At Changeworks we reported some time ago that the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had told listeners to his LBC radio phone-in that he takes his shoes off in the office and that got us thinking about office etiquette.
Yes, the approach to public relations has changed a lot since the days of the cigar-smoking, pinstripe suit wearing man plying journalists with brandy at 9:00am on a coach up the M1 – yes, this really did used to happen! – and the PR world is now a much more relaxed place.
However, there are several practices that have crept in that we believe affect efficiency and productivity in the office and also undermine the professionalism of an organisation.
Social media is a key part of any 21st century digital communications strategy and it is obviously the case that staff are often to be seen on Facebook, Twitter and the like. What is difficult to police, though, is the ‘distraction factor’, where staff go online to look at something for a client and end up distracted by the day’s trending tweets. Before they know it, they have spent 10 minutes looking at something that has nothing to do with work. They only have to get similarly distracted five more times and they have used up a whole hour achieving nothing.
Social media may be very interesting and fascinating – and, yes, it’s essential to have a little chuckle now and then – but it isn’t unusual for the sociable office wag to call out “OMG, have you seen this?!” only for the answer to come back “What?” and then disruption ensues. The problem is that it’s likely to be something that is really interesting and even funny, so it is natural for everyone to join in the discussion. You wouldn’t want someone reading the newspaper in the office and calling out interesting news stories all day that everyone reacted to, would you? It’s difficult, because some people do think that social media sites are there for interacting with every minute of the day – especially if that is part of their job – but you somehow need to make sure you limit the amount of non-work related surfing that people do.
Just as with social media, the assumption by many workers is that they should be contactable all day on their mobiles. After all, you never know when there might be an emergency – or your friend might want to know what time you finish work today.
Before mobile ‘phones, if there was a need for someone to contact anyone at work they would call the main number and be put through to that person’s desk ‘phone. With the demise of receptionists, this would now probably involve another member of staff picking up the call, so there is an element of disruption there. But even if your staff have their ‘phones on vibrate or silent, the mere fact that they are checking them or taking personal calls at their desk or even walking out of the office to take the call means they are not working and they are potentially disrupting others.
One company we know had a policy that all personal mobiles were put in desk draws, switched off, from the minute people came in to the minute they clocked off. They could take them out during breaks and over lunch, of course, but within working hours the ‘phones had to remain off, no matter what. The fact that this sounds slightly strict or even harsh shows how much mobile ‘phone manufacturers have embedded the device in our psyche to become something we cannot be detached from. It’s a tough one but you have to decide whether you want your staff to take calls from their kids who can’t find the milk in the fridge or from relatives bringing them some bad news.
There are some people who cannot work in silence and there are others who cannot abide music in the office. Do you allow a radio to be on all day or do you allow staff to wear earphones so as not to disturb others? If there is a radio, which station is on, is it a commercial one with adverts blasting out, is it a talking channel with disruptive speech coming out of the speaker all day, or is it one with a continual stream of music that will not be to the taste of everyone? Young PR departments like to have commercial radio on like workers used to do in warehouses but is that fair to the less young members of staff who might prefer something else – or nothing at all?
And what happens when the ‘phone needs answering? Does the music stay on or does the caller hear the latest hits in the background while you talk to them? What happens when you ask someone in the office a question but they are plugged into their earphones? They’ll probably need a tap on the shoulder by another member of staff and the question asking again – more disruption and delay.
You’ll be pleased to hear that no such disruptive practices happen at Changeworks, but anyone running a business that involves staff sitting at computers – and that’s virtually everyone! – needs to keep an eye out for the non-productive distraction factor. As for music, the choice is yours but don’t be afraid to put down boundaries – unless you yourself enjoy listening to thrash metal all day and you insist on inflicting it on everyone else!
Contact Changeworks to learn how efficiency and productivity run through the company.