after picture, the same people held face-to-face conversations for only about 1.7 hours per person.

These employees were emailing and IM-ing much more often, however, sending 56% more email messages to other participants in the study. This is how employees sought the privacy that their cubicle walls once provided, the authors reason. IM messages soared, both in terms of messages sent and total word count, by 67% and 75%, respectively.

The second study compared dyads, or conversational partners, among 100 employees on the same floor of the building. It found that people who sat near each other spoke more to those in their pod of six or eight desks when they were no longer in cubicles. Overall, however, face to face exchanges decreased.

Humans are not like insects

The authors call the social withdraw they captured in data a “natural human response” triggered by a change in environment, but they acknowledge their findings contradict an established theory about collective intelligence. When forced to share space, humans behave much like swarms of insects. This has appeared to be true in a range of contexts, the authors note, citing studies involving the U.S. Congress, college dormitories, co-working spaces, and corporate buildings.

However, as far as we’re aware, hornets and wasps are not as psychologically and socially complex as people. For instance, they do not regularly switch between their front-stage self and back-stage self, managing the impression they’re making, per a longstanding theory about humans.

People are better at rote tasks, rather than creative ones, when we feel we’re on display, and part of our mind is therefore preoccupied by social pressures, Harvard’s Bernstein has suggested. Knowing that others are watching us limits the degree to which we might creatively solve a problem, and therefore be more productive, according to a study he conducted with factory workers. “Do I look busy?” becomes more important than “Am I doing my best work?”

Importantly, the new study also found that when spatial boundaries disappeared, employees didn’t simply take their usual in-person exchanges online. Rather, they began emailing more with some people and communicating less with others. In other words, an open office can reconfigure employee networks, which obviously can change the way teams work.

Social media versus social offices

Bernstein believes the new study reinforces an existing argument that says intermittent social interactions, rather than constant ones, optimize our ability to work out complex problems. Spatial boundaries, he writes, help people “make sense of their environment by modularizing it, clarifying who is watching and who is not, who has information and who does not, who belongs and who does not, who controls what and who does not, to whom one answers and to whom one does not.”

Keeping an eye on all of these things in a sprawling, open space can lead to overload, distraction, and poorer decisions.

It’s perhaps a bit strange we haven’t adapted better to this, in an age that has many of us openly sharing vast portions of our lives on social media. But as Bernstein once told workplace strategy consultant Leigh Stringer, in an interview on her website, “We want people to follow us online, but not necessarily motion-by-motion in the office.”

Via Computer World : The future of collaboration: all roads lead to channels

Faxes, pagers, email, instant messenger, channels – each have been the progression of business collaboration.

n the timeline of business communication – from fax, to email, to cloud computing – each new technology evolves to be better and more helpful than the last at sharing documents, completing projects, or asking colleagues for advice. Three main trends have driven the majority of improvements in this space: personal tools inspiring professional tools, a hyper-competitive race to be faster and more productive, and a yearning for truly constructive, inclusive, informed and effective teamwork.

Now, the convergence of these trends has inspired the development of a new set of enterprise applications – collaboration hubs – that are vastly reducing time spent sending email and, by 2025, will likely become the primary way we work.

The consumer leads the way

A trendy phrase – “consumerization of IT” – describes how the technology we first adopt at home or school paves the way for improvements in workplace technology. This trend is not new. Take web portals and social networking sites, for example.

In the late 90s, consumer portals like MyYahoo and MyMSN pulled customizable information from disparate sources into an approachable, always-updated personal site. Shortly thereafter, corporate portals sprang up to store and share proprietary information among employees, for the first time introducing workers to all the information needed to do their jobs from a single access point.

Some years later, consumer social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter laid the groundwork for professional platforms like Yammer and Salesforce Chatter, which brought the ease of personal networking and information sharing out of the home and into the office. What’s changed recently is our use of consumer tools such as Lyft, Kayak and Dropbox in the workplace. Enterprise software is no longer inspired by consumer software; instead, professional apps need to compete with the utility and usability of personal apps on our smartphones.

The speed of now

The unrelenting demand for real-time communication has been just as influential in driving change as consumer trends. When email made its debut, everyone scrambled to claim at least one address. It was the fastest, easiest, most accessible way to communicate ever devised, quickly conquering corporate life. (The average office worker receives nearly 200 emails a day.)

Yet despite the near-magical power of email, it still wasn’t fast enough. Instant messaging applications like AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger enabled live, casual conversations between friends and family, and soon people expected the same of their coworkers – thus, corporate IM was born.

IBM first introduced corporate IM with Lotus Sametime, then Yahoo announced a corporate instant messaging version of Yahoo! Messenger as part of its enterprise portal business. Soon thereafter AOL responded with Enterprise AIM, then Microsoft unveiled MSN Messenger Connect for Enterprises. By the end of 2002, an Osterman Research report found that 82 percent of all organizations were using some sort of IM application.

Instant messaging meets our needs for real time one on one, or one to few, communication, but falls short for group real time communication.

Less bullhorn, more drawing board

Concurrent with this rise of instant communication was the creation of team collaboration tools. This software sought to combine the best bits of the technology that came before it – databases, email, portals, wikis, social – and capture what has proven to be an elusive goal: truly effective teamwork outside the top-down information sharing model.

In the 1980’s, as corporations were rolling out personal computers, email was the medium for connecting people, departments and information spread across the company. By their very nature (even the word itself) “inboxes” created information silos.

Lotus Notes was the first to bring email, phone books, and document databases into a single environment. Despite being difficult to use (and initially only compatible with the IBM operating system), Lotus Notes sparked the idea that successful, globally adoptable software doesn’t need to be functionally siloed, and that digital platforms were in everyone’s future.

In the late 1990’s, a slew of enterprise portal vendors aimed to solve email’s siloed nature by centralizing information and application access through a vendor agnostic approach. The shortfall of portals was the heavy cost of customization and content curation.

Wikis, which allow anyone to add, delete, or revise content on any topic using only a web browser, were first built to help virtual teams research, brainstorm, and collaborate. In the early 2000’s, soon after enterprise portals proved to be too rigid for team or project-based collaboration, the concept of wiki’s or communities spread in the workplace via applications such as Jive and Microsoft SharePoint.

Wikis created the model for topic-based information dissemination – multiple people communicating in different groups organized by team, topic or project. Curating information was easy but searching across the hundreds or thousands of communities within an organization was deeply flawed. At the time, the common joke was that if you want to secure a document, upload it into SharePoint, no one will be able to find it.

Around 2010 vendors like Yammer and Socialcast popularized enterprise social networking as a means to share and find relevant corporate information through a central activity stream. These tools brought a sense of fun to the workplace with easy sharing of pictures and video but lacked practical workflow support and efficient archival search. For enterprise technology to be truly collaborative, team members must be able to work creatively, in real time, quickly switching between various projects or topics, connect to a vast set of enterprise applications and data and effortlessly recall information.

Enter channels-based communication

Channels, a core innovation of new collaboration hubs, describe the place where multiple people can communicate and learn in groups organized by team, topic or project.

For example, one could create a channel for the accounting team, where accounting conversations and files would live together. One could also organize channels by project – like for a product launch – so that everyone involved in an initiative has a single place to share their work and track the work of others. One could similarly organize channels by subject matter, so people specializing in one aspect of the business have their own space for discussion. This facilitation of teamwork has Wiki genes, but reflects the conversational way that people actually work.

With channels, team members are never left out, and information doesn’t get lost – everything a team needs is in the same place. Channels make it possible to share, archive, and search; to keep information organized, updated, and transparent, taking inspiration from 90s-era corporate portals but with a far better experience and far more functionality.

Channels become an even more critical hub for employees’ workflows when integrated with other popular workplace apps like Google Drive, Zoom, and Envoy. Through these integrations, employees can pull reports, start calls, file tickets and more, all within modern-day collaboration and communication tools.

Plus, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), if information is posted in public channels, it can be parsed to better understand what’s going on in an organization. AI can point people to messages that might be of interest to them, or suggest channels that might be beneficial to join, all in the service of making the workday simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.

Making work better

The historical advances we’ve made, driven by the desire to improve collaboration and productivity, have led us to today, when it’s possible to share, archive and search to keep a team organized, up-to-date, and on the same page. With channels, the right people have the right information when and where they need it, and collaboration becomes much more efficient and effective.

Faxes, pagers, email, instant messenger, channels – each have been the progression of business collaboration. By 2025, everyone will be working on platforms that offer this functionality, or something similar, because channels are the best place for work to happen.

Via Digital Signage Today : 3 ways digital signage can improve communication at the workplace

If we are completely honest, we have to admit we regularly ignore or miss important emails. A study by The Radicati Group found that in 2015, the average employee sent and received 122 emails per day. The study also expected that number to increase to 126 emails by 2019. With so many emails flying back and forth, it’s easy to see why that important email regarding a company get together or a change to the 401k can go unnoticed. Perhaps a better solution to this communication overload is to provide a more convenient source of information: digital signage. There are three key ways digital signage can boost communication in the workplace: convenience, interactivty and culture.


An email inbox is a cluttered place filled with spam, important emails, advertisements and distractions. Digital signage, on the other hand, can deliver clear messages in a concise fashion, if done properly.

A business could deploy digital signage, for example, in the lunch room in clear sight of anyone sitting down or heating up their food. It could be used to advertise a key benefit, such as a health app, that an employee might not be aware of. A company could also use it to remind employees of key rules and regulations at the workplace.

Advertisers often measure the revenue per impression to examine how much impact an ad makes on its audience. In order to make more revenue, obviously the ad needs to create a large number impressions among the target audience. The same principle applies to corporate communication. Digital signage can help create more impressions among the audience to ensure that employees really get the message.


Digital signage also opens up the road to two-way communication and interactivity. For example, employees could submit accolades for colleagues or submit suggestions to increase productivity. This feedback could then be integrated as content into the displays.

It can be tempting to turn digital signage into a one-way communication tool, but this ignores a key opportunity for employees to truly interact with and improve the overall content. Employees could, for example, submit images from company or family events to share with the entire workplace. They could also provide wise or funny sayings to help get people through the Monday blues.


One final way digital signage can aid corporate communication is by building or improving company culture. As mentioned above, by encouraging employees to interact with the digital signage, they can help add to company culture.

If your company, for example, has a more laid back culture, employees could share funny memes on the displays or inside jokes. A company with a family orientated culture might regularly share baby photos or kids’ sporting events.

By using digital signage as a true two-way communication tool, you have the opportunity to build a richer company culture that engages employees more than a barrage of emails.

Via Forbes : Mastering Multigenerational Communication In The Workplace

The topic of generational diversity has launched a tsunami of observation, documentation, investigation, speculation and research in the last 20 years. The emergence of digital media technology has made it possible to disseminate the differences between generational behavioral characteristics in panoramic detail. However, knowledge alone will not meld the schisms that exist between one generation to another. It is possible this scrutiny has even fueled some subtle fires of prejudice between generational members.

Spherexx has five generations working side by side right now, and we are working constantly to present the best communication workflow to optimize performance across generational barriers.

How many times have we heard or said something like, “That’s a millennial for you!” to a perplexed baby boomer employer when a prospective employee arrives wearing shorts and flip-flops to an interview? Putting aside preconceptions takes concentrated effort after being exposed to a barrage of misinformation or partial inundation of facts.

Studying measurable facts is a good beginning for laying the groundwork to adopt better multigeneration communication within your corporate culture and daily workflows.

Know The Facts

For the purpose of this study, we are using Pew Research Center’s age definition of generations:

Millennials represent the largest workforce group as of 2015. The research also reports that the workforce of Americans age 55 and over is in a steady upward trend, projected at 24.3% in 2020. The aging baby boomers and Gen Xers are not going gentle into that good night, which lays a foundation of a dynamic workplace environment soon to be populated by five generations.

This chart shows the historical and projected workforce by age from 2016 to 2026, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Pew Research. The data labels indicate the generations represented.

By 2026, millennials will make up the majority of the workforce, yet one-quarter of the workforce will still be represented by Gen Xers plus boomers, who are projected at 13 million in 2024. These statistics have spurred forward-thinking leaders to research how generations are alike and different, with the goal of maintaining peace and high productivity in their companies.

We believe we have had some successes in communicating across generations by first informing our leaders and mentors about the differences between the generational characteristics. Then, we practice those preferred communication methodologies while balancing a respect for the differences in each generation, along with individual learning styles of the employee.

A research survey with 18,000 participants from 19 countries discovered leadership motivational employment factors for generations X, Y and Z. This study is very enlightening for establishing motivational communications between the current and emerging generations.

This research tells us that all are motivated by money, a desire for leadership and flexibility, and they all somewhat feel the need to fit in. Members of Gen X, Y and Z crave a sense of leadership, but none more than Gen Y (77%). But it’s Gen Z’s choices that indicate a high trend in entrepreneurial endeavors. Gen X and Y desire to mentor others, Gen Y and Z are looking forward to more virtual reality tools in the workplace, and all rate current technology in the workplace as lacking.

A Good Beginning

Consider what current forms of your corporate communications support these shared motivations. How can you promote a greater sense of leadership, create a more flexible working environment, reduce stress, improve technology and establish a mentorship program?

We launched Spherexx in 2000 with flexible working hours, which is a big attraction to all our staff members — we only require that deadlines are met and that everyone operates within established, written policies. Our organization is flat, but we have long tenured employees that are influencers that work to nurture others. We have found that setting aside times to have fun together with bi-monthly updates on what each division has accomplished naturally improves communication, as does nurturing team support around charity activities and socializing events.

Sue Whitener, Human Resources Consultant, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, sums up the best point for beginning to better generational communication: “First of all, create an environment of mutual respect and uphold the directive. Help employees to better understand each other’s differences, recognize different communication preferences and how to best support your organization. It is always important to ask employees what their desired method of communication is and fit your initiatives into your findings. Study the characteristics of generational behavior and remember that cusp-born members will often share characteristics of both generations. Never forget that each person is an individual and must be treated accordingly.”

As a leader in your working environment, first examine what prejudice may lurk in your own perspective and work through it for the better good. Otherwise, it will ultimately manifest and it will become permissible, if not preferential, to those who follow you either by position or influence. Begin with the Golden Rule.

Via South China Morning Post : Mindset Matters: From Cultural Mindset to Multicultural Competence

With the increase in global connectivity, the ability to work and communicate effectively with people from diverse cultural backgrounds is seen as an important asset. What factors might help to build this asset?

Imagine that you need to build a project team to work on integrating artificial intelligence with business analytics. Suppose that you have all the resources that you need to attract the brightest minds from around the world to join your team. What might affect the overall effectiveness of this team? Presumably, everyone on the team would have the technical knowledge and competencies to perform and contribute as required. However, having the knowledge and competencies does not necessarily mean that individual team members would be able and willing to communicate effectively. What might influence work and communication effectiveness in the face of diversity? Research over the past decade has suggested that multicultural competence (sometimes known as cultural intelligence) is an important quality in enhancing effectiveness in a culturally diverse workforce.

What is multicultural competence? Why is it important?

Multicultural competence refers to the ability to adapt and function efficiently in a culturally diverse setting. It involves (a) having the intrinsic interest to acquire different cultural knowledge; (b) possessing knowledge about other cultures; (c) being aware of one’s own cultural values and beliefs, and their potential assumptions and biases; and (d) being able to respond in a culturally appropriate manner. In short, it encompasses motivation, knowledge, awareness, and skills.

Multicultural competence can influence important outcomes across different work domains. For example, it affects the effectiveness of expatriates and how well they adjust in international assignments. It influences the performance of culturally diverse teams and the success of cross-cultural negotiations. It also predicts the performance of salespersons who serve diverse customers. Interestingly, in the domain of health service provision, particularly mental health, it can influence the diagnostic accuracy of clinicians and their service delivery because cultural factors influence how clinical symptoms are experienced, detected, understood, and managed.

What might contribute to multicultural competence?

Multicultural competence is a learnable attribute. Therefore, business organizations and educational institutes have invested a significant amount of resources in training and education. Above all, they recognize that international experience and exposure to foreign cultures are important means in enhancing multicultural competence. However, individuals differ in their receptiveness towards cultural training and international experiences. Some might benefit from these experiences and training and improve their level of multicultural competence over time. Others might resist and react against it. Why would people react and respond differently? Our recent research revealed that “cultural mindset” matters.

Our work on “cultural mindset” grew out of the broader literature on “growth mindset”. It has shown that individuals’ beliefs about their ability can create a social reality for themselves, which then leads them to see and experience what they have expected. Research on growth mindset reveals that whereas some people believe that their ability is changeable, others believe it is fixed. Importantly, when facing challenges, people in the former group tend to persist more in the search for solutions than those in the latter group. They also tend to value opportunities to learn and to improve themselves. Eventually, their beliefs turn into a reality. They show improvement in their actual ability, outperforming those with a fixed mindset.

Our research on cultural mindset showed that a similar process influences the development of multicultural competence. In a longitudinal study, we found that sojourners who believe in changeable cultural attributes are more at ease in intercultural environments than those with a fixed cultural mindset. They experience less anxiety when interacting with people from another culture. They are also less inclined to anticipate social rejections, and are better adjusted in the host countries. These positive experiences then foster the development of multicultural competence.

In a series of lab studies, we also found that people holding malleable cultural beliefs are more able to build a trusting relationship with their foreign partners. This trust led to more cooperative behavior and better outcomes in negotiations. In short, our mindsets create a self-fulfilling cycle in which we live. Mindset matters. We do not only see what we believe, but we also become what we believe.

What can be done then?

Individuals are often selected for international exchanges, foreign assignments, or multicultural teamwork based on their technical competence. For some, they can leverage these opportunities to establish trusting relationships, expend their networks, and broaden their knowledge base. For others, such experiences can turn out to be aversive.

Arguably, there could be a self-selection process in which people with a malleable cultural mindset feel more comfortable with intercultural exchanges and, therefore, are more likely to take up the challenge and flourish. In contrast, people with a fixed cultural mindset tend to shy away from intercultural encounters in the first place; however, some might be motivated to take up these international opportunities because of their perceived instrumental value. In the increasingly diverse workplace, individuals should be mindful of the impact of their cultural mindset in shaping the development of their multicultural competence. Managers and educators should also consider ways to provide support and training.

Traditional cross-cultural training programs focus on enhancing multicultural competence by providing culture-specific knowledge. They often highlight differences in cultural practices and values, but an emphasis on differences may inadvertently reinforce a fixed cultural mindset. So, it is important for cross-cultural training program to go beyond emphasizing cultural differences. It would likely be more effective in promoting positive intercultural exchanges if it fosters an awareness of how cultural mindset can lead into a self-fulfilling cycle of competence, or incompetence.

What is “Multicultural Competence”?

– Intrinsic interest to acquire cultural knowledge
– Knowledge about other cultures
– Awareness of different cultural values and beliefs, and their potential biases
– Skill to respond in a culturally appropriate manner