Open Floor Plans and Managing Work Hours at Your Small Business (Podcast) | Ep. #021

Mike Kelly and Elizabeth Larkin

Have you ever considered an open floor plan for your business? Do you have employees who work different hours than you do? Join hosts Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks as they talk through these issues in this episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast.

Show Notes

Welcome to another episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. Sign up for the weekly newsletter so you never miss an episode. Do you have a question you’d like Elizabeth and Gene to answer? Submit your question to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast.



Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back with another episode of the Small Biz Ahead podcast. This is Elizabeth Larkin, and I’m here with Gene Marks, our small business guru.

Gene: Expert. Yes, right.

Elizabeth: This week we’re going to be talking about open floor plans and managing work hours when you have employees working all over the place. Something I wanted to talk about before we start is I just saw a survey that only 25% of small business owners who are on Facebook are advertising on Facebook. Which to me, it’s so cheap. It’s so budget friendly to advertise on Facebook.

Gene: It is.

Elizabeth: You advertise on Facebook.

Gene: I do.

Elizabeth: You sell CRMs.

Gene: Yeah, I do. I advertise on Facebook. We talked on another podcast about generating data. It costs me about $20 a lead is what it’s now calculating out on Facebook, which to me is huge. Great. Fantastic. $20 for a lead to me is great. Now some companies can sell. Again, if you’ve got Facebook messenger and you want to advertise, people can buy stuff right on Facebook. They’re not just leads, but it’s actually customers. The biggest reason why a lot of people don’t advertise on Facebook is because they don’t know how. They’re intimidated by it. Like me. It’s on me. I’m uneducated, naïve, ignorant about the process, and don’t even know where to start. Advertising on Facebook, the cost is really not the cost of Facebook advertising. The cost is probably hiring somebody to help you do it.

Elizabeth: I think another issue is that a lot of businesses think that it’s a B to C play, but it can be a B to B play.

Gene: It can be. That’s interesting because, and again, we’ve talked previously about it, I think it mostly is a B to C. I really do. I do think that most of the people that are on there are consumers. If you are running like a pet store or a clothing shop or something where you’ve got customers out there that are B to C, I think that you have a better chance. I don’t sell my products on it. I’m selling white papers and events. It’s more B to B. If you’re interested in this type of software, click here to download a white paper, and I get your information that way. That, to me, is a lead. The other thing is that Facebook has programs that a lot of business owners don’t even know about like the Lookalike program for example. In Facebook’s Lookalike, you can actually take your list of customers and their names and their email addresses upload it to Facebook. Facebook with match those customers with other Facebook users that have similar profiles and likes and characteristics.

Elizabeth: Hence the Lookalike.

Gene: Hence the Lookalike. Then if you place an ad, you can advertise to that Lookalike audience. Again, I know we have our passion talking about dogs and pets, but if you are a pet store owner and you upload a list of your pet store customers because you’ve collected their names and email addresses. Well, and actually they’ve got in their profiles they’re a dog lover or there’s the pictures of dogs or cats or whatever. Facebook’s algorithm will match that with other dog lovers and cat lovers. Clearly if you’re a dog or a cat lover, you’re going to be in need of pet products. Then when you place an ad, the ad will then go towards those that match your Lookalike audience. Those are more potential people that will buy from you than just throwing out an ad blind into Facebook. Facebook’s advertising tools can be really powerful.

Elizabeth: They really are. You can find for B to B customers, you can find those people on Facebook. Their targeting is crazy effective. I would recommend for a small business owner, if you just want to dip your toe in, maybe put 20% of your marketing budget for the next quarter into Facebook ads. If you don’t have the money to hire someone to do this, there are tons of tutorials online. Maybe you don’t want to take up your time doing that. Maybe you could delegate this to one of your employees, or you do it yourself, whatever. There’s tons of tutorials. It’s really not that hard to do and just dip your toe into it. You’ll be amazed at how much targeting you can do. I did an ad. My boyfriend’s family owns a Christmas tree farm. They do no advertising. I did an ad one year on Facebook. We spent $50 and they sold three times as many trees as they had before.

Gene: That’s incredible. Wow.

Elizabeth: I targeted it to of ten miles of this Christmas tree farm to people who had listed that they were interested in Christmas. Not even one of their interests, but they were just talking about Christmas.

Gene: Somebody that’s just interested in Christmas, right?

Elizabeth: Yeah. They’re just interested in Christmas.

Gene: It makes me laugh because it’s like, who’s not? Other than if you’re Jewish. Who is not interested in Christmas?

Elizabeth: Everyone.

Gene: Everybody is, right.

Elizabeth: Yeah, I know. We put up an ad, like a picture of a tree. It just said, “Fresh, local trees from the Quiet Corner,” which is where the tree farm is. Three times as many trees for $50.

Gene: That’s awesome.

Elizabeth: It was completely worth it because he sells the trees for $30 each. He did give a discount too. There was if you mentioned Facebook you got like $5 off or something.

Gene: That’s cool. That’s great.

Elizabeth: It was successful.

Gene: I like that.

Elizabeth: Maybe dip your toe into some Facebook advertising. We will be right back with our first question about open office plans after a word from our sponsor.

QUESTION #1: Are Open Office Plans a Good Idea for My Small Business?

Elizabeth: We’re back with question number one. This is from James in New Mexico. James writes,

“I just signed a two-year lease for a new office space, but now I’m really starting to regret it. It’s an open floor plan, which I thought would boost communication and productivity among my team, but everyone seems to find it really annoying. In other words, they find each other really annoying. They’re always wearing headphones, and I get the sense that there’s a lot less communication happening. Is there a way to fix it?”

Gene: Elizabeth, you’re a huge fan of open floor plans, aren’t you? You love the idea.

Elizabeth: I worked in an open floor plan, and I …

Gene: Come on.

Elizabeth: … Cannot stand it. I did a lot of research for you on this. Here’s something from The New Yorker. “In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that the open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid back, innovative enterprise. They were damaging to the workers attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.”

Gene: You were right all the time.

Elizabeth: I was.

Gene: Your hatred and distrust of open floor plans had been vindicated …

Elizabeth: I can’t stand them.

Gene: … With this study.

Elizabeth: “Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, lower levels of concentration and motivation.”

Gene: Gracious.

Elizabeth: Basically, open office plans are terrible for your business. The article goes on. I’m just going to share a little bit more from this because I feel like it really proves my point here. “Psychologically, the repercussions of open offices are relatively straightforward. Physical barriers, so think of a physical barrier as a cube, have been closely linked to psychological privacy and a sense of privacy boosts job performance. Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness. In a 2005 study that looked at organizations ranging from a Midwest auto supplier to a Southwest telecom firm, researchers found that the ability to control the environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction. When workers couldn’t change the way that things looked, adjust the lighting and temperature or choose how to conduct meetings, spirits plummeted.” Open offices, what they’re saying here is that they really rob people of their sense of control. When people come into work, they want some autonomy. They want to have their space so they can do their work. They can think creatively. They can concentrate. They don’t want to have to share a space with everyone.

Gene: Makes sense.

Elizabeth: I think a lot of times we think of a new startup venture and everyone’s crammed into one room, but there’s actually a lot of large corporations doing this now.

Gene: I see it a lot.

Elizabeth: They want to save on real estate costs, and they think, again, like the article says, it looks great. It sends a message that, “Oh, we’re an open, laid back organization.” It’s terrible for working. Gene, I’m going to let you weigh in on this. I actually researched some things you could do to fix this before you get out of your lease.

Gene: I know. I’m not even going to weigh in because I agree 100% with what you said. I don’t understand. As we know and for listeners of the show know, I don’t have an office anymore. I have no open office environment. I visit a lot of clients, particularly larger corporations actually that have open office environments. I look around be like, “I don’t know how these people do this.” I’d go out of my mind if I was sitting there at my desk and I was staring at some other guy’s mug all day in my face and listening to the people around me. I don’t know. You want a sense of yourself and of your own little space to do your work in, and you’ve got people in your face the entire day, would drive me out of my mind.

Elizabeth: I think it is actually slowly driving some of my coworkers crazy. Back to James’s problem, he’s saying that he sees people wearing headphones more often, and he thinks there’s actually a lot less communication happening. I can guarantee that because I know in my situation, a lot of times if I was in a cube, I would just walk over to a coworker’s cube, and I would have a one on one conversation with them. Now, if I do that, eighteen different people stand up and try to get in on the conversation.

Gene: That’s the worst.

Elizabeth: It really doesn’t foster more communication. Instead, I just probably don’t.

Gene: Fosters more lack of productivity, doesn’t it?

Elizabeth: Yeah, it really does. Another thing that happens is my whole team sits together. We’ll all get the same email. I’ll be writing or editing, and someone will come over to my desk to discuss the email with me. I’m not looking at my email right now. I’m writing. I’m editing.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: I did research some ways to stop noise in your office. I don’t want to make James feel too bad. It does sound like a good idea to have an open office space. A lot of companies do it. It’s just I think your experience, I think you should go with your gut here. You can buy room dividers. There’s also ways to stop noise. You can really muffle the noise so people feel like they have more of a sense of control over their space. I’m going to link that in the show notes. That’s one problem you don’t have with a remote office.

Gene: I don’t. Again, one thing, rest assured, is it changes every ten years. I’ve been through enough offices over a period of time. The feng shui of offices and office design and whatever is new, it changes. Right now we’re in an open office environment. I guarantee you ten years from now it’ll be something completely different.

Elizabeth: That’s for sure. Definitely. All right. We’ll be right back with question two after we here from our sponsor.

Gene: I could never imagine working. I just would find that so annoying, so invasive. The other thing is you’re talking about you’re peeking, you want to talk to somebody. Maybe you just want to be talking to that person about whatever. You know that other people are listening to what you’re saying. You’re like, “I don’t really want to.”

Elizabeth: If I just want a quick answer to a question, there’s someone I know I can just ask another coworker, I just ask a question and she gives me a quick answer. Then someone else hears me asking that, and then they get in on the conversation. I’m like, I almost want to say to people. It’s like improv, like Tina Fey always says about improv, “Don’t enter a conversation unless you’re invited into it.”

Gene: Right, okay. That’s pretty good. I like that.

Elizabeth: Oh I should’ve said that when we were talking about it.

Gene: I like that.

Elizabeth: All right, well we can go back. We’ll just add that in. Tips for employees. I think definitely encourage headphone use. I use something called brown noise, which is like white noise, but it’s more soothing. You can find that on YouTube. Just Google “brown noise.” I think you need to have some ground rules with your employees, and one of them, my favorite that I learned from Tina Fey said this about improv, “Don’t enter a conversation until you’re invited into it.” Sometimes if you have an open office space, you might have a question for one coworker. You go over to that coworker. You ask the question. Other people hear the question. They all jump in. Don’t jump in. Unless someone invites you into that conversation, don’t jump into that conversation. Just let people have their conversations. I know it’s hard when you overhear things and you want to get involved in it, but just lay some of those ground rules out for your employees because you just need to give people a sense of privacy and control over that space. I think that would be helpful.

Gene: You can’t believe everything Tina Fey says anyway. She was in Date Night for God sake.

Elizabeth: That’s true. That was funny movie.

Gene: I didn’t think it was that good.

Elizabeth: Steve Carell was in it.

Gene: Yeah, I didn’t think it was funny.

Elizabeth: All right. We’ll be right back with question two after a word from our sponsor.

QUESTION #2: Should I set Hours for Employees in a Different Time Zone?

Elizabeth: All right. Question two is from Robert from Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Now that’s a place I’d like to live.

Gene: Beautiful town. Clint Eastwood used to be mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Elizabeth: That just sounds amazing.

Gene: Very nice.

Elizabeth: Robert writes,

“My tech company has five in house programmers and two remote programmers who live on the other side of the country. I know the remote programmers are getting their work done, but they’re not always signed on when I’m signed on, so it’s hard to reach them on the fly. Is it fair for me to tell them that they have to work a West Coast schedule even though they live on the East Coast? If not, what are my options for improving communication?”

Gene, I’m going to let you just jump in.

Gene: First of all, I meet many companies that do that. They have a lot of clients that are on the East Coast and they happen to be in LA. One of the downsides of being in LA is that you get started three hours after New York gets started. If you want to work for this company, those are what the hours are. For new employees coming in to tell them that, “Before you take this job, that’s the way it’s going to be,” you’re completely within your right to do that so people know this is what’s expected of them. For existing programmers, that’s a little bit more tricky because they didn’t take the job with that assumption. You’re completely within your right to ask them to see if they can’t work out a better schedule, compromise, meet you halfway. Maybe start an hour and a half early instead of three hours early. Something.

Elizabeth: This is the opposite. The business is on the West Coast. The programmers are on the East Coast. They would be starting later.

Gene: Later and then working later. Same concept though where it’s like, “Can we adjust and meet what my schedule is because I really need you to be available when I’m available.” I think as the boss of the company, again, for a new person much easier. There’s standards. For existing people, you’re going to have to work along with them to see what’s going to work out.

Elizabeth: What about a shared time where everyone has to be working those certain hours.

Gene: Sure.

Elizabeth: … Like an overlap time, and people are expected to be online, be on chat or link or whatever system you use.

Gene: It seems like that would be expected up until the end of the day when one group goes home while the other group is still working. I think that shared time would absolutely be a requirement of all of that. It’s tough to do that. It’s funny too because this is just East Coast/West Coast issues. We have developers that work for us from Ukraine. That’s like a whole big time difference that you’re worried about. They do a lot of development and work for us. It never even entered my mind that I would ask them to work U.S. hours. That doesn’t mean that some other people might not have asked people to do that, that are working that late. It would never occur to me.

Elizabeth: What are their hours?

Gene: Their time zone, I think it’s eight hours ahead of us.

Elizabeth: Oh wow. They’re finishing their day when you’re starting.

Gene: Yeah, if it’s twelve o’clock here, it’s already eight o’clock at night there. We work around it. There was a few precious hours that we’re overlapping that we can get calls done or whatever, but for the most part we’re working with them via email and working things out that way. It never even entered my mind that I would ask them and say, “Well you have to change your work hours.” They’re from the Ukraine. It’s tough enough working in the Ukraine. Now, I’m going to make them work harder hours? Come on. Are you kidding? Do I have no sympathy?

Elizabeth: I know there is a big culture on the West Coast of people that work East Coast hours.

Gene: There is.

Elizabeth: They start their day at 5:30 or 6 AM.

Gene: Correct. I’ve done TV stuff on the West Coast, like a morning media tour or whatever. They start at three in the morning because that’s six in the morning on the East Coast. When you do that, everybody is there already to work because that’s the job.

Elizabeth: I could not do that. Oh my gosh.

Gene: I know. It’s crazy.

Elizabeth: For your company, do you set hours for people or do you let people set their own hours?

Gene: we have our general business hours are eight until five. That’s what we tell clients, but we rarely are put in the position where you have to tell clients that because everybody is answering emails and communicating all the time. That’s just the nature of our business. The only thing that we make our cutoff in our hours, and again, it depends on your business, but if you’re in a service business, sometimes people ask you to do stuff on the weekends or after hours at night, like “Oh, we’re implementing a system. Can you come in on the weekend to do that?” I hate that. Weekends are precious to me. I know they’re precious to my people as well.

We always, and this is another lesson about pricing, is I never like to say no to a client. I just like to give them a choice. Our rates on the weekends are triple what they are normally during the week. I say to my employees, “If I will ask you beforehand and you’re going to get paid triple to come in on the weekend. If you’re okay with that, and if the client’s okay with that, good for all of you guys. Go ahead and make money and do your thing on the weekend.” Nine times out of ten, the client’s like, “That’s ridiculous. We’ll just do it on Thursday. This is CRMs. This stuff we’re going to say, we’ll cope.”

Elizabeth: You’re working with small businesses.

Gene: Yeah, they’re small companies. For goodness sake. That usually does happen too. People always think they’re more important than they are. It’s like, “Oh, we can’t shut down. We have to do all this on a Sunday.” I’m always like, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’ll be $500 an hour to do it on Sunday versus 150 during the week.” Then usually they’ll be like, “Oh, it’s not that important. We can probably wait until Monday.”

Elizabeth: Would you have an issue with an employee who either lived on the other side of the country or right down the street from you who was like, “I’m just a night person. I’m going to work four to midnight”?

Gene: It depends on what they’re doing. If they’re client facing …

Elizabeth: Yeah, that wouldn’t work.

Gene: … Then it wouldn’t work. If they’re a developer, and believe me, if you ever watch Silicon Valley, I’ve got a few of those guys working for me. They’re like vampires. If you got to do what you got to do, I don’t really care if you do it at two in the morning from Neptune as long as you get it done. That’s fine. It depends on the work that they’re doing.

Elizabeth: Have you ever had employees travel? Like travel the world and work for you at the same time.

Gene: No, not travel, no. That really has not happened to us.

Elizabeth: Because they could.

Gene: They could. I’ve had employees that have traveled. Most of our clients are in the U.S. I’ve had employees that have traveled for projects and they’re working on other clients or they’re communicating with me while they’re traveling. That’s pretty common to do. Like doing work from their yacht in the Mediterranean or whatever, that has not happened.

Elizabeth: Okay. Maybe someday.

Gene: Someday.

Elizabeth: Maybe that’ll be you Gene.

Gene: Someday.

Elizabeth: All right. We will be right back with Gene’s word of brilliance.

WORD OF BRILLIANCE: One Million Dollars

Elizabeth: We’re back with our word of brilliance from Gene.

Gene: One million dollars. I love doing this. It’s in your face. You’re like, “What the heck is he talking about? What is a one million dollars?” Here is my reason why I’m saying one million dollars. It all has to do with expectations and being late. As a business owner, as a professional, as a service provider, as one who is delivering products, I never want to hear from anybody that is doing work for me that they are either too busy or apologize for being late. I hate when people are late. I feel that in this time when things are so competitive and expectations are so high, I feel that people that are routinely late are incredibly rude.

Elizabeth: I agree.

Gene: The reason why, it impacts your business. It impacts your relationship with the customers. It impacts your relationship with employees when you show up to a meeting late.

Elizabeth: You know why people do it, and sorry to interrupt your train.

Gene: Please go ahead.

Elizabeth: … Is that, it’s so easy now to just text people and be like, “I’m running twenty minutes late.”

Gene: Everybody else has got a schedule that they’re trying to keep. They got a meeting to go. They’ve got clients to serve. They’ve got customers to deal with. They’ve got their lives. They’ve got whatever. I’m extreme. I’m the guy that gets to the airport three hours before the flight. Whenever I go to a client, I always, always, always, I’m a half an hour early when I go to visit clients, always. Okay, so I’m in the parking lot for half an hour. I’ll do emails or whatever. I’ll keep myself busy, and then I’ll walk into the office ten minutes early.

Elizabeth: He shows up a half an hour early for this podcast every time.

Gene: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. You’re never early. You’re either on time or you’re late. Now, you might ask why I use one million dollars as the brilliant word of the day. Here’s the reason why. I don’t believe that being late is something that happens to you. I believe that it is a choice. The next time that you are going to be late to something, you have to ask yourself, “If that person said to me that they would have a million dollars in a briefcase waiting for me if I got there on time, would I be there on time? Would I make every effort to make sure that I was there on time?” The answer 99% of the time is going to be yes.

Whenever somebody says like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I fell behind. I was late. This happened. That happened. Whatever.” The response in your mind should be like, “If I told that guy I’d give him a million bucks if he was going to be here on time, do you think he would’ve found a way to be on time?” The answer is always going to be yes. It’s not circumstances. It is choice when people are late. If you have customers that are routinely late for you, that gives you an idea how you fall in their eyes. If you’re routinely late to a customer, that’s going to quickly give that customer an idea of how important they are to you. Don’t be late. Do what you say you’re going to do.

Elizabeth: Don’t be late.

Gene: Use that million dollar test.

Elizabeth: What are your tactics for always making sure you get places on time?

Gene: I always plan out where I’m going. I always know where I’m going to be a couple days in advance. I really am thinking about what my calendar’s going to be. I always take that extra step to be that much earlier.

Elizabeth: I plan backwards. I know how long everything’s going, like brushing my teeth, like everything. I have it down to a science.

Gene: Then, again, we’re living in an age with smartphones and laptops and tablets. If you are early, then work somewhere. Go to a Starbucks or go to something. Do something, but just be on time because you have to be respectful of other people’s schedules.

Elizabeth: I agree. All right. That’s going to do it for this week’s episode of the Small Biz Ahead podcast. We’ll talk to you next week.

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