Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Death to Cubicles: How Open Offices Have Become the New Normal

Anyone asked to design the future of workspace would likely include trappings of utopian space age such as hi-tech pods, artificial intelligence, and robots, in their blueprint. But for today’s architects and innovators, the design is more down to earth—more about raising the benchmark of communication, collaboration and other factors that affect productivity.

Though experts see the architectural trend as a knee-jerk response to the claustrophobic cubicle layout, open offices have been around for a while, thanks to those who sought a more potent way to democratize workspaces. The design is mostly preferred by creative industries, particularly in the field of social media. Apple’s soon-to-be constructed campus in Cupertino,  Google’s rendering of modern offices, and Facebook’ s newly launched headquarters in Menlo Park, California, have made it easy to see why the open space trend has caught on as one of the hallmarks of 21st century design and corporate thinking.

Image source:  kloeber.com

Apparently, open office trend overrides the sense of detachment and concealment with a culture of transparency where idea-generation and flexibility are the biggest components. Privacy and noise appear to be the major repercussions of open working environments, but experts agree that such difficulties can be with solved with smart comfortable conference spaces and by carefully considering who to put where. Creating mindful environments should involve using smart technologies, sustainable design platforms and other touch points that stimulate cooperation and inspiration for both agoraphobics and claustrophobics.

Image source:  squarespace.com

Compared with closed-office plans, the former sees proximity as an effective way to form a symbolic sense of organizational mission where everyone knows their value and their place in the corporate structure. The layout reflects what the company does and who are the team behind it, typifying a dynamic customer space wherein employees can connect to the consumers and to the brand itself.  This trait points to the changing landscape of corporate relationships wherein formalities between clients have somehow become relaxed as have corporate hierarchies, insinuating a renewed perception of community in the business environment.

Tom Wolters has served as the senior director of the NYSE-listed ConAgra Foods in which he used his solid business acumen and entrepreneurial skills to help propel the company to global success. See his complete profile here.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

REPOST: How Poor Management Creates Zombie Employees (Infographic)

Zombies do not always look scary and run around eating people’s brains. Here is an article from Entrepreneur.com talking about a different kind of zombie—one that can be found in your office.

Image Source: entrepreneur.com

The Walking Dead may have ended for the season. But that doesn't mean the zombies are gone.

In fact zombies may be a staple of a workplace near you, because of the widespread problem with the way most employers treat their employees. It's not that that those employers are mean or unethical, but they're still doing something wrong. Consider the recent poll that reported that 76 percent of employees say they are unhappy or disengaged at work.

In other words, people genuinely just don't like their jobs.

This is a problem for employers: The numbers are showing that workers are well on their way to becoming cash-collecting "zombies": They're being dumbed down by management and told they can't color outside the lines. They're being made to believe that whatever management says is right.

In response, we can only hope that new technologies and applications improve the numbers around employee engagement, as managers (hopefully) make smarter, data-driven decsions.

Indeed, forward-thinking HR managers are already shifting their efforts; and HR analytics and big data are being analyzed, with the hopes of bettering the office atmosphere. The true leaders in management realize that the workplace is an ever-evolving thing, and take the time to make sure they stay ahead of the curb. This entails coming up with great employee-engagement solutions.

However, the poor leaders out there are still creating disengaged workplaces: They're focusing on themselves rather than the betterment of their people and their companies. And many of the disengagement issues stem from archaic practices still being used: managers thinking they know what's best, and employees never having a voice or being forced to perform repetitive tasks. The
Tayloristic approach to the workplace has caused the problem, yet most companies aren't aware of the science involved.

So, do you fear your own Working Dead? Does your office work entail repetitive motions which require no thought? Do you have employees forced to follow people who think they have the biggest "brain" -- but don't? And what is your role in causing all this?

 Check out the following infographic for help identifying zombies and the damage they do.

Image Source: entrepreneur.com

Tom Wolters has extensive experience in management and improving work environments. Visit this Facebook page for more information about his work.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

REPOST: Stressed Out? 3 Ways to Weed Out Stress From the Workplace

Healthy activities like yoga or tai chi can readily ward off work stress. Read the article below to know other options on how you can manage job-related stress more effectively.

Image source: entrepreneur.com

Stress at work is a major issue for many Americans. According to a study from the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, 40 percent of workers surveyed reported that their jobs were very or extremely stressful, while 25 percent viewed their jobs as the number-one stressor in their lives.

Most business leaders recognize that stress can have a range of negative impacts on their individual employees. But some fail to realize that if left unchecked, stress can have a trickle-down effect that can taint the entire workplace.

On the personal front, job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than either financial or family problems. A stressful, conflict-rich work environment is also one of the biggest barriers to staff retention and long-term growth. Not only does it lead to lack of job satisfaction, it’s proven to hinder productivity, create interpersonal discord and cultivate poor job performance:

One study on workplace conflict found that U.S. employees surveyed spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days.

Today, more corporate leaders are taking note, and putting procedures and benefits in place to help their employees -- and their business -- better manage the negative impacts stress can impose. Have you considered such a move to foster better stress management in your workplace? Think about deploying one or all of these three strategies:

1. Provide healthy snacks and opportunities to move.

Long-term stress can increase appetite and sow the urge to binge on high-sugar or high-fat comfort and convenience foods. This kind of emotional eating is often the body’s way of coping with tension. Fortunately, Mother Nature produces excellent stress fighters! Foods naturally rich in vitamins and minerals can help fight increased levels of cortisol -- a stress hormone. So, stock your staff kitchen with stress-fighting, desk-friendly foods like cashews, oatmeal, oranges and vitamin C-packed berries. Not only will these foods keep your staffers from getting “hangry,” but your actions will show employees how much you value them -- and their health.

In addition, consider investing in your employees’ health through a workplace wellness program. It’s not just a nice idea – it’s a tactic proven to deliver a measurable return on investment for businesses. An example is Johnson & Johnson's estimate that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on healthcare costs over the past decade. From 2002 to 2008, the company said, its return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.

Offer incentivized fitness competitions to get your staff moving -- and to incite some healthy competition, too. You don’t have to focus on weight loss: Challenge staffers to track their steps daily for a set period of time; then celebrate the employee who walks the most. Or, if a competition isn’t your speed, offer a discounted or free gym membership to your staff on a “use-it-or-lose it” basis. Many companies offering this perk require employees to check in to their gym twice a week or more to retain access to the facilities. This not only encourages employees to burn off tensions through exercise -- it allows employers to focus their wellness spend on the employees who are most engaged.

2. Outsource stress management services.

As a business owner, you probably outsource a number of critical functions to keep your company running smoothly. Stress management should be no different. There are a number of different professional support services that can make a positive impact on workplace stress.

Consider hiring a massage therapist once a month, for example, to provide your staff with complimentary on-site head, neck and hand massages. According to a report by Integra Survey, 62 percent of employees studied said they routinely end the day with work-related neck pain -- 44 percent reported stressed-out eyes, 38 percent complained of hurting hands and 34 percent reported difficulty in sleeping because they were too stressed-out. Massage not only focuses on the physical aspects of stress, but touch is a great natural stress reliever.

Another option is to bring in a certified instructor to offer lunchtime yoga or tai chi classes. A mid-day session will help elevate “feel-good” endorphins, and center your staff for a productive afternoon and a less-stressed evening. Plus, the camaraderie of working out together is great for team building and office morale.

3. Provide tools to help your employees improve their body and mind.

For employers who are serious about reducing stress, there are high-tech tools to help. For example, the Inner Balance trainer provides a three-step technique, and provides real-time feedback to help employees synchronize their breath and heart rhythms, and retrain their mind-body response to stress.

The tool focuses on helping employees track, and optimize, their heart rate variance (HRV) -- the variation of the time between individual heartbeats. An optimal amount of HRV reflects resilience, fitness, vitality and the ability to manage stress and maintain composure. On the other hand, too little variability indicates chronic stress, nervous system depletion, fatigue and a higher risk of future health problems.

For a brick-and-mortar stress reduction solution, consider dedicating space in your office for a rest and relaxation room. Reallocating a small conference room, office or storage area, and outfitting it with an aromatherapy diffuser, a white-noise machine or fountain, low lighting, soft seating and blankets creates a “time-out” space for employees to grab a power nap, or simply decompress for a few minutes. (New moms can also use this space as a quiet and private place to pump.)

For more on workplace management issues, visit this blog for Tom Wolters.

Monday, March 23, 2015

More than an illusion: The role of genuine happiness and satisfaction in the workplace

The stereotypical office as seen through the eyes of many cynical satirists is a soul-crushing cube farm where people feign happiness at the mere sight of their superiors. Though exaggerated, these portrayals have roots in actual workplace issues. Dismantling this false fa├žade of contentment and fostering a truly motivated and happy workforce play a key role in boosting productivity.

 Image source: Eurofitdirect.co

A dreary workplace is sadly an all too common reality in many corporate settings. Exacerbating the problem are certain management missteps, such as letting high-performing employees get away with misconduct, which cause more Dilbertesque groaning from the production floor.

 Image source: Whatisbluesky.com

Many employees correctly assume that negative attitudes hold their careers back. However, recent studies have shown that employees often feign happiness in an attempt to impress their superiors. This disingenuousness is stressful for employees, making them unhappier as a result.

To truly remedy this sitcom scenario and its unfunny implications on the performance and wellbeing of employees, managers must work toward encouraging workers to be genuinely happy from the moment they punch in. Employees that come to work happy often perform better, being more focused on their tasks and acting friendlier toward customers, and keeping their mood throughout the day. Managers should be understanding of the situations of unhappy employees and give them ample opportunities to improve their mood throughout the workday. Frustrated employees should also be allowed to vent in positive and productive ways.

Image source: Home-designing.com

Creating a work environment that allows workers to improve their moods as the day goes by can also help bring a productivity-improving smile on their faces. And while few companies can have the cushy comforts of Google’s head offices, having a few toys in the office for workers to fiddle with during crunch hours can relieve them of their strain and keep their spirits up.

Sometimes, a healthy meal and time with friends does the trick as well; offices can provide free snacks like fruit and extra break time to help employees start the day with a smile.  

Thomas Wolters is a seasoned businessman with a profound understanding of the role good management plays in productivity. Visit this blog for more updates on effective workplace management.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Building a sustainable company

Over the recent years, "sustainability" has enjoyed a position of popularity as an inter-industry buzzword, and it's not showing any signs of disappearing into the ether. In fact, it seems like more companies are aspiring for sustainability. But what does that entail? And what does it mean for profits?

Image Source: greenbiz.com

In a word, "sustainability" relates to "awareness." It means that companies should consider their impact on the local community and the world-at-large when conducting their business. In a market where consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about how companies manufacture, process, and distribute their products, embracing sustainability is a crucial business move.

The U.N.'s Our Common Future report sees sustainability as a "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." There's no single, clear-cut way to achieve sustainability as it depends on many different factors and which industry one is in, but the certainty is that it requires conscientiousness and consciousness. It can mean:

Image Source: sbaprogram.com

- Creating an efficient, waste-reducing supply chain
- Providing jobs for unemployed workers with relevant skills; running a safe and healthy work environment
- Sourcing raw materials locally for lower carbon footprint; or
- Collaborating with suppliers who use similarly fair and environmentally-friendly practices.

Add that to an understanding of the market and the need of the community, and then one has a profitable and, therefore, an economically sustainable company.

Image Source: cw.iabc.com
And of course, sustainability can't simply be a value-adding proposition or a "bonus" to attract clientele or investors. For sustainability to indeed be sustainable, it has to be authentic. It should be in the company and its brand's blood.  

With his knack for innovation and learning, Tom Wolters has led companies to great success. Follow this Twitter account for valuable business and entrepreneurship insight.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Trends that will change how supply chains work

The next few years are going to be game changing insofar as managing supply networks is concerned. Among other factors, the current economic and environmental landscape will drive such changes. Startups have mustered enough confidence to expand their boundaries, and big-ticket firms have been finding ways to keep up with growing demands in their worldwide consumer base, while advocacy groups echo a louder call to adapt environmentally sound business practices to address climate issues.

In response to the factors mentioned, expect the following trends to shape supply chain optimization:

1. Modes and forces of production go greener.

Image Source: livinggreenmag.com

Sustainability has been the buzzword of the decade; soon, it will be the norm rather than the exception. Green-born companies have shattered the belief that creative and ethical sourcing will not translate to financial success. On the other hand, Coca Cola leads the pack of multinationals that are set on improving its image among communities through improvements as drastic as reducing the weight of its plastic, aluminum and glass containers by more than 30 percent.

2. The cloud will further bring in heavenly prospects.

Image Source: muycanal.com

According to Forbes, an explosive slew of upgrades in facilitating a smarter supplier network is expected to roll out in the next five years as investors inject billions in capital to bankroll research and development for supply chain analytics. Angel investors, private equity holders, and big tech firms like Oracle and IBM are expected to plow investments in software as a service (SaaS) platforms that enhance the technological capability of big and small enterprises to monitor and take control the supply process from the ground up.

3. Robots gain bigger control of the supply chain process.

Image Source: conductix.com

Like SaaS systems, automated guided equipment will further optimize the procurement and delivery of goods and services as this technology heads mainstream. Logistics providers and in-house supply chain systems will use artificial intelligence to pick, tow, and forklift even loads as massive as airplane wings with astonishing ease and precision.

Tom Wolters has decades of expertise in innovating the supply networks of leading companies such as ConAgra Foods. Subscribe to this blog for relevant financial information and insight on supply chain management.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Inside ConAgra's sustainable supply chain

The tireless search for sustainable practices—in farms, factories, and all the way to the grocery shelves—lies at the heart of innovations implemented at the supply chain of one of America's largest food companies.

Image source: Rspo.org

ConAgra Foods, makers of food brands Americans have loved for decades, has carried out improvements in its supply chain system, not only by streamlining processes that ensure an efficient flow of goods, but also by crafting plans that address climate change and global warming, along with other environment-friendly objectives.

 Image source: Tempoframing.com

The renowned food company's blueprint for a responsible and eco-friendly supply chain, developed by current and former executives such as Tom Wolters under its research and innovation team, is encapsulated in this video. The blueprint includes teaching resource-efficient farming strategies to farmers growing their raw materials, implementing energy-efficient practices in the assembly line to reduce carbon footprint, and reducing waste by recovery of both organic and inorganic materials through composting and recycling.

 Image source: Bamboosolutions.com

Also, recognizing climate change and coming from lessons brought by extreme disasters such as Sandy, ConAgra has implemented strategies in building community resilience against calamities so that affected families still have food on the table during emergencies.

Such well-rounded approach to sustainability would not be possible without the cooperation of the stakeholders. ConAgra enlisted everyone involved in the company's supply chain to effectively implement its green strategies and conceive new ones—everyone, from partner farming communities, to factory employees, to executives, has a share in caring for the environment to keep it inhabitable for the coming generations.

Tom Wolter's accomplishments during his tenure as senior director of ConAgra Foods include the implementation of sustainable measures in the company's supply chain. Follow this Twitter page to know why green practices matter to your business.