Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Evolving Workplace Productivity: 5 Workstyle Tips From Start-Ups

In 2011, many of us exist in fluid, fast-paced, non-traditional workspaces. Whether it’s because you’re a startup lacking resources, a freelancer stationed at home, or a team member working remotely, the physical idea of the “office” is changing. And our approach to the way we work needs to change with it.

Last week, several panels at South By Southwest’s Interactive Festival addressed issues surrounding the modern workplace. Particularly insightful was a session I attended called “The New Workstyle – How Work Is Evolving.” Leaders at start-ups and small businesses discussed how to embrace new technologies and workstyles to promote a productive, healthy modern workplace.

Here are some of the key insights they shared:

1. Working out of the office can drive productivity in the office.

TA McCann – CEO and Founder of Gist
Work-from-home-Thursdays at Gist started because of a space problem: The company had more employees than desks, so they worked on a “rotating desk schedule,” where everyone would stagger the days they came into the office. After moving offices, they missed the quiet focus that the work-from-home days offered, so most team members now work from home one day a week. Consider exploring how at-home work days can boost productivity and happiness across the board.

2. Live streaming video can boost “background awareness” across offices.

Sharon Feder – Managing Editor at Mashable

Mashable has several office locations, and they heavily use video (via Skype) for cross-office meetings, check-ins, and even interviews. Soon, they’ll be upping their connectivity by setting up large TVs in their New York and San Francisco offices to live-stream what’s going on in the different locations. It’s still untested, but live streaming could change the whole concept of “remote work,” providing a background awareness that changes the way we think about far-flung co-workers. Although video isn’t appropriate for everything, it certainly commands more engagement than a conference call. You might want to explore having “Skype meetings” to cut out travel time and better connect with your team wherever they may be.

Live streaming could change the whole concept of ‘remote work’, providing a background awarness that changes the way we think about far-flung co-workers.

3. Use downtime away from your desk to crack big ideas.

Adam Loving – Software Developer and creator of Twibes
Freelance software developer and blogger Adam Loving spends his breakfast time doing free, stream-of-consciousness writing. By taking a few minutes to write freely and brainstorm ideas, he’s often able to untangle gnawing project issues that he can’t get to the bottom of at his desk. When facing a difficult challenge, many of us confine ourselves to a certain time and place. (“I have 30 minutes, so now I’m going to sit down and solve this problem!”) Try devoting some relaxed time to free-form writing or sketching when you need to crack a big idea.

4. Putting your meetings in motion increases creativity.

Jon V. Ferrara – Founder of Nimble and GoldMine CRM Software
All the panelists had great ideas about mixing up how meetings work (e.g. standing meetings, cutting the scheduled time-block in half), but one stuck out. Jon Ferrara at takes his team for a walk during meetings. They find that the change of scenery and the act of walking helps build momentum and unlocks creativity. Plus, they have a pretty sweet location: “The Pacific Ocean is our meeting room,” he says. Even if you don’t have a large body of water nearby, consider putting your meeting in motion – a change of scenery can be a powerful creative trigger.

5. Condense your communications into a single channel for more efficient management.

David Hauser – Entrepreneur and Founder of Grasshopper
Twitter DMs, Gmail, texting, voicemail, Facebook – we all deal with “channel overload.” We may not be able to cut out the channels, but we can be proactive about having our most important conversations in a single medium. Hauser suggests identifying the medium you prefer most (for many, email), and then moving your important conversations there. Think about where your most important conversations happen, and designate that as your primary channel.

Sarah Rapp

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In addition to contributing regular interviews and tweets to 99U, Sarah keeps her finger on the pulse of Behance's immense network that stretches around the world. Aside from keeping Behance's customers happy and increasing our web presence, she searches for new ways to engage our members, both on and off-line.
load comments (12)

    I like the ideas express. I believe most companies deal with traditional means. My company, Kitche Branding offers a 6 week vacation and we work virtual.

  • essay help

    It is very interesting post.

  • Murali Krishna Hari

    I agree about rotating desk and one day at work from home will increase productivity.

  • KULT Studio

    As a new start-up, we encourage working from home or outside the office to boost energy and reawaken creativity. Also, we find that our best ideas come when we leave the office and grab a cup of coffee or a beer.

  • GraphicDesignBoss

    Interesting article. I’d say that for the average designer who runs a small design business Skype is a brilliant tool if you are outsourcing to freelancers. Much better briefing face to face, you pick up nuances you just can’t get over the phone.

    I’d agree with KULT that coffee is a great stimulation for generating ideas. Works for me all the time.

    I’d say your working environment plays a big part in your creative productivity. I blogged about it here (forgive the headline as I tried to use a bit of humour to get my point across) “How To Become a Design Superhero Without Having To Wear Tights”

  • Rich Antcliff

    We are planning a move into a new space that will only have room for 2/3 of us – intentionally. We want to force alternate working relationships – should be fun!

  • Extracreditforclass

    It’s still untested, but live streaming could change the whole concept of “remote work,” providing a background awarness that changes the way we think about far-flung co-workers.

    TYPO NOTIFICATION…love the article

  • Allison

    Thanks for including Grasshopper on here!

  • JudyMartin

    Nice article. I’m a huge fan of innovation from silence. I think that stream of consciousness writing – mind mapping or just letting ideas flow on a subject without judging the output is a great way to get into the depths of the mind. When we get quiet above the noise – real innovation and creativity can blossom. @JudyMartin8

  • James Theus

    Very interesting article. Thank you for sharing your idea for evolving workplace. I am very happy to see and read this post. Just keep on sharing.

    New Startups

  • Guest

    Love the idea of rotating desks and the ability to work remotely one day a week. Little changes here and there can do a lot to spark creativity, not to mention reducing distractions in the office allowing for focused work.

  • Dylan Varian

    Nice post. I recently wrote about how I only work for four hours a week, just like the famous book, and still manage a good business. You can actually read about it here if you’re interested –

  • website design

    I really love to see this article. Actually it is the step to learn each and every thing about starting up a new business and to get fresh ideas to promote a modern workplace. Thanks

  • netguru

    Great write up! One thing I’d add here is “CC all the emails”. Although it might sound scary at the first glance, it’s a good way to improve your’s team productivity. Here’s more: :

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