A blue skies, out of the box, brainstorm, yesterday.

A recent house move prompted a long overdue clear out of my office. Leafing through a folder of old team ‘training’ documents from my days in corporate life, I was struck by how little impact these sessions had had on the day-to-day running of the business, being so disconnected from what we were actually trying to achieve as a team (“you’re a blue person, you may clash with red people”). Thanks for the day out, HR, now back to the real world…

There’s a whole piece here about the relevance of these activities (and I know some do it brilliantly), but that’s not what I’m looking at today. Being outside of full-time corporate life for any length of time enables you to question some of the accepted inanities that most full-time employees put up with day in, day out.

Few enjoy truly flexible working. Most still have to commute to a desk miles from their home – at the same time every day, Monday to Friday – and sit there for 8 hours (or more). Taking less than half an hour for lunch is the norm, if they take a break at all and are lucky enough to actually have a desk to call their own. Many people are expected to be contactable 24/7, connected to a laptop or Blackberry even at home. (A friend of mine was recently asked to supply his personal email address as an additional point of contact. He rightly refused).

Self-employment means not having to put up with this, and thankfully, things are changing for employees too. The ‘new’ industries have a fresh perspective; the likes of Google, Starbucks and Facebook are breaking the mould, and other companies are beginning to realise that stretching their workforce to breaking point is actually counter productive.

Daimler has ended the annual nonsense of returning from holiday to a thousand emails (surely one of the all-time biggest wastes of corporate time) by allowing only one Out of Office message which essentially says “wait ‘til I get back”. Virgin and Netflix are trialling ‘unlimited’ time off for their staff. Others are banning ‘Al Desko’ lunches to ensure staff take a proper break, and some are reconsidering the wisdom of open plan offices – now recognised to be bad for health and productivity (and the lingering smell of all those Al Desko lunches…). Now, if we could just encourage companies to do all those things whilst also paying their taxes…

Improving working conditions makes a big difference to happiness and productivity, of course, but in my experience, a more fundamental area – the company’s structure – is often overlooked. Any business formed before the Dot Com era will inevitably have legacy systems and structures that can actually be a barrier to team collaboration and growth.

Helping companies overcome these traditional silos is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work, and for many CEOs, the positive impact it has on staff morale, satisfaction and day-to-day productivity is an unexpected benefit.

So if you’re considering asking your HR team to review and refresh working practices, don’t forget to make sure the structure and strategy are also in the best shape they can be.  Just ask me how I can help.

If you think your business, or your teams, could do with a bit of re-energizing, get in touch via hello@sambridger.com.