21 December 2017

The United States got rid of the ‘cubicle concept’ and embraced diversity in the working environment

In a previous blog series, we used international research to highlight how one’s geographic environment and culture affects his or her expectations in the workplace. We reported that Europeans are quite reserved when it comes to work-related changes, whereas employees in the Asia-Pacific region are the most optimistic.

Now it is time to consider those findings in the context of Planon employees throughout the world. Danielle Rosenwein, HR Advisor at Planon North America, shares her views on this topic in the blog below, which is the fourth and final in our series: ‘The changing work environment’.

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Old movies aren't realistic

The traditional office spaces depicted in older American movies, such as Office Space, and TV shows, such as Mad Men, always have cubicles where employees sit behind their colourless desks, afraid of their boss who only comes out of his private office when something goes wrong. However, the reality in most US workplaces is quite different. In modern and trendy work environments, most employees dislike the cubicle setting. Most employees, both millennials and non-millennials, seem to prefer an open, flexible environment. People in the United States want to feel involved in decision making and shared conversation, rather than simply taking part in the daily routine.

Over the years, workplaces that were notorious for their lack of diversity started to become open to inclusion and embraced unique individuals from different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities. This change was partially due to HR hiring quotas, but mostly because organisations recognise the value of diversity and the innovative ideas that come along with having employees bring their own expertise and outlook into the workplace. Diversity also encourages employees to break down cultural barriers and understand one another from a different perspective. 

We have seen a shift in the last decades to open environments replacing isolated workspaces, such as cubicles. Rather than employees simply taking directions from bosses, a two-way communication is not only acknowledged, but encouraged. Upper management is open to feedback from employees, which makes working environments much more inclusive and collaborative. The original working environment accepted the idea of the less experienced employee following directions, but now we fully embrace the more “junior” employees providing innovative ideas and insights to the more experienced colleagues.

Offices have evolved into flexible “shared spaces” and sometimes being given the opportunity to work alongside employees from different organisations. At certain organisations, employees have the opportunity to rent a space for a day, for example whenever they need an office surrounding. This flexibility is a great way to meet new people and to discover new ideas. A similar concept can be said for the work itself. We work long hours, but we feel that we have the flexibility to do the work when and where we want. In the US, it is quite common to never shut down completely or to turn off our electronic devices. It’s not that we don't value a work life balance, but we may not necessarily focus on this benefit as much as other countries.

Enthusiastic about new technology

As Americans, we appreciate a flexible working environment and working hours, to better plan weeks and to improve productivity, in comparison with those who lack flexibility in their working environment or hours. This is the reason that we are enthusiastic about innovative technologies at work. We are constantly looking for ways to be more productive and efficient. Employees want to use technology to perform better, organisations embrace new technologies because they understand what their employees want and need in their daily job, to attract new talent and to be competitive in the market.

In my opinion, this willingness to change and become flexible will continue to develop over the next few years. I think and hope that we will continue to become much more collaborative, open and adaptable. One example is that some organisations experiment with flexible time off and unlimited paid time off. Studies have proven that it can be very productive for particular jobs. It really works well for organisations that develop products, for example, because then the focus is about the excellence of the net production and not necessarily how you get there.

The facility manager has a great job, because he/she has the opportunity to create an environment which allows collaboration and the embracing of equality. Combining different cultures, religions and generations can be a challenge, but luckily diversity is embraced. Diversity does not restrict us, but rather enables us to benefit from new ideas for a better future.

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