I hear that staff at the BBC's new offices in Salford have been banned from having rubbish bins at their desks, in an attempt to encourage them to 'move around a bit more'. According to reports, Peter Salmon, the Head of BBC North, said that the ban would help staff to "get to know their colleagues."
While it might seem a bit extreme to prevent people from throwing away rubbish at their desks, it is good to see an organisation both recognise and promote the idea of employees interacting more with their colleagues. There are surely better ways to do so though.
My first four years after leaving university were spent in the Civil Service. One office I worked in had several departments spread across six floors. I was the unusual one in our office.....I spoke socially to my colleagues elsewhere in the building.
Come lunchtime each day I would go out with people from across the office while my colleagues would put their work to one side, get out their sandwiches and have lunch sat next to the same person they worked alongside day in and day out, month after month, year after year.
Times may have changed a bit since then, with many larger organisations introducing coffee shops, restaurants and communal dining areas in their offices to encourage colleagues to meet and eat together. But go into any one of these places at any time and see how many people are sat either on their own reading the newspaper or with colleagues from their department. It's still the case that people from across different divisions of an organisation rarely mix socially.
This is bound to impact on the efficiency of an organisation and its impact on the customer or end user. I have witnessed many cases where people are more concerned about small wins for their own team that they forget what the organisation as a whole is trying to achieve in the first place.
Efforts get duplicated and mistakes are repeated time and time again. In my civil service days I saw my colleagues try to obstruct the work of people in other departments because of petty politics, rather than everyone working together to get a better job done.
Organisations, such as the BBC, need to be proactive about encouraging more interaction internally. While the bin ban is a step in the right direction, it is probably not the right one. After all, I can't see BBC staff being told they have to deposit their rubbish in another department's bins instead of one five yards from their desk, let alone stop for a chat with a complete stranger who's hard at work when they get there.
They can, however, encourage more internal networking. One obvious way would be to support more proactively internal networking events, such as the women's networks that exist within many large firms.
While women's networks are a positive thing, should internal networking events take place only to support diversity? Management should be focused on encouraging more events where staff will have the opportunity to interact with people from across the company, irrespective of gender or race. They should be promoting the benefit it will have for the careers of people who attend, helping them raise their profile, find out how others overcome similar challenges to them and develop their network of connections.
Individuals can take responsibility for developing their own internal networks too. I recently spoke at an event for Ernst & Young's Women's Network. One of the Directors there explained how she had started at Ernst & Young in London twenty months previously knowing no-one there, being given desk space, being told to build her business and left to her own devices.
She immediately walked over to another team, explained that she was new and wanted to understand how they worked and asked if she could shadow them for a few days. After spending a few days with one team, she approached another, then another. Soon she had a wider network across the firm than many people who had worked in the same office for years.
This is a classic case of leading by example. We really do need to take responsibility for building our own networks.
I present a lot of workshops within organisations of all sizes and it's interesting to see just how many people gravitate towards their close colleagues when they come into a training room, despite the obvious opportunity of getting to know someone from elsewhere in the company.
Ensuring people have to talk to each other by banning bins at their desks misses the point somewhat. Employees need to understand the positive benefits of interacting with a wider network of colleagues and discussing their objectives and challenges with them. And be encouraged to do so in the right environment.
It's good that the BBC recognise the importance of internal networking. There are many better steps they can take to encourage such activity than forcing people to walk five yards to throw their rubbish away.