April 29, 2016

Office work in 1975

Working in an office. Before the Internet. Credit: Dave Conner / Flickr Creative Commons

When you think of the future of work, what do you picture?

A world of robots, automation, and self-driving cars, where humans don’t actually do anything?

A Silicon Valley-esque vision of free food, ping pong tables, and bean bag chairs?

Well, those visions are probably a ways away. But here are a few simple ideas that could - and should - revolutionize your office in the next few years.

David Burkus, author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual and host of the podcast Radio Free Leader, walks us through them:

Do away with performance reviews

Performance reviews are awkward and nerve-racking. Who knows whether you’ll be able to adequately convey all you’ve done over the past year? Who knows whether your self-assessment will line up with your boss’ view of you? This nervousness is not a good thing, according to Burkus:

“I think so often we turn what should be a good feedback-giving session between a manager and an individual contributor... into a rating session or an evaluation session. It’s like giving someone a report card, when the intent is to give that level of feedback. And the formality is the big cause of it… if it’s being documented and put in somebody’s folder with the HR department, then it’s probably too formal to give valuable, useful, immediately applicable feedback.”

Tell people your salary

Knowing how much your colleagues make may strike you as odd. It turns out, though, that knowing their salary could be quite beneficial, says Burkus:

“I certainly would feel a little weird if everyone I worked with knew how much I got paid. But when I dug into the research, it actually makes for an increased sense of fairness and collaboration. We assume a lot of things about who’s overpaid and who’s underpaid, and that causes all sort of friction in the organization… But most of the times when companies switch from that secrecy condition to some level of transparency… you end up with productive conversations about how to improve that [salary] formula, not individual strife about who makes more and who makes less.”

Have unlimited vacation - and other cool perks

If you want to work at Netflix because they give their employees unlimited vacation, well, Burkus says that making employees happy isn’t really the point.

“In general, people take about as much vacation under an unlimited vacation policy as they do under a traditional one, or they take a little bit less,” he says. “But really, the primary upside to [the unlimited vacation policy] is there’s a level of trust conveyed from Netflix to the employees.”

That feeds into Burkus’ main thesis. As we move away from a production-based economy and towards an idea-based economy, employers are going to have to trust their workers. Or, at least find innovative new ways to make the employees like their capitalist overlords.

After all, the reason Google gives out free food isn’t just because they appreciate their employees, they have an ulterior motive, says Burkus:

“Every table where the free food can be consumed has more than two seats at it, meaning every table is a long group table. The idea is not so much: ‘We’re giving you free food because we want you to feel taken care of.’ It’s: ‘When you eat that free food, we want to force you to sit around people you don’t normally interact with day-to-day.’”

Business, new business models, David Burkus, salaries

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