A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation on Work Life Integration to the Southwest Washington chapter of the Society for HR Management. Afterward, one of the participants said that we really need more of this kind of "woo-woo" wisdom in the workplace, and I couldn't have agreed more! Her comment got me thinking: what would an organization that practices work life integration actually look like? I talk all the time about how unhealthy our workplaces can be, but I haven't really shared what I think a healthy organization would look and feel like.
In this post, I want to take you on a journey through a day in the life of a healthy, vibrant organization - it's one I made up, and we'll call it Integrated Widgets, Inc. Let's pretend that I'm being brought in as an HR Consultant, and my first task is to spend a day in the organization and just observe what goes on.
First stop: Reception, around 9:00am. I'm greeted by the receptionist, Micah (no lame gendered stereotypes here), who is warm and friendly and relaxed. The office space is beautiful: there are plants growing, there's lots of natural light, and the energy is neither totally dull nor completely frenzied. It feels good to be here. I see that people are still coming in to start their day, there's a walking group that just finished a 3-mile loop together, and I smell the coffee brewing.
Next stop: The break room. Micah offers me a selection of appealing coffees, teas, and pastries, and I notice what good taste this organization has. People are in the break room chatting, catching up, and I see that a few people have brought in snacks to share. The colleagues I meet are warm, they welcome me, and I find myself wanting each of them to be my new friend.
Stop #3: An office tour. Micah shows me around the office, and I notice right away that there's a mix of working spaces: some are quiet, closed off spaces, and others are totally open without any walls or barriers between desks. I ask him about the mix, and he tells me that employees are able to pick their workspace depending on their introversion/extroversion style. The easily-over-stimulated introvert in me swoons. I see that people's work areas are personalized as much as they want - some are bare and clean, others are full of photos and funny mementos. Some of the stuff posted is even a little racy and includes swear words, which warms my heart. Real people seem to work here.
There are also cute dogs around! Sweet, loving pups sit at the feet of their owners and force them to take regular breaks and walks throughout the day. There's a buzz in the air - not an urgent, over-caffeinated buzz, just a mild excitement and sense of ease. I see that many of the desks are still empty at 9:30, and Micah tells me that a lot of people work from home some days of the week or come in later - as long as the work gets done, management doesn't care when people are around. As much as I love being an entrepreneur, this workplace is definitely tugging at my heartstrings.
Next stop: The only meeting taking place today, which was scheduled to discuss the expansion into a new market for Integrated Widgets, Inc. Meetings here are rare, and for good reason: management here knows that most meetings are a total waste of time. The meeting is scheduled for 42 minutes, there are only five people present, and a clear agenda has been sent out ahead of time. Jodi, the meeting facilitator and Chief of New Markets, starts right on time even though Brad, the CFO, is late (again).
Jodi starts out by asking everyone for a quick check-in: how are they feeling today, what's getting them stuck, and what's working? I notice that the answers are transparent, and the usual chasm between managers and employees seems to be quite small. People are open about what's getting them stuck, and Jodi listens attentively and takes notes. She commits to following up on each of the obstacles named to see how she can help get things moving in the right direction.
All of the meeting attendees contribute value throughout the meeting, there's hardly any wavering from the agenda, and it ends promptly after 42 minutes. It's one of the most productive meetings I've ever witnessed, and people leave with smiles and clear next steps. (For some helpful tips on how to run meetings like this, check out this article).
Next up: Quiet working time. There's no one waiting for the conference room after us, because everyone else seems to understand that this is quiet, solitary working time. While some of the work at Integrated Widgets, Inc. requires collaboration, most status updates are given online through the company's project management software. I notice that people don't have chat windows open or emails popping up - no, no, this is dedicated, deep work time, and people are encouraged to really focus and dive in.
Next: Lunch! People eat lunch in the break area, outside, but not at their desks. I see people walking after they have lunch, together or alone, and to my surprise, most people break for an entire hour. How European!
After lunch: Another chunk of focused work. People seem to respect the quiet time, and while it's not as subdued as it was this morning, most folks still aren't constantly responding to emails or chats. Email responses seem to be relegated to small chunks throughout the day, and Molly, the Payroll Administrator, tells me that this allows everyone to get way more done. She also notes that people are intentional about their emails, and that the company culture is such that you only send emails that are actually helpful and productive.
Next up: A mid-afternoon break. Around 3:00, a natural break seems to occur, and people get up to stretch, walk their dog, or grab a quick snack in the break area. People chat, they provide updates on their projects, it all feels very low-key and rejuvenating.
Finally: People begin to intentionally close out their days. I see them making lists of things they accomplished today and sharing them on the company portal. I see them giving "shout-outs" to one another for successes or for going above and beyond with a customer. Most of them plan ahead for tomorrow and make a list of 2-3 priorities to focus on. Spouses and kids come by to pick up their loved ones, pets start dragging their humans away from the keyboard, and folks leave with enough time to enjoy life for the evening.
While some people do stay later, I notice there's none of the "burning the midnight oil = a hard worker" lingo that's normally present in our workplaces. No one seems ashamed for leaving after six or seven hours of working. Employees have a realistic sense of what they can accomplish in a day, they're given the flexibility and time to focus productively, and they're treated like adults when they say it's time for them to go home.
If this kind of workplace seems ideal and far-fetched, I get it. I don't think it's impossible, though, and I've seen workplaces that approximate this seemingly Pollyanna-like existence.
Healthy organizations are places where growth can happen. In order to grow, we need sunlight (clarity), water (flow), and dirt (groundedness). And yes, sometimes we need fertilizer (poop), but what use is the fertilizer without those other key elements?
If your organization is close to the healthy one I toured above, I'd love to hear from you! I'm interested in learning more about how folks are creating this growth-friendly environment on the ground, and your insights would be invaluable. If your organization is not close to becoming like Integrated Widgets, Inc., we can definitely talk about that, too! You can reach me using this Contact link.
Know someone who'd like to take a tour of a healthy organization? Pass this along!