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EVOLVING THE WORKSPACE | How Leaders Can Empower Teams By Giving Control

Leaders have a lot on their plates these days. From initial pandemic responses to reintegrating teams back to the office, we’ve all been challenged in new (read: unprecedented) ways over the last eighteen months.


And it’s been… hard. Confronting life-threatening events takes an enormous amount of mindshare, and people, especially leadership, have found themselves in a perpetual ‘fight or flight’ mode for longer than we imagined. But with every newly vaccinated citizen, business leaders are regaining a foothold on normalcy, and renewed headspace to focus on their people.


After months of reorganizing workplace floorplates, hand sanitizer stations and acrylic sheeting, business leaders (in fact, anyone who manages a team) can benefit by pulling back from in-the-moment reactionary responses of the past year. Workers recovering from over a year of fear-based limitations and literal barriers are hungry for some control.


Dr. Mike O’Neill and Rex Miller, co-authors of The Healthy Workplace Nudge, talk about how leaders can implement choice as mode of support. They responded that first, employee well-being should be embedded in organizational strategy. “If we believe human capital is the most expensive asset any organization invests in, why wouldn’t we want to nurture them to higher performance—just like we do with any other investment?” They propose that in the constantly evolving modern workplace, work is done in a more societal way, and work modes change often. Providing ways for individuals, groups, and teams to evolve their own work circumstances is of paramount importance right now.


Here is a summary of their further response (with our thanks to Haworth Spark):


1. How do you give people control in their environment? Creating a variety of spaces that satisfy the human need to accommodate specific work can reduce stress that people feel. With tight deadlines, limited budgets, and no loss for work to fill time, the best thing we can do is reduce the “friction” to getting things done. Giving the organization autonomy to choose where to do work means individuals have the freedom to control their environment. That sense of control is key to balance the other stressors that people often have little or no control over.


2. How do you create a strong organizational culture to support well-being? Since culture is centered on the values, beliefs, and behavior of the organization, integrating well-being into strategic planning and decisions means that it becomes part of the DNA or culture of the organization. Supporting the culture with the appropriate space and policy is imperative for the desired state of culture to survive. Of course, part of doing this is first understanding what the existing culture is—and there are ways to assess it.


3. How can you be purposeful in creating "good" nudges and reducing "bad" nudges? Thoughtful planning with well-being as a priority does not have to add cost or be difficult to initiate. Integrating legible spaces—those that are intuitive to the user—is another way to reduce stress in the workplace. Creating a series of landmarks that “guide” people and adjacencies that allow people to vary their physical posture are ways to easily and affordably implement “good” nudges. Reducing “bad” nudges can be achieved by either eliminating or adjusting access to elements that either add to stress or physically compromise well-being. Just the opposite of positive adjacencies can be negative adjacencies, causing distraction and frustration (stress) and not having appropriate alternative choices available to use.


Good nudges? Bad nudges? Relinquishing control to human capital? Does this mean people start moving desks around willy-nilly, or start working in the elevator? These notions make sense in theory, but sometimes leaders need a nudge too. There are hundreds of ways to inspire human capital and integrate these tenants into the shared work environment.


At AOE, we work with you and your team directly to learn work styles, job function requirements, integrated team dynamics and audit your current square footage to give your team the space they need to thrive, and to hero the cultural touch points you want to grow. We optimize your current workplace investment with no disruption, and plenty of worker delight.


To book a time to chat, send a message to your main AOE contact, or let us connect you with an AOE expert here (link to Contact page).

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