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Talent Management

Unorthodox Meets Traditional to Make Employees Work Smarter, Not Harder

By Lisa Ross, VP of human resources,

office meeting spaceThe numbers on a quarterly report are a good indicator of a company’s financial health, but they don’t tell the whole corporate story. What separates a solid company from a revered one are things like productivity, innovation and employee morale – the fundamentals of a company’s corporate culture, which is proven to have big impact on the bottom line.

There’s a growing divide when it comes to driving the ideal corporate culture and the benefits that come along with it, such as attracting top-notch talent or the ability to ship game-changing products at lightning speed. Companies wanting to take their businesses to the next level are caught between wanting to buck conventionalism and create unorthodox, fluid work ‘spaces,’ while simultaneously trying to preserve many of the analog practices that cannot be translated online, like impromptu conversations in the hallway.

The truth is, the two philosophies are not mutually exclusive, In fact, the same employee may require one, the other, or a little of both on any given day. A stressful noon deadline might require lockdown in a quiet room, while the afternoon is open for causal collaboration. The very best work environments cater to a multitude of diverse scenarios. It may seem obvious, but employers need to stay one step ahead of their teams by offering both unorthodox and traditional tools, structure and flexibility that show their commitment to helping employees work smarter, not harder.

Break Down the Old Walls, While Providing New Ones

With laptops and wireless connection, teams can collaborate from just about anywhere. Today’s employees don’t necessarily need to be tied to one location and, in fact, require a flexible workspace to accommodate shifting environmental needs throughout the day depending on project type and deadline.

Breaking down traditional cubicle walls for a more exposed newsroom style office will foster collaborative innovation and improve employee morale by allowing increased interaction with teammates. However, a recent study from Harris Interactive found that 61 percent of noisy co-workers are the biggest distraction in an office. While opening up the office floor may be a smart move, it’s also important to provide a counter space where employees can retreat to hunker down in silence to crank out a report.

Relax For an Impromptu Brainstorm, But Close The Door For a Scheduled Meeting

Whether it’s in the office kitchen, hallway, conference room, upper management office, or even a co-worker’s desk, the workday is stitched together by a series of meetings, both planned and impromptu. After polling our own employees at Ask, we found that they spend about 45 percent of their time in meetings, which either occur in a conference room or a co-worker’s desk.

With almost a majority of employee time dedicated to shared work, it’s important not only for companies to provide ample space for meetings to transpire, but recognize the nuanced requirements for different types of meetings. Open living-room style brainstorm areas scattered around the office with comfortable couches invite impromptu, casual and creative conversation, while more traditional conference and smaller meeting rooms lend themselves to structured scheduled gatherings.

It’s also important to offer the proper ratio of designated space to volume of meetings to ensure no time is wasted waiting or searching for a space to work [in addition to adequate conference room technology to allow for digital presentations and remote dial in].

Chat For a Quick Question But Have Discussions Face-to-Face

The introduction of digital tools to the workplace has made communication both infinitely more efficient and complicated.Chat clients like Yahoo! Messenger or internal social networks like CareerBuilder’s WorkLife are useful and minimally disruptive tools for quick questions and updates.

In fact, our internal poll showed that despite sitting in close proximity to co-workers, 46 percent of employees still mostly communicate through email, IM or phone.

However, this type of communication can actually be detrimental when it comes to explanations, creative brainstorms, and disagreements. It’s difficult to infer tone over chat platforms or e-mail, which often consumes more time than an old fashioned face-to-face meeting. Companies should allow the use of digital communication tools, but also encourage in-person discussions, especially when there is a problem.

Working Remotely Should Be the Exception, Not The Rule

Even before Marissa Mayer made the bold move to ban Yahoo!’s work from home policy, remote work privileges have long been a hot topic for many companies — and rightfully so. Many companies want to offer more flexible schedules that allow work from home opportunities, but fear dwindling productivity and efficiency.

Surprisingly, our internal study showed that the predilection for working from home isn’t as strong as one would believe. A majority of respondents prefer to spend ‘focus time’ in their personal office workspace (63 percent), compared to those who would rather work from home (29 percent).

Working from home should be the exception to the rule, but not discouraged. Employees prefer to come into the office for a traditional workday to maintain productivity, and thus professional success. However, with daily life comes conflicts, appointments and last minute family needs, and employees appreciate the flexibility in workspace when they need to take it.

Investing in your company’s work environment by leveraging both unorthodox and traditional approaches can spell the difference between a good company and great one. And, creating this more flexible and fluid office environment, supported by a backbone of traditional office practices, will most assuredly yield results that will be reflected in your quarterly report.

About the Author VP of HRLisa Ross, Vice President, Human Resources – Ross brings more than 19 years of experience in Human Resources across multiple industries to, where she currently manages the development and reengineering of departmental and company-wide HR standards, policies, procedures and systems. Prior to Ask, Ross served as the Director of Human Resources for MarkLogic Corporation where she was responsible for all Human Resources functions globally. She has also held HR positions with companies including Mindspark, Chevron, Art Technology Group (ATG) and Netpulse Communications. Lisa is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and of the Northern California Human Resources Association (NCHRA). Ross holds a B.A. in Business Management from the Universitas Kristen Indonesia, Certification in Human Resource Management from UC Berkeley and Professional Human Resources Certification from the Human Resources Association. Ross is a trusted advisor to nonprofit Berkeley Youth Authority and active in charitable ventures with the American Brain Tumor Association.

Image: Marcin Wichary


The September 1, 2013, article "Dealing With Different Personalities At Work" by Susan Ricker was excellent and provided great on-the-job advice!  However, I noticed that all four negative work personalities were women. Cute names: Ida The Incompetent, and so on. The writer probably should have tossed in at least one guy as a negative work personality example.  A small, but noticeable point ... [Thanks, Phillip]


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