Published 27 July 2017 Category: Business, Insights, Compass Tips, Workspace, Entrepreneur, Business, Startups

Reconsidering Work Settings According to Science

The way we organise the majority of our work today is strongly limiting the potential of our brains: office plans, working hours, meetings and presentations, workstations, and brainstorming. But businesses and schools want people to flourish in terms of productivity, creativity, and originality.

Why not start providing perfect working atmospheres by looking into the mountain of research done on the subject.

Although understanding how our mind works is still one of the most challenging and important tasks in science today, we can draw clear conclusions from numerous researches on work efficiency. We could, for instance, look into the work of an Estonian neuroscientist Dr Jaan Aru who has dedicated his career on understanding neuronal basis of consciousness. In his blog post on brain efficiency, he writes: “Work environments today transform our brains from a sportscar into a scooter.”

The main reason why our brains become limited is information overload. Take for instance, the below scenario:

There are two monitors on your work desk. You check your phone again while chatting to your colleague simultaneously, but the email tab stays open just in case and oh a developer just asked something in Slack, you should answer right away.

The standard today is to multitask and always be available and online. Lots of information and lots of work to be done results in longer weekdays. The problem is that the brain isn’t a great multitasker and what looks like checking your phone and chatting at the same time is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks which requires extra resources (sort of like javascript). This ultimately reduces productivity and increases mistakes up to 50 percent.

How to avoid this?

  1. Concentrate on one task at a time. Turn off everything that might disturb (browser, Facebook, email, phone, Skype, and annoying colleague).

  2. If you lose your concentration, take a break; stand up from your desk immediately.

  3. It is recommended to switch between different types of work every 25 minutes.

  4. Write a task list every morning and always set milestones to bigger goals. Your brain will magically follow your wishes.

  5. Do all the important tasks first. When your brain is not tired yet.

  6. When you feel overwhelmed  - meaning your prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that does the conscious thinking, is tired from multitasking ; sleep for 10–15 minutes.

Co-working Spaces
Many of today’s employees work or have worked in a co-working space, definitely a trend among enterprises and startups.

A study of 38,000 knowledge workers across different sectors found that the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity.

Lessons Learned
Backbone Entertainment, a video game design company in California initially used co-working but saw that their programmers, many of whom were introverts, were unhappy. So they decided to change to cubicles’ because people preferred the chance to hide away and concentrate.

Something similar happened in Reebok International when, in 2000, the company consolidated 1,250 employees in their new headquarters and assumed people would want to stay in co-working space with plenty of access to each other. Luckily, they consulted with their shoe designers first, who told that what they needed was peace and quiet.

The best solution would be creating “flexible” serviced office plans, where the environment encourages casual meetings, yet provide private space for concentrations, such as in Compass Offices.

Lone geniuses are out of fashion. Brainstorming is in. The concept of brainstorming was invented by Alex Osborn during the 50s. His theory had great impact, and company leaders took up brainstorming with enthusiasm and brainstorming has stayed in high honour until this day. But there’s one problem with the idea: group brainstorming doesn’t actually work.

One of the first studies of 106 participants was conducted in 1963. Two groups had to produce ideas: one group in solitude, the other brainstroming together. The results were unambiguous. The group where everyone worked on their own, produced more ideas than the other. They also produced ideas of equal or higher quality.

Since then, some forty years of research has reached the same conclusion. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases. As the organisational psychologist Adrian Furnham puts it: ”Business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups. If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

The only exception to this is online brainstorming, where everything is vice versa. Online, the results are the best, and the larger the group the better it performs. The same has been found with researchers. When collaborating electronically, the more influential work they tend to produce.

What often happens during meetings, is that some people stay passive. There are many reasons to it. A much discussed issue is that men talk louder than women, some people may be shy (evaluation apprehension), or some may have a quieter voice…plus many other reasons.

But why does brainstorming remain as popular as ever? Group brainstorming makes people feel attached. A worthy goal, so long as we understand that social glue, as opposed to creativity, is the principal benefit.

The modern organisation, particularly in the Western world, is biased towards the extroverted profile. The bold, assertive profile is notably apparent within the Investment Banking world, which was at the heart of the Wall Street crisis in 2008.

This is because, extroverts are more sensitive to dopamine, the ‘reward chemical’ released by the brain. This means that extroverts process information quickly, and act quickly. They are more likely to get ‘carried away’ with their momentum. In contrast, introverts process information more slowly, but are far less likely to be influenced by dopamine.

In short, while they make decisions more slowly, they tend to be more accurate in their decision-making. The message is not that extroverts should no longer play a role in leadership, but rather that our leadership structures should be more representative of both of these personality types.

Schools understandably reflect the values of the business world. As a result, the school environments today can be highly unnatural. Everything from the noisy school bus, inharmonious canteen to group discussions and group work. There’s little time to create or think. The structure of the day almost guarantees that you end up with no energy, rather than feel stimulated.

Key Takeaways

  1. Don’t try to multitask, your brain isn’t capable. Instead, divide your day into 25-minute tasks.

  2. Co-working spaces in many instances, reduce productivity and make people unhappy. Give your employees enough private space for concentration.

  3. If it’s creativity you’re after, ask your team to solve problems before sharing them.

  4. If you want the wisdom of the crowd, gather it on writing electronically or on paper.

  5. Brainstorming doesn’t increase creativity, nor produce more ideas.

  6. Meetings are social glue and motivate people.

  7. Remember that not everyone’s voice is always heard in business situations.