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The Biggest (And Toughest) Shift in Corporate America

02/25/2014 03:00 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2014

Last week, I had an impactful and telling conversation with a colleague about one of his employees. It went something like this:

Colleague: "We had to cut him down to part time, because he seemed to think it was OK to come in at ten and leave at two."

Me: "Well, why didn't you just fire him?"

Colleague: "Because he's our best guy. He solves problems in hours that it takes days for the others to figure out."

Why is this employee being "punished" for being smart and efficient? Shouldn't this be rewarded? If he can do the work in hours that it takes days for others to do, shouldn't the employee reap the benefit, not just the employer?

Another friend calls from work when she has nothing to do. She is required to be there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so when the work runs out, she calls from her office phone to catch up. We like to think these examples are as antiquated as an old rotary phone in our iPhone world, but unfortunately they are not.

Our workplaces need to make the shift from owning our TIME to owning our RESULT.

Some forward-thinking companies have already begun the shift. The challenge to change comes from a long, and deeply rooted, feeling of obligation to our employers to punch the clock. Change is hard, and this shift will result in some of the most dramatic changes to our physical workspace and mindsets this century. How do we begin?

1. Learn from college campuses.
This study conducted in partnership between KI, a leading educational furniture provider, and HOK, one of the top architecture and design firms, takes a look at the college campus structure as a benchmark for workplace design. After all, if we only look at other workspaces, we are incestuously re-designing the same problems. In colleges and universities, professors give you an assignment with a due date. It is up to students to figure out where, when, and how to achieve the end result. Students naturally collaborate, innovate, and partner together without structure, and according to this study, "82% of companies experience new hires 'lost in transition'" which suggests our current workplace models are counter-intuitive to how students organically collaborate.

2. Learn from entrepreneurs.
Many companies strive for buzz words like "collaboration" and "worker empowerment," so why can't we just do it? As companies get larger, and more people are involved in decision making, an individual's contribution gets focused on a much smaller piece of the pie. We are allowed to make fewer decisions and as people become "specialized" in their area of expertise, they are often naturally pulled further and further away from seeing where their impact lies in the company as a whole. The 2014 trends report by Sodexo states in the opening paragraph that "today's workforce is looking for more meaningful, relevant work... Employees want an "experience" -- one that creates an attachment to their organization." While small entrepreneurial companies are able to create this, it seems as we grow, it becomes more difficult to retain this attachment.

3. Embrace distributed work strategies.
There is no one space that can fit the needs of every worker, every day, in every task they do. The days of "management by eyeball" should be over. In the professor-assignment example above, students are encouraged to work where and how they work best to get to the desired end result. The rise of co-working spaces and other distributed work strategies are emerging to answer this need beyond graduation. In a recent interview with Dale Hersowitz, CEO of WUN Systems, a company that facilitates a technology platform for distributed work locations, "in order for the masses to embrace these facilities, it must be easy." While we may think of co-working spaces and business centers as something for entrepreneurs and freelancers only, according to Dale the shift has begun. With the desire to hire top talent, who may require flexible hours or be out of their geographic sphere, even large businesses are becoming more conscious of time saving and remote working scenarios. More companies are trying to understand how to appropriately leverage alternate office spaces. Ironically, the software feature most requested of WUN: time tracking. Clearly we have a long way to go.

Other suggestions on strategies to help this shift? I'd love to hear from you. Please comment or e mail me.

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