Redefining the Wall Between Executives and Employees – Literally
Fast, efficient communication is a company's lifeblood, and an open office environment is the key to achieving it.
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When you first get a company off the ground, you might barely have enough employees to count on one hand. In that setup, it's pretty easy for you to sit together with your junior employees.
But what happens when you — hopefully — scale up? Suddenly, your office gets bigger. Before you know it, you have to decide whether you're going to sit on the floor with everybody else or tuck yourself away into a corner office somewhere. A literal wall can go up between you and your team.
To be blunt, this shouldn't happen — ever. Regardless of how big you get, you should always sit with the rest of your team in an open environment.
Related: To Innovate Better, Pay Attention To Your Office Space
Fast communication, fast business
It's easy to see why you need to seat yourself with your team when you think about communication, which is the lifeblood of any organization.
As an analogy, let's say you have a Formula 1 car. We're talking super sleek design, the best fine-tuned engine, the works. This awesome car can race down the track, because every part of that vehicle is communicating to every other part as fast as possible over incredibly efficient networks. On top of that, you've got your driver communicating to their pit crew with the latest modes of telemetry. So everything is set up to operate at the highest speed possible with as many hurdles as possible out of the way.
The same is true for your organization. The faster your communication is, the faster and more powerful you are compared to your environment and competition. If you bring walls into the equation and you're off in another area of the business, you're just creating a bunch of unnecessary and unwanted traffic. Communication is going to slow down. You'll lose that strong sense of what's going on and won't be able to jump in and take corrective action as fast. Other companies might get an edge and pull out in front of you.
But the other consideration with this is the relationship you have with your employees. When you don't have any walls up, when you take down those barriers so everybody can talk with each other and take action quickly, you're creating a culture of respect as much as you're creating a culture of efficiency and competitiveness. You're not wasting anybody's time. They understand that you're seeing everything they have or want to do and that you actually care about their ability to think, be creative and be healthy.
This actually is a really easy way to pour better fuel in your tank. When people see that you care about their time and who they are as people, they have a much easier time building loyalty to you. Loyal employees usually become more personally invested in the company, and they work harder to make sure that everybody succeeds. So that contributes to even greater efficiency, productivity and market power.
But what if we need to discuss something private?
It's part of regular business to have confidential meetings with partners or investors occasionally or to simply have discussions that not everyone on the team should or needs to be part of. Performance reviews or discussions about health accommodations can fall into this category, for example.
This doesn't have to change your general, no-walls approach to communication. It simply means that, when you've got something private to talk about, you have a separate space like a conference room available to use as needed. This space should always be ready, but it's not where the bulk of your office work or communication buzz is going to happen.
If your office doesn't have this type of separate space, then you've still got other great options. You might be able to do a walking meeting, for example, or throw around ideas through a Slack thread. And lots of companies that don't have designated meeting spaces get creative, too, such as putting comfortable, modular furniture in an area that's a little distanced from everybody's desks or normal workspaces. Renting meeting space is a growing trend, too. It can be much cheaper than paying regularly for square footage you don't actually use much, and it lets you switch up the environment for your team once in a while to get their mental juices and good moods flowing.
No matter where or how you have your private conversations, remember that you're still trying to cross the finish line quickly. Basic best practices, such as being concise and having a meeting only when you're ready to take some kind of clear action, can keep you from spinning your wheels.
Related: 3 Ways an Open Office Makes Me a Better Leader
When you need to get things done in your company, there's simply no shortcut for good visibility and the ability to talk to everybody regularly without speed bumps. You can lead from within your team and keep walls out of the picture as a default, even if you make occasional adjustments for privacy as needed. When you get good two-way communication happening and people know you're available, they'll feel confident enough to put real energy into what they're doing and, as a result, get impressive results for you. So, if you can get out on the floor — do it. Your team, shareholders/investors, and customers will all thank you.