The Evolving Workplace: How to Create a Workplace for Smart People

The traditional workplace is evolving rapidly.  Many organizations now expect employees, particularly managers, to be available 24/7.  Yet questions abound as to how to should structure the workplace in this ever-changing environment:

  • How do we balance work-life with personal life?
  • Do our customers really demand that we be available 24/7 or have we trained them that way?
  • Does a 24/7 workplace really fit with our culture of work-life balance?
  • How are our leaders directing us to handle this?

Erosion of the Traditional Workplace

A formal office with regular work hours, showing up to work on time, being at your desk when the boss walks by, dressing the part…these are all hallmarks of what used to be the typical workplace.  Increasingly, thanks to Wi-Fi, work can be done anywhere.  Employees work at home, at Starbucks, on a bus commuting or even in a foreign country.  So when do people take vacations?  When do we get to turn it off?  Are we setting ourselves up for burnout?

Many employers, particularly in the Bay Area, are finding that the more traditional their workplace, the more difficult it is to recruit talent.  Workers, particularly millennials, appear to resist tradition and want more flexibility in their lives.  So how do you build an ideal workplace for creative, smart people?

One Example of a Creative Workplace

In a recent issue of Fortune Magazine, Frank Yang, the CEO of Simplehuman, described the creative workplace that has supported high productivity and low turnover for the smart people working at Simplehuman.

  • Health and family first – people set their own hours and attend health and family functions as required.  The overall culture, however, is to collaborate to make the best products possible.
  • Play while working – a basketball hoop is located in the middle of the office.  Wellness ideas include yoga at noon, basketball games after work, an outside chef coming into create healthy lunches every Tuesday and healthy breakfasts on Friday.  Staff meetings and company updates happen at mealtimes.
  • Communicate – Simplehuman talks as a group about what is happening at the company.  People discuss creative ideas while shooting hoops in the middle of the office – but it is not about partying and playing all the time – real work happens in this non-traditional environment.
  • Collaborate – the environment definitely fosters people working together and openly discussing problems.


Clearly the more creative, open and flexible the work environment, the more challenging it is to maintain culture and measure performance.  In a completely virtual work environment for example, it becomes very difficult to maintain a sense of culture.  On the other extreme, a highly traditional work environment can stifle creativity and productivity.  The type of work environment you create varies heavily based on the industry, and most importantly, the values of the organization and the leaders.  Smart workers value a flexible work environment, where instead of separating work and play they want integration and flexibility.  Striking the right balance of structure, performance measures, and work environment will be one of the greatest challenges of HR in the next five years, particularly in places like the San Francisco Bay Area.

Paul Finkle, SPHR, CMC – Executive Vice President, Practice Leader

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services

EEOC Settlement in Sexual Orientation Discrimination Case

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced a settlement in one of its first lawsuits alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation. Pallet Companies, doing business as IFCO Systems, will pay $202,200 and provide significant equitable relief to settle the case of discrimination against a lesbian employee at the company’s Baltimore facility.

In EEOC v. Pallet Companies, d/b/a IFCO, Civil Action No. Case 1:16-cv-00595-CCB, the EEOC charged that the unnamed employee was repeatedly harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation. Her supervisor made numerous comments to her regarding her sexual orientation and appearance, such as “I want to turn you back into a woman”, and, “You would look good in a dress”.

“This consent decree marks EEOC’s first resolution of a suit challenging discrimination based on sexual orientation under Title VII,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez, “EEOC is committed to ensuring that individuals are not subjected to discriminatory treatment in workplaces based on their sexual orientation and looks forward to the day that this fundamental right is widely recognized.”

The two-year consent decree requires IFCO to pay $182,200 in monetary relief to the female employee and donate $20,000 to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to support the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program.

As part of the consent decree, IFO will also:

  • Retain an expert on sexual orientation, gender identity, and transgender training to assist in developing a training program for IFCO’s top managers, supervisors and employees on LGBT workplace issues.
  • Distribute its equal employment opportunity policies and toll-free employee hotline number and Web address to all employees in its north region.
  • Provide the female employee with a letter of reference.
  • Post a notice about the settlement and report to EEOC on its compliance with the decree, including how it handled any complaints of sexual orientation discrimination.

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, ” “We encourage other employers to follow IFCO’s example and implement similarly comprehensive policies and training programs to prevent workplace discrimination against members of the LGBT community.”


To date, no federal circuit court has adopted the EEOC’s expansive interpretation of Title VII regarding sexual orientation discrimination. Whether or not the federal district and circuit courts agree with the EEOC, employers should be aware that the EEOC is actively watching for potential discrimination cases on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. While many states and cities have laws and ordinances in place prohibiting sexual orientation and gender discrimination in employment, the EEOC is likely to target employers located in jurisdictions where the question of sexual orientation discrimination is not yet settled.

Employers should revise internal equal employment, non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to include sexual orientation as protected categories as well as incorporate the topic of sexual orientation into EEO and harassment training programs.

Malcolm Whyte, SPHR –Vice President HR Services

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services