Tuesday, July 11, 2006

the zen kitchen has a new mascot!

benjamin, the zen kitchen mascot
Thanks to my best friend Rae, the studio now has a new temporary mascot - Benjamin (above), a very adorable bearded dragon that Rae needed to find a home for during the summer. My cat Persephone, who has been trying to turn herself into the studio mascot for quite a while (see right) Persephone, also the zen kitchen mascot has been very cute about the whole thing—she hasn't gotten jealous yet, but she's FASCINATED by the cricket tank sitting under the stairs. She has literally spent the last three days perched next to the tank, staring at the crickets inside.

Having a bearded dragon is an interesting venture. The crickets under the stairs keep chirping pretty loudly, which gives the studio a sort of calm feeling, like I'm at my computer in the middle of the woods at night. It's all very Zen. Meanwhile, I now have two animals posing for my attention on a regular basis - Persephone has a habit of lounging strategically every time you look at her, as if she's ready for her closeup, and Benjamin keeps striking little poses for me in his tank, which is right on top of a large counter along the side wall of my office. I was a bit worried that having the two distractions—I mean loving, friendly creatures—would make me less productive, but thus far they really haven't.

This is one of the benefits of having your own studio or home office - you have the power to make the space yours. Plants, artwork, curtains, plants, even animals - you can create your own haven of productivity, however you want to set it up. This was something I always missed with full-time and contract gigs - the ability to make a space mine and only mine. Too often, there were office policies against personal stuff being in a cube, or limits on what was allowed; in some cases, I was even forced to share a small cube with another contractor, which led to consistent issues not only with productivity, but with interpersonal conflict; anyone who's ever been forced to work in cramped quarters with another person probably knows the types of issues that come up. While not all space-sharing situations are horrible, sometimes you just get stuck with That Person. You know—the surly dude who does nothing but complain about the company and his coworkers, or the girl who spends most of her time regaling you with tales of her latest dating adventure, and it just makes your work life miserable (or at least, less productive).

Why does this seem to be such a trend in companies? Is it only in New England (where I'm from), or does this happen nationwide? A happy workforce is a productive workforce—studies have shown this time and again—yet so many companies downsize staff and then force the remaining folks to work long, thankless hours, or they take on contractors without having the space to house them appropriately. If I had a dollar for every time my knees were against a filing cabinet while I was working for 9+ hours a day, I'd have a pretty hefty sum in my savings account right now.

Put it this way—people are more productive if they're comfortable. You spend at least 1/3 of your life (if not more) at work—if you can make people comfortable, keep them happy, make them feel appreciated, they'll do more for you, be more committed to their jobs and more productive. If you don't have room for another contractor, find people who have the right software at home and let them telecommute. If someone has to commute an hour or more just to get there—either pay them more or let them telecommute. If people want to bring in potted plants, let them bring in a potted plant. Let them listen to their music (as long as it's on headphones), and make contractors (especially those who are staying more than a few months) feel like they're part of the team. Some companies are already doing this—for example, my experience at CVS/Pharmacy was one of the best I've had in years; I had my own largish cube, which afforded privacy and room to spread out my work, and the manager was hands-on enough to give you direction, but hands-off enough to trust that you knew what you were doing. Let's see it happen more often, especially in larger companies.

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