How to have productive conversations at work?

Have you ever dreamed of having an all-seeing eye and monitoring every worker in your company to see how they’re really spending their time? If the answer is yes, then your dream may already be a reality thanks to the new technology behind sociometric badges.

Developed by Alex Pentland, a professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sociometric badges combine traditional ID badges with smartphone technology, and make it possible to monitor workplace dynamics. Now, all the data behind an employee’s movements and interactions can be recorded and analyzed to reveal valuable information about individual behavior, such as how much time an employee spends in face-to-face conversations, as well as group behavior.

When combined with the data recorded in daily work activity logs, the information captured by sociometric badges can reveal patterns that may relate to increased productivity.

For example, when Professor Pentland looked at his own data and activity logs, he could see that his breakthrough ideas were often accompanied by increased time spent talking to his colleagues. In other words, he discovered that the more conversations he had, the more productive he was.

Pentland also found that the most productive conversations tended to take place in informal environments, such as an impromptu chat in the hallway or break room. In these places, employees could speak casually and comfortably, giving new ideas the freedom to emerge.

In his studies, Pentland looked at employee data from call centers and banks, and found that up to 40 percent of their productivity could be traced back to ideas that were raised during such informal conversations.

So Pentland also came up with ways for companies to better encourage such interactions. He suggested making lunch tables longer so you could get more people sitting next to one another and increase familiarity between coworkers. Additionally, if you wanted to increase communication between two teams at work, Pentland found it highly effective to strategically place a coffee machine or tea kettle between the two groups.

Finding the right data to monitor productivity can vary from job to job. But at a call center, the information is pretty straightforward: there, we can easily see the number of calls being made and the success rate of those calls. And because these numbers are so apparent, employees at call centers feel a lot of pressure to spend more time making more calls to boost those numbers.

However, this approach isn’t very effective. It may sound counterintuitive, but a better way to boost productivity in a call center is to give people more social breaks.

In 2014, Bank of America hired the company Humanyze to help find ways to improve workflow and efficiency. Ben Waber, the CEO of Humanyze, noticed that the employees at the bank’s call center would generally take individual, solitary breaks, so he suggested that employees should take their breaks in pairs.

Since the sociometric badges also monitored biometric information, such as the stress levels of the employees, it was revealed that the switch to social breaks decreased stress levels by 19 percent, while increasing productivity by 23 percent.

The reason this change made such a big difference is that social interactions can serve to balance out the challenges of work. After all, work is often isolating as well as stressful. For example, in a call center, employees are on their own in having to deal with customers who are often angry, rude or dismissive. To say it can be a dispiriting job is an understatement.

Therefore, being able to share their troubles and talk about their difficulties can provide instant relief to a call center employee. And who better to confide in than a colleague who is going through the same ordeal?

These social break conversations also make the job easier. A colleague who has been handling calls for years can provide a newcomer with a proven strategy for how to calm down difficult customers, or get skeptical customers to stay on the line.

So, making sure that coworkers are taking breaks, and using those breaks to talk to one another, will not only improve productivity – it will also improve their well-being.

There’s one group of people who shouldn’t get left out when it comes to the productive benefit of social interaction at the workplace, and that’s the employees who are working remotely. While working from home may make it easier to enter Monk Mode and block out distractions, it doesn’t help when it comes to taking social breaks.

While they didn’t announce their reason, the lack of communication between colleagues is likely why Yahoo recently launched a policy that forbade remote work. Yahoo and other companies know that, when employees spend too much time away from company headquarters, it can hurt productivity.

According to Ben Waber, CEO at Humanyze, remote workers only exchange a weekly average of 7.8 informal communications with their colleagues, while employees in the office averaged 38 per week.

This communication is crucial for both productivity and employee well-being. So, there’s a good reason to have your employees under the same roof. But sometimes, in order to get people to open up and feel comfortable sharing ideas, employees need a social push in the form of a company gathering.

When CEO Margaret Heffernan moved from the UK to the US, she noticed that the employees weren’t as open with one another. It was apparent that her new office didn’t have the same upbeat, background hum of conversation between people.

One big difference that she picked up on was that her US colleagues didn’t gather after work in the pub like their UK counterparts did. The pub was an informal place where they could wait for the rush hour to subside and get to know one another.

As a result, Heffernan launched a weekly social meeting time at the office, every Friday starting at 4:30 p.m. It started off a bit awkwardly, but eventually everyone began to relax and bonding was underway. Indeed, thanks to the weekly meetings, the individual employees became much better team collaborators.

For teams to work and be productive, members need to trust and appreciate one another and, for this to happen, they need to bond socially. So informal work gatherings are an ideal place for this to happen – and should therefore be considered a valuable source of productivity.

There’s a good chance you laughed a lot more as a child than you do now. Children can be such constant gigglers that they even get on the nerves of more serious adults. But the fact of the matter is, every adult could benefit from more laughter in their lives.

As we’ve come to find out, laughing is an effective and valuable way of coping with life’s challenges – even if you’re experiencing the stresses of war.

In 2011, ethnographer Mark de Rond spent weeks embedded with the staff of a US Army hospital in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Remarkably, de Rond found that, even though the staff were forced to deal with hundreds of casualties and numerous deaths every week, they were always quick to laugh and share a joke. Certainly, the humor at the hospital tended to be more morbid than your average workplace, but it nonetheless served as a valuable counterbalance to the death and suffering that surrounded them on a daily basis.

According to de Rond and other scientists, laughing is an effective coping strategy for balancing out the intense emotions and situations we face. So, it stands to reason that it can be a valuable practice when dealing with stress at the workplace.

What’s more, laughter has also been shown to stimulate creativity.

In a recent study at Drexel University, participants were asked to solve various puzzles. Leading up to the puzzle, some participants were shown jokes from comedian Robin Williams’s stand-up routine, while others approached the puzzles without laughter. In the end, those who watched Robin Williams were found to show 20 percent more creativity in solving the puzzles than those who didn’t.

Adding more laughter into your day requires the development of a workplace culture where laughter is encouraged. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to crack jokes all the time – rather, it’s about approaching work with an openness to sharing laughter with those around you, if the chance arises.

A culture that encourages laughter is one where employees have a cheerful perspective on their work life and are willing to share a laugh about it from time to time. Remember, whatever the circumstances of your job may be, there are always opportunities to make it more enjoyable.

We need to develop a different work culture. One in which we have time and space in the mornings for working without distraction, for going on inspirational walks and having casual but productive conversations with coworkers. We need to put more emphasis on the social aspects of work by encouraging employees to take social breaks with their colleagues, where they feel free to open up and bond with one another. By working undistracted and being more social in the necessary breaks we take from work, we’ll be both happier and more productive.

To be more productive, get plenty of sleep. Sleep is probably the easiest way to boost your work performance, and it takes little effort. All you have to do is rest.

Science has shown that enough sleep, typically 8 hours a night, not only improves concentration and performance the next day, but also makes you less likely to cave in to cravings for coffee or sweet treats. Plus, it just makes you happier. According to scientists, sleeping well reduces the amount of negative thoughts floating through your head.

So start tonight! Turn off your computer and refrain from doing anything too stimulating after 9 p.m. Instead, relax and engage in soothing activities until you’re tired enough to lay down to sleep. Chances are, you’ll get a great night’s sleep.

Check out my related post: Have you heard of the 5 voices?


Interesting reads:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40242204-the-joy-of-work

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