Since the turn of the century, office spaces featuring open floor plans, flexible huddle nooks, and fireside-inspired furnishings have become commonplace. Though this trend originated in the tech and creative sectors, it has filtered into other industries that are eager to foster collaboration and ramp up efficiency. For the most part, it’s working. Nevertheless, Udemy’s “2019 Workplace Boundaries Report” suggests that some personalities wish their “second home” were a little less communal.
Udemy found that blurred boundaries bother many employees: 51% of workers don’t want to be hugged at work, 62% would rather not see co-workers’ kids in the office, 65% believe workout or athleisure clothes are unprofessional, and 66% believe pets belong at home. While these numbers point to a severe disconnect between what employers provide and what some professionals want, businesses aren’t about to revert to environments of yesteryear.
At our headquarters, we offer a coffee bistro and gathering areas to chill out. We’re relaxed but not distracted. Our objective isn’t to promote an entirely laid-back atmosphere but to set the stage for the casual congregation and impromptu brainstorming. However, we’re careful to balance relaxation with respect. Otherwise, we risk disgruntled personnel and high turnover. After all, Udemy’s research shows that executives who don hoodies or managers with babies in tow can both inspire and irritate.
If you’re trying to marry the expectation of a more lax office with the need to consistently deliver high-quality, on-time services and solutions, you’re not alone. Below are three ways to get you closer to a balance that allows everyone to thrive.
- Insist upon a clean environment.
Cleanliness should be a priority in any workplace, but it’s particularly important in one that offers unlimited snacks or has a bring-your-pet-to-work policy. Things will get messy — fast. We’re not just talking spills, either. Debris will get ground into the carpet, and indoor air quality can suffer. Animals will potentially have accidents on upholstered furniture or expensive textile flooring. And tiny food crumbs? They’ll attract rodents and insects.
If you allow pets and children on-site, you should sanitize floors, surfaces, and furnishings daily. Seem overwhelming? You can always designate specific locations for casual moments, which will help confine the mess to specific areas. Zoning provides safer areas for clients, employees, kids, and pets. Plus, it limits wear and tears on capital expenditures like carpets.
In addition to daily and weekly janitorial visits, create long-term building care plans. These should include everything from biannual carpet and tile deep cleanings to seasonal HVAC equipment check-ups. Be sure to regularly change your air filters to reduce dander and particles that might negatively affect workers’ health, morale, and motivation.
- Define work and play expectations.
Without clear boundaries around acceptable behavior, some employees may take the invitation to relax too far. Instead of telling employees they can dress casually, explain what you mean: Are pajamas allowed? Workout clothes? Ripped jeans? Don’t assume your staff will automatically make the choices you’d prefer.
Be ready to address how easygoing you are about occasional in-office stress-busters. One poll showed 29% of employees want the ability, at will, to grab free goodies or take a quick snooze on the clock. Similarly, 30% liked the idea of in-office parties and themed dress events. These initiatives can get out of hand, though. Fun shouldn’t overshadow work, and everyone on the payroll must understand that his or her paycheck is attached to performance, not play.
On that note, if you have to remind individual team members of your expectations, do it privately. For example, Udemy’s report showed that nearly a third of respondents feel uncomfortable when colleagues overuse profanity at work, which can happen when people feel less inhibited. If you have to discipline someone for inappropriate language, do it discreetly but firmly. You’ll help the individual adapt to work-versus-home parameters.
- Keep a tight leash on pets.
Pets may rule the roost at home, but in the workplace, they should have far less freedom. Giving animals a particular place to spend time avoids issues associated with pets roaming around, which can present both safety and health hazards.
Many people have allergies to animals, and others are fearful of certain breeds of animal types. Consequently, though companion dogs have been shown to improve socialization between (and lower stress levels among) colleagues, not all pets are welcome by workers. You may want to survey your teams ahead of allowing animals in the office.
Additionally, have a chat with your insurance provider about maintaining proper levels of commercial property insurance to cover pet-related damage. Then, ensure human resources is on top of worker accommodation laws. Yes, it’s extra work, but inviting pets into the workplace requires contemplation and planning to keep everyone comfortable, including furry tagalongs.
With all of this in mind, executives can inform future decisions about how best to balance in-office social leniency with the need to hit operational expectations. That way, they can draw lines in the sand that allow everyone to benefit from easygoing work environments without losing a competitive edge.
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