Enabling diversity of thought in the workplace
Communication and collaboration technology can help establish a working environment that caters for the diverse needs of the workforce.
The benefits of diversity of thought have been well and truly documented. A report by Boston Consulting Group found that organisations with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. But to effectively harness the collective power of many different individuals and their unique ways of thinking, leaders need to get better at empowering each person in the workforce to be able to work in a way that enables them to perform at their best.
One way of illustrating just how diverse our workforces are now is to compare the needs of introverts versus extroverts. It has been estimated that extroverts make up 50–74% of the population and introverts make up 16–50%. Bestselling author and TED Talk speaker Susan Cain has famously investigated the differences between introverts and extroverts, and how leaders can support both personality types to perform at their peak. She argues that each type functions at their best when at their optimal level of stimulation.
When asked to select the optimal volume on their headsets as they performed a specific task, extroverts chose a noise level of 72 decibels, while the introverts selected only 55 decibels. When working at the volume they had selected for themselves, the two personality types were equally as stimulated and performed the tasks equally as well. The opposite became true, however, when they were asked to work at the noise level selected by their counterparts. Introverts were overstimulated by the loud noise and extroverts were understimulated, almost bored, by the quiet conditions — the performance of both groups suffered as a result.
Considering that noise level is just one of many differences between the way introverts and extroverts prefer to work, it’s easy to understand how leaders are at a loss about how to accommodate two such contradicting personalities and sets of needs.
Another key factor for leaders to consider is the growing need for collaboration to foster creativity and innovation — the original driving force for the open plan office. Indeed, our research showed that 81% of workers across Australia and New Zealand believe working in an open plan environment is important to their productivity.
So the battle between open plan and closed door is not one that either side can truly win. For me, the answer lies in a clever combination of the two. Offering flexible working options can form part of the solution. To foster maximum productivity, however, employers need to ensure that those who work remotely are still given the same level of access to the tools and technology that they would have in the office. This way, those who need solitude in order to focus can easily achieve such, but when collaboration is needed, for things like brainstorms and meetings, audio and video conferencing technology can also closely mimic face-to-face interaction and engagement.
Headsets are the most popular means of drowning out workplace distraction for 51% of ANZ workers and can serve as another means for personalisation. High-quality headsets will tune out chaos with active noise-cancelling technology, but at the same time noise-blocking microphone technology will mean that the person can be heard clearly on conference calls.
Ultimately, as leaders we want to get the best performance from our people. We all work in different ways and have different productivity drivers. It’s clear that communication and collaboration technology can play a role in helping to establish a working environment that can cater for the different needs of today’s workforce.
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