Is Your Workplace Frictionless?

The need for a frictionless customer experience has become a mantra at business conferences. It means, regardless of the business you are in—whether it is a restaurant, a hair salon, or a doctor’s office—eliminating everything that could cause annoyance or inconvenience. 

For example, it might mean eliminating lines to check in by enabling customers to fill out forms ahead of time, and then, at the end of the customer experience, to get checked out by a customer service rep, who can do the transaction on a mobile device. The idea is to create a customer experience that is seamless, without unnecessary waiting or superfluous tasks—you never want to make work for your customers or inconvenience them.

Not surprisingly, people now are talking about the frictionless workplace. The Age, out of Australia, published a piece on the topic last week by Adrian Taylor, who cites a survey that reveals we are wasting up to 21.8 hours every week, per worker “on a range of seemingly small obstacles in our workplaces.” Taylor writes that “the idea of creating a ‘frictionless workplace’ is in high demand for the modern office worker, fueled by smart-property technologies, human-centered architecture, and on-site concierge services.”

Taylor paints an intriguing picture: “With a simple scan of your smartphone, you enter the office and immediately are directed to your destination-controlled elevator, where Internet of Things (IoT) sensors have been monitoring lift usage trends and prioritizing certain routes to ease vertical congestion.”

Where does friction exist in youroffice? In mine, there is friction in one of our luxuries. We have a complimentary coffee bar with baristas—essentially our own (and free) Starbucks. It’s a wonderful thing, except that in the morning, even as late as 10 a.m., there is a line. We also have high-end, self-service coffee machines, but the joy of having a barista make you a cup of coffee is such that many of us can’t resist but wait for it. What would the solution be? What if the company partnered with local coffee shops to set up an account for its employees? Taylor envisions it this way: “Imagine you’re approaching the end of your morning commute and a workplace app such as Charli detects your location via GPS and pings a message: ‘Would you like your regular coffee this morning?’ You tap “Yes,” a message is sent to your local cafe, and your flat white is in the lobby on arrival—pre-paid and made to your liking.”

Another point of friction in my office are many meeting rooms named after parts of New York City, where our office is based, rather than designated by number or letter. Every time you are invited to a meeting in a room you’ve never heard of, you have to consult a map of two floors to figure out where it is. The fact that so many meeting rooms are a necessity is also a point of friction. We have an open-plan office with no cubicles and shared offices. Even the CEO of our division of the company shares an office. The executives sit back to back on opposite sides of small rooms, reminiscent of freshman college dormitory rooms.

What if, instead of an abundance of meeting rooms, the executives each had their own office, with just enough room for a meeting of at least five people? What if the desks of those employees without offices had dividers that could be pulled up or down as desired? That way, the layout could remain open-plan for those who liked it that way, and could be more sheltered and private for those who don’t like the openness. If those changes were made, there would be less need for private meeting rooms. And if the rooms were numbered, or designated by letter, they would be easier to find. What do you think?

Another area where I note friction is performance management. Are annual performance reviews becoming archaic? We live in a present-minded, on-demand culture. Instead of making goals once a year, maybe it would be more productive to text employees every Monday morning with a link to tap on via their phones. They would be taken to a page where they could list a few things on their to-do lists for that week. Managers and Human Resources would be given up-to-date information about workloads and priorities, and could even funnel learning resources to employees based on those weekly to-do lists.

How can you make your own office frictionless? Are there places and situations in which employees are needlessly inconvenienced?