For the last five years, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been aggressively reviewing and issuing decisions regarding employer rules and policies and whether such rules and policies violate Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (Act). What once started as a relatively limited review of social media policies has now broadened to other policies and procedures of employers, including the areas of confidentiality, email and technology use, and conduct in the workplace. These decisions by the NLRB have required many employers, both union and non-union, to revisit and redraft employee policies that could be interpreted to violate employee rights protected by the Act. However, even with the reported decisions, it was still difficult for an employer to know whether a policy “chilled” an employee’s Section 7 rights under the Act.
With an ever mobile workforce utilizing electronic devices, non-compete/non-solicitation agreements are more common than ever before. More employees at lower levels of organizations are being asked to sign such agreements which restrict their subsequent employment. Pennsylvania courts, like those in many other states, look with disfavor on such agreements – viewing them as historic restraints of trade which inhibit an individual’s ability to earn a living.
Facing an increasing amount of wage and hour liability these days, employers are considering every feasible method to track employee time accurately. Believe it or not, that includes biometric systems. Indeed, as a replacement for traditional time card machines, biometric systems offer employers numerous benefits. Of course, they present accompanying risks and pitfalls, too.
I continue to read and hear more about businesses converting to open workplaces. This typically means a conversion from closed physical offices to open floor plans utilizing large common areas. There are pros and cons to both formats and, as with most things in life, there’s a happy medium that maximizes the benefits to your business and minimizes the detrimental impact that such a physical organization can have on your workplace. The “happy medium” is as unique as a fingerprint, so a quick summary of the pros and cons can put you on the right path.
On the positive side, an open workplace has several economic benefits. It tends to permit more efficient utilization of the space available. An open workplace is flexible, meaning it can be shaped and re-shaped until the format which works best is discovered. From a practical standpoint, the space available is greater because pesky things like walls aren’t taking up a bunch of room. It also allows for the sharing of pricier business equipment, like printers and copiers. Smaller business supplies can also be shared, but I’m in the Milton camp – spring for the individual Swinglines!
Additionally, the open workplace is usually easier to supervise because management and staff are located in one spot. This also permits issues to be dealt with faster because they can be raised immediately with management. The open format even adapts more readily to evolving staffing needs over time.
The greatest advantage set forth in all of the information I have taken in is that an open floor plan leads to improved innovation and creativity because communication and collaboration are enhanced. Increased interaction fosters camaraderie and improves employee morale. Removing barriers to communications allows the free exchange of ideas and encourages teamwork, and removing barriers to management lends itself to improving employee satisfaction.
Each of these pros, however, has a corresponding con. While having everyone in one spot is conducive to collaboration, just think about flu season in a kindergarten classroom. Wipe out! The same principle applies here, and I don’t care if you buy stock in the anti-bacterial hand gel company or if you ARE the anti-bacterial hand gel company.
The increased ability to communicate also has its own pitfalls. The first is excess noise. Many of us have worked in offices that have that one individual who is loud on the phone. The open office doesn’t allow you to shut the door on that kind of noise. And, it’s not just one voice in the room. It could be dozens of voices in the room. While the open workplace has private areas that may be utilized by employees needing some quiet time, the reduction in concentration overall may cancel out the benefits derived from creative teamwork.
One final hurdle to the open workplace is corporate culture. In theory, today’s generation is more accustomed to working in a large, collaborative grouping, but the science says that the impact of an open workplace on the ability to concentrate and remain undistracted is just as great as with any other generation. What the Millennials do have on the rest of us is fewer pre-conceived notions about the value of the “corner office.” Many workers already out there have an expectation that their loyalty and hard work will be rewarded with their own office. Having that private space taken away may be viewed as a drop in status if corporate culture does not evolve with the office layout.
Open office workplace will not work for everyone. My field is particularly ill-suited for that kind of arrangement because of the intense need to concentrate and to maintain client confidentiality. On the other hand, those in marketing, advertising, or journalism may find that the boost to creativity outweighs any downfalls. Even if wide, open spaces won’t work for your entire business, you may find certain departments benefit from the arrangement.
I’d love to hear your views on flexible workplaces.
As we have highlighted previously on this blog, employers have faced an onslaught of wage-and-hour litigation in recent years. Many of those cases have been filed as class or collective actions on behalf of hundreds and even thousands of plaintiff-employees. Most of these cases allege that employees have not been compensated for overtime hours worked as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).
Effective December 31, 2014, the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) now includes institutions of higher education (“colleges”) in its definition of “school,” resulting in an expansion of required background checks and other changes to child abuse reporting and training. One of the biggest reasons for this expansion is the increase in youth programs and enrollment of high school students on college campuses.