Category Archives: Vanessa’s Views

THE VIRTUAL REALITY OF JURY DUTY

For the first time in my life, I received a summons for jury duty. I was over-the-moon thrilled. No really. I was. As I gushed with excitement, I noticed my family looking at me like I’d lost my mind. “Why would you want to be on a jury?” my children asked. “Because I want to know what it’s like to be in that room, deciding a case . . . and civic duty, blah, blah, blah.” I get that most folks are not going to be as excited as I am to see the inner workings of a jury, but I’ve also noticed a general dread of jury service. But, would all of that change if virtual reality worked its way into the courtroom?

If you haven’t had the chance to experience virtual reality gaming, I highly recommend it. My son got a Vive for Christmas, and it’s blown my mind. You don’t even need to be a gamer. Just take a walk through Google Earth, and you’ll be a convert to the world of VR. The applications of virtual reality appear endless, but can it work in a courtroom? I’d like to think the answer is “Yes!”

Suppose you are defending a workplace injury lawsuit in which your operator/employee improperly fed a piece of material into a machine and lost three fingers. Describing the proper operating procedure while using a laser pointer on a blow up of a diagram of the machine or showing a video of the machine in operation are both legitimate ways of explaining your case to the jury. But, would you rather show the jury the machine itself? Would that make it easier to explain how the accident occurred and why it was preventable? There are rules that permit an attorney to ask the court to allow a site visit by a jury. But, these are not readily granted and are awkward to arrange, to say the least.

Now, think about how virtual reality could let you explain your case. The jury puts on headsets and headphones and instantly experiences a sensory transport to your plant. The jury could safely watch a demonstration of the proper operation of the machine. They could walk around it. They could see the guards and posted warnings on the machine. Heck, the jury could operate the machine. What was once a complicated explanation challenging the imagination of the jury has become a virtual reality for it.

For those of you who have had the misfortune of going through a jury trial, you know that one of the most difficult parts is preparing your employee witnesses for their testimony. HR is typically very much aware of who is not troubled in the least by speaking to an audience and who is likely to do dreadfully on the stand. A completely honest witness can cause a trial to crumble out of a bad case of the nerves. Trust me – I’ve seen it. With virtual reality, however, that employee could be placed in front of a jury to practice responding to questions and to gain more confidence in the process.

In my view, if VR can enhance performance in an operating room, in a factory, or in a science lab, then it can enhance the presentation of a case to a jury. Tech takes a long time to make its way into a courtroom, but when it does, I’ll bet everyone will be just as excited as I am about jury duty.

‘TWAS THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT COME ROUND AGAIN, AND JUST IN TIME.

‘Twas the month of November, the holiday season

December ‘round the corner, my mind taxed beyond reason.

 

The workplace has been digitized down to an app.

My records and files appear with a tap.

As do Pidgey and Horsea and even Hypno,

My millennials have got me playing Pokémon Go.

 

But never during work, we all know the rule.

Use your own time to catch Tentacruel.

Or so our policies say about mobile devices,

For productivity suffers when Eevee entices.

 

The months passed by quickly, a really smooth ride.

I finally thought, “Hey, we’re hitting our stride.”

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But an OSHA inspector in full hazard gear.

 

“That’s really not necessary,” I say with a smile.

While calling our attorney on my speed dial.

“We come when we want. We need no complaint.”

Another surprise and I swear I will faint.

 

The tweeting! The posting!

The Clinton! The Trump!

Oh, Trans-Pac! Obama!

Just get through this bump.

To the polls we will go.

It’s time to decide.

Appoint a new justice

‘Cuz Scalia died.

 

The DOL clearly hates we HR reps

Implementing tough standards without giving us the steps.

Non-exempt status has caused quite a fuss,

Leaving me to explain to Valerie and Gus,

“You’ll be paid by the hour and make overtime.”

“No more salaried exempt; no more reason or rhyme.”

 

When the EEOC ruled on work wellness plans,

We double-checked our policy on medical exams.

The program’s voluntary, with biometric screening.

My skyrocketing blood pressure gives “stress” a new meaning.

 

Now, I’ve let loose the reins on the holiday party,

Delegating the task to Helga and Marty.

It seems that their plan for spreading good cheer

Has something to do with that hidden beer.

 

Not to worry, no matter, I’ve got just the thing.

Little do they know, they’ll be Ubering.

And, I’ll hear them exclaim as they’re driven out of sight:

“Happy holidays, y’all. Peace out and good night!”

DON’T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED: WHAT YOUR NEW HIRES MAY NOT KNOW

My oldest son will be heading to college in a year. This has caused me to think about all of the things he doesn’t know how to do that I simply take for granted. He’s never had to sew on a button or remove a stain in his clothing. He’s never had to get along with a stranger who shares his same living space. He’s never had to get a loan or manage his money. My job will be to teach him how to navigate these waters. Well, there are many things that your newly graduated (whether high school, college, or grad school) employees don’t know that you may take for granted. Your job is to make your onboarding process both informative and realistic by addressing both the specifics of your organization and the basics of the workplace in general.

Let’s start with the basics. What attire is appropriate in your workplace? If you use a company uniform, this may be a simple issue. If you work in a business like a law office, for instance, different attire may be appropriate for different occasions. Going to court and certain client meetings demand business suits. Everyday office work may be acceptable in khakis and dress/golf shirts. Casual Friday may allow for jeans. Quite likely, those first few days of work, when orientation is being conducted, permit a more relaxed dress code. Spell this out for your new employees. That’s one less thing for them to be nervous about when they come to work that first day, and they will be nervous.

Another thing you can do to allay those first day jitters, and to make your onboarding process go smoothly, is to tell your new employee what to bring to work that first day/week. Do they need to bring supplies? Own a briefcase? Pack a lunch? Make a list of the documentation you will need from them when they fill out those monstrous forms required by the law – things like birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, or social security cards. You have to assume they’ve never done this before.

With regard to work itself, make sure your new employees understand the hours they will be expected to work. Shamefully, I laughed out loud when a young relative, new to the workforce and the concept of being salaried, commented on how he was going to be working a 40 hour week. He was stunned to learn that he might have plenty of 50 and 60 hour weeks in his future – at that same salary. Let your new employees know the realities of their job. If there’s one thing we learn in college – well, it isn’t how to do our jobs.

Tell your recent graduate/new employee what must be done to request a day off or to take a vacation. And, believe it or not, you have to tell them how holidays are handled. I had my first real job over the summer of my sophomore year of high school. When the 4th of July holiday weekend came around, I was dutifully sitting on the front stoop of my employer’s business on Friday, July 3rd waiting for the shop to open. I had no idea that people were given the day before a holiday off when the holiday was on the weekend.

One skill you need to consider immediately addressing with your recently-graduated, new employees is proper business communication. Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to do this. The ways in which we communicate with our peers while in school differ greatly from how we should communicate with our colleagues, management, and customers in the business world. The newest generation entering the workforce is somewhat accustomed to over-sharing and informality in their communications, which is not a good business habit. Pair your new employee with someone who knows the ropes so that s/he can learn proper email etiquette and the art of conversation and listening. Make opportunities for your new employees to interact with their new co-workers. Not only is this a great way to work on those communication skills, it indoctrinates those employees into the company culture.

Do not forget to teach your new employees how to deal with your customers. This skill is not taught in college. Ask your teenager or young twenty-something if they know what you mean by the phrase “The Customer is Always Right.” Our kids have been raised with hand-held computers that enable them to prove who is right and who is wrong in any conflict. A frustrated young friend recently told me about his day at work which was spent arguing over the phone with his client about the value that had already been added to his work product and the inefficiency of expending many more hours on the product for what would be a marginal gain at best. His manager had to take over the conversation; and of course, the client got what it wanted. My friend could not understand why the manager had just “caved in.” He did not know that engaging the customer in an argument over the work product for which it was paying was not the appropriate way to handle the situation. But, he had never been taught any different.

One final area I offer for your consideration is adding a cyber-security segment to your orientation program. This new generation of employees knows how to use their computers, tablets, and phones, but they’ve likely not been trained in safeguarding company information on these devices. They probably already have apps they like to use to find information. Your IT department should make sure those apps are compatible with your security program or provide incoming employees with a list of approved applications. And, I know most of us have gotten weird looking emails claiming to be from our manager or our CEO. New employees need to be shown how to identify legitimate company communications from bogus ones.

I’m sure there are many “givens” in business that we who have been in the job market for a while do not realize are “unknowns” to the incoming workforce. You’ve probably thought of a few of your experiences while reading this. One final suggestion to help you help your new employees: ask your current employees who have been through the onboarding process in the past three years what they wish they had been told about the job on that first day. Their views may provide you with some keen insight that you can apply to your onboarding process.

WILL UBER SOON BE DRIVING COUNTRY ROADS?

If you’ve been following my series on the “uberization” of the workplace, you’ve probably cued in to the fact that I’m a huge fan of the services Uber provides.  I love the on-demand economy.  I used VRBO for my honeymoon.  I ubered around beautiful Asheville, North Carolina for my birthday (a 15-minute ride cost me $15 – seriously!).  And, now the West Virginia Legislature has made my little heart go pitty-pat by passing a law that will let Uber help me travel some country roads.

Effective July 1, 2016, “transportation network companies” (feel free to think Uber – I know I do) may use technology to link drivers and riders in our great State.  The transportation network company (or “TNC”) will have to get a permit from the Division of Motor Vehicles to operate in West Virginia.  The TNC must provide proof that it has an agent for service of process in this State (which would enable it to be sued if appropriate).  In addition to an annual $1,000.00 permit fee, the TNC will also have to provide: (1) proof of insurance, (2) a copy of its zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol policy, (3) a copy of its policy prohibiting solicitation or street hails for rides, and (4) a copy of its nondiscrimination policy with respect to riders.

The Legislation puts several safety measures into place.  In addition to the zero tolerance policy and insurance coverage (by both the TNC and the driver), the TNC’s app must show the potential rider a picture of the driver and his or her license plate number.  The TNC must conduct, and all drivers must pass, a background check that includes:

  • A search of a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional criminal records locator or similar nationwide database with validation
  • A National Sex Offender Registry search
  • A driving history research report.

And, drum roll, the West Virginia Legislature has addressed the legal relationship between the TNC and the driver head on by setting forth five requirements that, when met, establish an independent contractor/employer relationship.

  1. The TNC does not prescribe the specific hours of work for the driver, i.e., when he or she must be logged in to its digital network.
  2. The TNC does not prohibit the driver from using other TNC networks, i.e., the driver can use other apps.
  3. The TNC does not assign the driver a particular territory.
  4. The TNC does not prohibit the driver from holding other employment or conducting another business.
  5. The TNC and the driver agree in writing that the driver is an independent contractor of the TNC.

In my view, this test reinforces the mainstay of the independent contractor analysis in West Virginia:  CONTROL is the key factor.  The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced its disagreement with the significance that should be accorded the control factor in an Administrator’s Interpretation issued last year (for more information see the fourth installment of my uberization series – link here).  If our new law is any indication, the DOL is going to be receiving a lot of push back from the states where “control” reigns supreme.  In the meantime, I hope that Uber accepts our invitation to do business and take me home country roads.

IS YOUR WORKPLACE A MCGREW’S ZOO?

March 2nd was Dr. Seuss Day and in honor of the Great Seuss, I want to spend a little time reflecting on the workplace zoo.  We know Dr. Seuss, the environmentalist (e.g., The Lorax).  We know Dr. Seuss, the equal rights advocate (e.g., Horton Hears a Who).  But, what about Dr. Seuss, the Human Resources guru?  The wondrous world of Dr. Seuss may seem like pure make-believe.  But, then again, maybe it’s not.  In my View, you can find many of his fantastical creatures right in your own workplace.

So I’d open each cage.  I’d unlock every pen.

Let the animals go, and start over again.

And, somehow or other, I think I could find

Some beasts of a much more un-usual kind.

If I Ran the Zoo (1950)

The Human Resources department is a key component in the collection and categorization of employees.  Searching far and wide for people with diverse backgrounds and unique qualifications can make yours the “gol-darndest [workplace] on the face of the earth.”  It worked for Gerald McGrew.  It can work for you, too.

In fact, Human Resource managers could take a few tips from Gerald McGrew.  For instance, he looked at the typical zoo and decided “a few changes” would make it something special, something better.  He searched all over the world for the most unique animals, each having special characteristics.  That’s what Human Resources can do to diversify their workforce.  So, when you consider your workforce and the folks you will be dealing with, who are the characters you might find?

The Rep

“Mister!” he said with a sawdusty sneeze, “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. 

And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs” –

he was very upset as he shouted and puffed –

“What’s that THING you’ve made out of my Truffala tuft?”

The Lorax (1971) 

Human Resource personnel may interact with employees at a personal level, as well as in a more formal manner.  The Rep may be a union steward, and the interaction governed by a collective bargaining agreement.  He may be the go-between – an employee trusted by co-workers and management alike to share ideas and start discourse on issues affecting the workforce.  Or, he may be the friendly face accompanying an employee who is working through the grievance process.  Regardless, the Rep is most certainly in your workplace, so make sure you follow the policies and procedures in place when dealing with this individual.  He will know the rules of engagement, be they peaceable or not, from the get-go.  Communication with the Rep should not be viewed necessarily as a bad thing, either.  When The Lorax could not get the Once-ler to talk through the problems he was creating, everyone suffered great loss.  It would be a shame not to make such an effort in your workplace, unless, of course, that person is actually . . .

The Stirrer 

“I know some good games we could play,” Said the cat. 

“I know some new tricks,” Said the Cat in the Hat.

“A lot of good tricks.  I will show them to you. 

Your mother will not mind at all if I do.”

Then Sally and I did not know what to say.

Our mother was out of the house for the day.

The Cat in the Hat (1957)

The Stirrer likes to cause trouble.  He is an HR nightmare, unless you shut him down.  The key to this is communication with your employees.  The Stirrer enjoys creating discomfort and chaos in the workplace.  He will bend words and filter events in the least positive light just to see what happens.  If you can discuss the subject of The Stirrer’s current focus with your employees, do so.  If you give your workers the facts, you take away one of the arrows in The Stirrer’s quiver – misinformation.  Once you’ve done that, talk to The Stirrer, and explain why his behavior is unacceptable.  State your expectations for improvement, and follow up to make sure he’s received the message.  It’s possible a little re-direction is all he needs.  After all, the Cat cleaned up his mess in the end.

The Dumper 

Sighed Mazie, a lazy bird hatching an egg: 

“I’m tired and I’m bored and I’ve kinks in my leg

From sitting, just sitting here day after day.

It’s work! How I hate it! I’d much rather play!

I’d take a vacation, fly off for a rest

If I could find someone to stay on my nest!”

Horton Hatches the Egg (1940)

This is the employee who has a last minute emergency on a regular basis.  She’s the employee who’s eager to team up and then sloughs off all the work onto others (while managing to be there for all of the credit).  The Dumper sucks the camaraderie out of your workplace.  Your treatment of The Dumper may have more impact on the rest of the workforce than on the The Dumper herself:  “That’s only small trouble.  I know it.  But, brother, one small bit of trouble will lead to another!”  [How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town (Oct. 1950)].  So, train your managers to recognize effort, as well as results.  When doling out assignments to The Dumper, stay task oriented with set deadlines to the extent possible.  Should discipline be necessary down the line, you’ll have a paper trail of your efforts to change The Dumper into . . .

The Do-Er 

“You do not like them.  So you say. 

Try them!  Try them! And you may. 

Try them and you may, I say.”

Green Eggs and Ham (1960)

Was there ever a more persistent, more positive go-getter than Sam-I-Am?  This employee is the one who gets things done.  For Human Resources, The Do-Er is your superstar, and you want to keep him.  You want to groom others to be like this employee.  With The Do-Er, you and your managers should be looking for what motivates him.  Recognition and money may not be enough.  Autonomy, upward mobility, even working in an environment that does not suffer fools (see The Dumper) may be factors impacting whether you can keep your Do-Er happy and on the payroll.

The Hawk

Oh, the jobs people work at!  Out west, near Hawtch-Hawtch,

there’s a Hawtch-Hawtcher Bee-Watcher.  His job is to watch . . .

is to keep both his eyes on the lazy town bee.

A bee that is watched will work harder, you see.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (1973)

The Hawk is a manager who presents different challenges for Human Resources.  She may be the micromanager who can’t let anything go.  She might be the manager who believes her employees are inherently lazy and must constantly be watched.  Either Hawk can damage workplace morale.  In Hawtch-Hawtch, a Hawtch-Hawtcher Bee-Watcher was employed, and another, and another, with the bee never working any harder.  Manager training can help The Hawk tone down her management style to the level of supervision commensurate with the job being done.

Point of View 

Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish,

If a fellow is patient, he might get his wish!

McElligot’s Pool (1947)

If your wish is a happy, productive workforce, then knowing the employees you’re likely to meet can help make that wish come true.  Dr. Seuss introduced us to a lot of these types, including the Nerd, I might say.  But, we’ll save that one for some other day.

THE LAW IS AN IDIOM

Here’s a little fact that may knock your socks off:  according to the EEOC, retaliation is the most frequently alleged civil rights charge in the federal sector and has been for nearly a decade.  In West Virginia, retaliation claims comprise approximately one third of such cases, and that’s nothing to turn a blind eye to.  Retaliation claims tend to hitch their wagons to claims for other forms of discrimination or harassment; yet, it’s pretty common for the underlying discrimination claim to disappear in a puff of smoke while the retaliation claim keeps on trucking.  This is a tune we’ve been singing for years on this blog, but with the EEOC taking a closer look at retaliation, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves to help stop retaliation in its tracks.

While it may be as obvious as the nose on my face, step one would be to reduce discrimination claims.  While some folks seem to always have an ax to grind, employers can do something about employees who have a real beef.  You probably (hopefully) have a company anti-discrimination policy, so use it.  Make sure your employees are treated consistently and in accordance with this policy.  Remember too: actions speak louder than words when it comes to zero tolerance for harassment and discrimination.  So, make sure that elimination of discrimination is a value held from the top down in your organization.  Fewer discrimination claims = fewer retaliation claims.

The next step you can take is to go the extra mile when you investigate complaints.  Document what you do and when you do it.  Certainly, I’m preaching to the choir when I remind you of the importance of keeping the investigation as confidential as possible, within the bounds of what the law permits.  This is particularly vital with regard to claims of retaliation because the fewer people who know about the complaint and the investigation, the fewer people who could possibly retaliate.

Make no bones about it:  you must have a written company policy prohibiting retaliation.  You will remind the complainant at the conclusion of the investigation not to keep mum if s/he experiences what they believe to be retaliation for their complaint.  You will remind the accused and witnesses that retaliation is prohibited.  Don’t beat around the bush with your employees; instead, train them on what retaliation is so they can spot it and stop it dead in its tracks.  Remember, the EEOC boils retaliation down to three key phrases:  retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse action against a covered employee for engaging in a protected activity.  For example, an adverse action can run the gamut from telling an employee to hit the road to moving him to the graveyard shift.  It all depends upon the circumstances.  A covered employee can be someone who has requested leave or a reasonable accommodation or may be the person we’ve been talking about who made a complaint about something she reasonably believed to be an unlawful practice.  Protected activities are usually as simple as you might expect:  filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation of discrimination, or requesting a reasonable accommodation based upon disability or religion.

Finally, with retaliation claims, timing is EVERYTHING.  In most cases, timing is the best evidence a plaintiff has of retaliation.  It goes like this:  a complaint is made, investigated, and resolved under the company’s policy.  Before the complaint was made, however, the employee was treading water at the company, and his career was on its last legs.  If you’re lucky, your supervisor was on the ball, documenting the problems, the counseling, and the warning to shape up or ship out.  So, when the last straw finally breaks the camel’s back, you will have the documentation to support the adverse action you are about to take with the employee.  In each instance, you must look before you leap into taking an adverse employment action against an employee who has recently been involved in protected activity.  If the timing, documentation, or past practice do not support the decision you are about to make, put the brakes on it before it costs you an arm and a leg in court.  Assuming the conduct is not something that must be immediately nipped in the bud, get your ducks in a row by going back to the drawing board with the employee and documenting it properly the second time around.

While you should be glad to see the end of any claim for discrimination or harassment, the remaining retaliation claim can prove to be a tough customer to defend.  As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Whether we see eye to eye on the matter, or maybe you think I’m off my rocker, I’d love to hear your Views about how you dodge the bullet of retaliation claims.

‘TWAS THE HOLIDAY SEASON: HERE WE GO AGAIN.

‘Twas the holiday season upon us once more,

Not a single employee was at HR’s door.

The silence was heavy; I was starting to freak.

I hadn’t a complaint in more than a week.

 

No lawsuits or grievances were pending at all.

Instead of unease, I should be having a ball.

Our lawyer thinks I’m dead – I haven’t made a call.

Yet, all I know to do is wait for the other shoe to fall

 

Employees were trained as required by law.

Not to grope, fondle, or otherwise paw.

The handbook was updated, acknowledgments signed.

That NLRB Guidance almost blew my mind.

 

I took out the language that was certain to chill,

Because wages and hours can be discussed at will.

Our handbook was given a complete overhaul.

Revising conduct rules was the hardest of all.

 

And speaking of conduct, where has everyone gone?

Are they suddenly (eerily) getting along?

I take a deep breath and head to the break room.

The postings are current, not a single cartoon.

 

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear

But all my employees and staff I hold dear.

“We all want to thank you for all that you’ve done.”

“Let’s start the holidays by having some fun!”

 

“No beer! No liquor! And no copying our bums!”

“No mistletoe smooching!  We’re just having fun!”

My heart swelled with pride, as tears blurred my sight.

Merry Christmas to all.  Let’s do this party right!

WHY CAN’T WE ALL BE GOOGLEY?

I do not recreate by watching YouTube or reading Wikipedia entries, so perhaps I am the only person who is surprised about Google.  This edition of Vanessa’s Views began by researching a simple question:  what makes a business a good place to work?  It was deep into my reading that I discovered Google.  Folks, Google has UNLIMITED sick leave.  This concept basically short circuits my brain.  Then, I read on.  Google has legal aid (ahem).  Google has dentists, doctors, dry cleaners, and oil changes all on site.  Imagine if you will, not having to power walk to your car at 5 p.m. because the dry cleaner closes at 6 p.m.  Sigh.  Google also offers ridiculously generous tuition reimbursements; but if you would rather start small and just want to learn . . . oh say, Mandarin, you can do that at work too.

In my view, all of this is rainbows … unicorns … fireworks of confetti … basically stunning wrapping paper with a ginormous shiny silver bow … all of which conceals the core: the business itself.  Google is a great place to work for the same reasons all good employers, big and small, are great places to work.  Generally, these places tend to prioritize, in some form or fashion, four principal concepts:  (1) empowerment, (2) trust, (3) fairness, and (4) esprit de corps.

Empowerment  comes with treating employees like responsible adults who know their business.  It’s the trust you place in your employees to do their jobs right – without micromanaging.  It comes with providing challenging work that keeps employees interested, develops their skills, and uses their knowledge.  Help your employees grow:  with mentoring and training, with stipends for continuing education, or with the flexibility to allow for non-traditional career paths.  In short, when you provide your employees with meaningful work in a setting where they know where they stand in achieving the company mission, you are providing empowerment.

Trust  needs to be developed from the other direction, as well.  Employees need to know they can trust management.  Building trust can be a matter of sharing information.  Open communication with your employees, just as in your personal day-to-day relationships, is how you build trust.  If you can, allow your employees a say in how your business operates.  I’m not suggesting that you abdicate to the masses, but I am saying that listening to ideas from your employees, digesting them, and then implementing the sound ones is a trust building endeavor.  Finally, build trust with your employees by being a good citizen of your community and of the world.  Do good deeds together, and reap the reward of a stronger relationship.

Fairness  is a multi-faceted trait of a great place to work.  It comes with offering competitive pay and benefits.  It comes with recognizing that your employees have a work-life balance to achieve and helping them do it.  Perhaps you have generous leave policies, or you trust that your employees will get their job done when they want to take off for an hour to do reading time for their child’s class.  Fairness is also reflected in recognizing and rewarding excellence.  Nothing is quite so infuriating (and loyalty busting) as watching the mediocre get rewarded with praise or bonuses the same as the star employee.  The fair employer also uses mistakes as opportunities to grow, where possible.

Esprit de Corps  at my firm, for example, has been reduced to a concept called “No Jerks.”  At Google, it’s called “Googleyness.”  You want to build the right culture for your business, and then, hire people who are a good fit for your culture.  Great people are going to be different for every business.  Build camaraderie through teamwork across departments, through fun activities, or through sharing time in non-work settings.  If you like the people you work with, you’re going to like going to work that much more.

It doesn’t take fancy packaging or even a lot of money to be a great place to work.  But, it does take trust and fairness.  It also takes empowerment and that right esprit de corps.  In my view, we can all be Googley – just in our own special ways.  I would love to hear more about how Googley your place of work is.

GET YOUR GREEN ON AT WORK: EARTH DAY

Celebrate Earth Day (April 22) year-round with these green workplace ideas.  A few of these changes may only be able to be implemented one day a year.  Others might be things you can work up to doing once a month, or even eventually once a week.  There may even be a few suggestions on this list you can start now and make a lifelong practice of your business or workplaces.

Saving Energy

We’ve all seen the energy efficient light bulbs at the store.  If you’re not using them, you should be.  EnergyStar.gov states that, if every American replaced one regular bulb with an Energy Star efficient bulb, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 9 billion pounds – the equivalent of emissions from 800,000 cars!  So, this Earth Day, try making the switch to compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs where feasible in the workplace.

Better still, turn stuff off at the end of the day.  Then, unplug it.  This goes for computers, coffee makers, fax machines, copiers, and any other electronics you have around the office.  Not only will this save electricity – it can save big bucks.  You can make this easier by investing in power strips so you can save money and the environment with the flip of a switch.

For workspaces with windows, implement some lights-out time during the sunniest part of the day.  Natural sunlight not only will reduce your power bill and save electricity, opening those blinds and soaking in the Sun’s Vitamin D will raise your employees’ spirits.

Experiment with changing the thermostat by one degree (up or down depending upon the season) to conserve energy.

Saving The Environment

For this Earth Day, have your employees work together to use less energy for their commute to work.  For those who live close by, walking and biking are great ways to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and get a little exercise to boot.  If you offer telecommuting, make that option available this Earth Day.  Have your employees organize a carpool or take public transportation that day.  You might find you can adopt this practice for more than simply one day a year.

If your office hasn’t made the switch to recycling, start a new habit on April 22nd.  If you’ve already transitioned to recycle bins, take the next step in your recycling program by switching to recycled paper products, like copy paper and towels.  If your whole office can’t make the switch but you recycle at home, commit to saving your own cans, cardboard boxes, and glass bottles to take home for the recycle bin.

Other habits you can start this Earth Day to make a difference include refilling your water bottle for a week or bringing re-usable water bottles and coffee mugs to work.  Pack your lunch one day a week.  Not only will you cut down on waste such as Styrofoam take-out packaging and plastic flatware, you’ll save a little coin too.  Some folks are bringing personal hand towels to work to cut down on paper waste.  There are fast-drying towels on the market now which are sized perfectly for purses or bags.  Can you go paperless for a day?  How about using both sides of the paper for one day?  Start little, but think big.

Go Green – Literally

Add plants to your workspace.  Folks, there is no down side to this suggestion.  Plants are an inexpensive way to beautify the workplace, keep the air clean, and lower stress.  Plants generate fresh oxygen and soak up a lot of bad stuff you didn’t even realize you’re breathing.  NASA compiled a list of plants that are the best at removing toxins from the air – things like formaldehyde and benzene – that may be found in furniture, dry cleaning, inks, cleaners, plastics, detergents, etc.  So, consider adding these beauties to your workplace:

Add plants to your workspace.  Folks, there is no down side to this suggestion.  Plants are an inexpensive way to beautify the workplace, keep the air clean, and lower stress.  Plants generate fresh oxygen and soak up a lot of bad stuff you didn’t even realize you’re breathing.  NASA compiled a list of plants that are the best at removing toxins from the air – things like formaldehyde and benzene – that may be found in furniture, dry cleaning, inks, cleaners, plastics, detergents, etc.  So, consider adding these beauties to your workplace:

• Aloe Vera: It needs a sunny spot, but it also removes toxins and is good for cuts and burns.
• Spider plant: This plant is hard to kill – a prime choice for the black thumb who loves plants.
• Peace lily: These lovelies can grow with just indoor light and once-a-week watering.
• English ivy: You should look up what this removes from the air.  You’ll thank me.  I plan to buy 10.
• Bamboo palm: This plant thrives in the shade and can live in water if you choose to do it that way.

I recommend you check out NASA’s complete list to find the plants perfect for your office space.
So, this Earth Day, April 22nd, go do something green.  It’s easier than you think.  If you have any suggestions for going green at the office, I’d love to hear your views.

OPEN WORKPLACES: ARE WE REALLY OPENING A CAN OF WORMS?

I continue to read and hear more about businesses converting to open workplaces.  This typically means a conversion from closed physical offices to open floor plans utilizing large common areas.  There are pros and cons to both formats and, as with most things in life, there’s a happy medium that maximizes the benefits to your business and minimizes the detrimental impact that such a physical organization can have on your workplace.  The “happy medium” is as unique as a fingerprint, so a quick summary of the pros and cons can put you on the right path.

On the positive side, an open workplace has several economic benefits.  It tends to permit more efficient utilization of the space available.  An open workplace is flexible, meaning it can be shaped and re-shaped until the format which works best is discovered.  From a practical standpoint, the space available is greater because pesky things like walls aren’t taking up a bunch of room.  It also allows for the sharing of pricier business equipment, like printers and copiers.  Smaller business supplies can also be shared, but I’m in the Milton camp – spring for the individual Swinglines!

Additionally, the open workplace is usually easier to supervise because management and staff are located in one spot.  This also permits issues to be dealt with faster because they can be raised immediately with management.  The open format even adapts more readily to evolving staffing needs over time.

The greatest advantage set forth in all of the information I have taken in is that an open floor plan leads to improved innovation and creativity because communication and collaboration are enhanced.  Increased interaction fosters camaraderie and improves employee morale.  Removing barriers to communications allows the free exchange of ideas and encourages teamwork, and removing barriers to management lends itself to improving employee satisfaction.

Each of these pros, however, has a corresponding con.  While having everyone in one spot is conducive to collaboration, just think about flu season in a kindergarten classroom.  Wipe out!  The same principle applies here, and I don’t care if you buy stock in the anti-bacterial hand gel company or if you ARE the anti-bacterial hand gel company.

The increased ability to communicate also has its own pitfalls.  The first is excess noise.  Many of us have worked in offices that have that one individual who is loud on the phone.  The open office doesn’t allow you to shut the door on that kind of noise.  And, it’s not just one voice in the room.  It could be dozens of voices in the room.  While the open workplace has private areas that may be utilized by employees needing some quiet time, the reduction in concentration overall may cancel out the benefits derived from creative teamwork.

One final hurdle to the open workplace is corporate culture.  In theory, today’s generation is more accustomed to working in a large, collaborative grouping, but the science says that the impact of an open workplace on the ability to concentrate and remain undistracted is just as great as with any other generation.  What the Millennials do have on the rest of us is fewer pre-conceived notions about the value of the “corner office.”  Many workers already out there have an expectation that their loyalty and hard work will be rewarded with their own office.  Having that private space taken away may be viewed as a drop in status if corporate culture does not evolve with the office layout.

Open office workplace will not work for everyone.  My field is particularly ill-suited for that kind of arrangement because of the intense need to concentrate and to maintain client confidentiality.  On the other hand, those in marketing, advertising, or journalism may find that the boost to creativity outweighs any downfalls.  Even if wide, open spaces won’t work for your entire business, you may find certain departments benefit from the arrangement.

I’d love to hear your views on flexible workplaces.