Creating the workplace of the future with 37signals and Microsoft

Today’s job landscape is changing rapidly due to an influx of startups and technology. How can managers adapt to successfully attract, retain and develop the best employees in this new landscape? How can they keep the workplace enjoyable while adding value?

Chicago Ideas Week brought together a group of speakers to discuss changes in the workplace and explain how managers can succeed in shaping the workforce of the future.

Here we explain the reasons for these changes to the workplace and share the panels top tips for how to adapt:

Technology is fostering a change in the evolution of business

Because employees couldn’t take the work home, managing a work force used to be about control, explains Lisa Brummel, Chief People Officer at Microsoft. Today we work in big open spaces that are visual and interactive. Thanks to mobile technology we are always in the office. To succeed in a modern workplace managers need to find a way to use this technology and “manage an outcome, not control the people,” Brummel said.

Technology is creating a disruption of the traditional hierarchy: less walls and more technology means letting people work where they do the best job. “You may never see an employee and you may not understand their workplace but you still have to create a common outcome that you are all working towards. This means a higher level of community. You have to not only give direction but take direction,” Brummel said.

The best employees are self-educators 

To learn more about the habits of the workforce of the future James Reilly, founder of the GUILD Agency, began to interview young, successful people. He found that they were succeeding in areas where they had no conventional training because they were committed to constantly learning outside the classroom. “They were taking an approach to life where they are able to educate themselves on things that are important to them. They then found a way to incorporate them back into their everyday life,” Reilly said. This approach helped them to enjoy their everyday work life.

How can managers use Reilly’s findings to their benefit? They need to get innovative with the day-to-day structure of their business and focus on unlocking this intellectual capital that is being stored up. This increase in self-education has created a “massive pool of untapped resources where employees are waiting for the opportunity to do something with their skills,” said Reilly.

Create a place of learning that respects ideas, not an interruption factory

To create a positive culture in the workplace you first need to identify what is wrong with the current culture. Jason Fried, the co-founder and CEO of 37signals, says the problem with the workplace is that people aren’t fulfilled: there is too much interruption and nothing gets done. “Offices have become interruption factories,” Fried said, describing the backwards place the corporate office has become.

To shift the focus from interruption to learning, Fried says we must create a quiet place. There is a reason why traditional places of learning, like a library or a classroom, are quiet places. The quest for quietness is why many 37signals employees work remotely. And why the ones who do work in the office don’t talk to each other. Implementing the “no talking” rule a few hours a week will increase productivity and decrease interruptions. “The reality is you probably don’t really need to talk to someone – it’s very rare that it’s actually an emergency.” Fried said.

When it comes to management, Fried’s philosophy is simple: If someone is doing meaningful work it should speak for itself, they don’t need to be at the office. He says that managers need to understand that everyone is different and letting people work where they want will help them do the best work they can. If you are intent on having an office make sure that it is an inspiring one. “The places you work and the people you surround yourself with have a huge influence on what you do. If you are going to have an office it should be inspirational and have some meaning to it,” Fried said.

Fried has another simple trick for getting your employees to do their best work: treat them like adults. A lot of employers don’t—they have no respect for their ideas. Showing employees respect will also increase employee retention. “Respect allows people to do their best work and when they are doing their best work, they don’t leave,” said Fried.

Filed in: Startup Community