The office is like a second home for many people and the company they work for is like an extended family. So what are the factors which make the office family “happy”? Paul McBeth outlines these factors in this short article:
The Anna Karenina principle was popularized by Jared Diamond in his 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel. The Anna Karenina principle states that a deficiency in any one of several factors dooms an endeavour to failure. Consequently, a successful endeavour (subject to this principle) is one where every possible deficiency has been avoided.
The name of the principle derives from Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel Anna Karenina, which begins:
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
In other words, happy families share a common set of attributes which lead to happiness, while any of a variety of attributes can cause an unhappy family. This concept has been generalized and applied to several fields of study including science and the environment and is equally relevant to successful business.
The office is like a second home for many people and the company they work for is like an extended family. A British Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar estimated people have 15 people in their super family (comprising family and close friends/colleagues), and in a recent study, ECN found work colleagues comprised almost half of this family.
Therefore, people view their work colleagues like an extended family, so what are the factors which make the office family “happy”? At its core, an office helps a company to maximise business outcomes by facilitating attributes such as focus, collaboration, social bonding and training and development.
Face it, there are many distractions in an open plan office, so when people need to engage in deep work, an environment of peace and solitude is preferable. For older wealthier workers, working from home provides a comfortable and productive environment (as does the office) however soon, expect many more private spaces within office floor plans to accommodate focused work for everyone.
A knowledge economy needs group-thinking and thankfully innovations such as Zoom and Teams have enabled workers to collaborate outside the office. But let’s be serious, video conferencing will never replace the authenticity of face to face communication. The Economist highlighted how online chats disrupt the automatic, split-second cues on which conversation relies leading to an erosion of trust. And humans freeze way less often when you talk to them in person!
Prior to lock-down, ECN commissioned a study revealing how the office had become super social and in recent months, countless independent surveys have reaffirmed our findings with a majority of workers agreeing they miss the social bonding aspect of office life more than anything else.
Training and development
The next generation of senior leaders will not build their careers sitting at home. Experience and knowledge about a company and its customers are built over time whilst engaging face to face with colleagues.
Whilst there are many different views on the future of the office, most agree that companies need a strong culture to nurture innovation and drive growth. Netflix provides some insight – a strong focus on culture has seen its share price outperform Google, Facebook and Apple. Founder Reed Hastings said working from home was “a pure negative”. I suspect it’s because he knows offices remain the one environment which can deliver on every single attribute that build happy office families, and ultimately more successful business outcomes.