Sowing the seed...
Judging by the surge in sales of seeds, plants and other gardening supplies, I am not the only one who has utilised some of this extra time at home to do some work in the garden. I’ve enjoyed growing some of my own vegetables for the last few years (just ask my colleagues who are often greeted with a glut of courgettes I have been trying to get rid of), but this year I have been able to spend more time on doing things properly.
While I’ve been digging over soil and planting seeds, I have been reflecting on how refreshing it is to see the immediate impact of your work, while also having the excitement of waiting for those green shoots to poke their heads out of the soil (okay, so I don’t have a lot else on at the moment!). So often in our industry we wait inordinate amounts of time, very often several years, to see our efforts come to fruition, yet in the garden my efforts are immediately noticeable, and within weeks I’ll have home-grown lettuce to enjoy. Unlike work, there’s also no need to leave copious notes to myself and colleagues about where I have got to; the work speaks for itself. There is no need for a trello board here (much to the relief of my colleagues!).
This got me thinking about how our workplaces can support us in making our work more visible. We work with a range of organisations who are adopting a more digital-first approach, and I think it’s telling that the people leading the charge in these areas are also the ones who are often crying out for spaces for ideation, brainstorming, stand-up meetings, and Kanban boards. Even the technology gurus like something tangible!
Actually, those spaces are something we’ve missed as a business while we have all been working remotely. Sure, there are tools that allow you to collaborate virtually and they certainly have a place, but personally, I just don’t think you can beat standing around a whiteboard, or jotting down your ideas on post-its. There’s something about the tangibility of the humble post-it that just can’t be replicated on a digital screen. And it’s not just about the solution or the outcome; there is something about the process that cannot be replicated online - when everyone is in the same space, ideas seem to (almost literally) bounce around more easily. We did some really exciting work last year with a household name developing the brief for their new innovation building; even there, the innovation experts wanted every surface to be writable.
It's not just about spending time together either; there’s plenty of research out there about the benefits of writing things down. The neuroscientists tell us that the process of physically writing something down helps it to stick in our memory much more than typing it does. So, in our rush to digital first, is there still a place in our offices for hand-written notes on whiteboards, and places for sharing our work in progress?
Aside from acting as an aide-memoir, there can be several other significant benefits from those physical displays of work in progress – people can see dependencies that nobody noticed before, conflicting priorities can be identified and managed, and if nothing else it helps people to see how their work fits into the big picture. I’ve previously talked before about the importance of symbols in the workplace, and having somewhere to display work in progress can say a lot about the culture of the organisation. To me, it says that it is a collaborative endeavour, and views and comments from across the board are welcome. It says that innovation and ideas are important and welcome. I think it also invites everyone to be aligned, removing ambiguity, and making sure that everyone is rowing in the same direction.
From sowing seeds in the garden, to sowing new ideas in the workplace, being able to see our work in progress is important, and it can also be hugely rewarding!