GM Doesn’t Need A Wacky Open Seating Policy

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So I know a guy who works at General Motors. He’s pretty high up and has been working there a while. The other day he was telling me how GM is starting to introduce, among other things, a policy of open seating. Eventually, except for the very very high people, no one will have a permanent space. There will be desks and computers for everyone to use and share, and conference rooms to book if you have something private or sensitive to discuss. But other than that, each morning is fair game from the new hires to the executives.

This is part of a wider trend at older, large companies to try and “adapt” to the times and stay relevant for new, talented young people. They look at what start-ups and big tech companies are doing and feel like they have to try to emulate some of their practices. It’s part of the ever present quest to find the perfect environment to allow snowflake-Millennials to be productive and flourish. And though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think policies like GM’s open seating largely miss the point.

If big companies want to appeal to young people and get with the times, they don’t need to adopt new age, Silicon Valley Guru policies. You don’t need to have sleeping pods, bean bags, ping pong tables, or even free food (although I suppose if a business can afford it, the employees will love it). Those things are cool and might increase productivity (I have no idea if they do or don’t), but are ultimately unnecessary.

All young, talented people need, all anyone needs, are flexibility and trust. Let people work when they want, where they want, and how they want and encourage them to take risks and make mistakes.

If a physical presence isn’t absolutely necessary for the job, let your team or your employees work from home. Or from the office. Or a little from both. Let them come in late, leave early, or come in late and leave early. Because none of this matters in the slightest.

The only reason details like those enter the equation is because businesses or team leaders have lost (or never had) sight of what their true focus should be. Results. The only thing that matters is whether or not an employee is consistently performing and consistently producing value through positive results. The rest is irrelevant.

If people are successful and create valuable results for their projects or tasks then it makes no difference where they are or how many hours it took them to do it (Obviously, use common sense. If a project that should take a few hours takes a few weeks then it’s time to have a sit-down).

The point is that all this obsession with time and attendance is the product of a bygone era. To their credit, goliaths like the auto companies do realize that they are largely creatures of the past and are trying to find ways to modernize. But trying to copy Silicon Valley and Buzzfeed articles about “how to deal with millennials in the workplace” is not the proper path.

Because at the end of the day, you don’t need all the fancy office perks or bizarre “research-proven” desk and workstation set-ups to make people more productive.

All you need is an environment that is genuinely encouraging of risk and failure, and that lets people work in whatever way allows them to consistently produce the best results. And this isn’t just how Millennials work well, it’s how everyone works well.

This is where the trust comes in. You need to trust your employees to take risks and try new things, and they need to be able to trust that when they fail their leader or team will help them put things back together. Trust them to do their own thing, and be there when they get in the weeds. That’s the only way a business can move forward.

The way any company, big or small, old or new, is successful is if they leave the antiquated practices of the Industrial Age in the past, and enter the modern world. Transitional periods such as this are never easy, but they present near endless possibilities.

Let individuals decide how they can best produce value for you. Give people the freedom to thrive and they will.

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