Category: Work and Employment

When the walls come down: Weighing the pros and cons of modern work spaces

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 28 days ago

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini weighs in on the pros and cons of modern work spaces

A corner office--replete with windows and great views--was once a highly coveted perk in the world of work. Many businesses today, however, have opted for a more open floor plan. Over the past two decades, workers have seen office walls shrink to partitions and then disappear altogether in favor of shared offices, open spaces, and "bull pens." Also influencing our view of the traditional office setting is the growing popularity of remote work--more and more employees are choosing their home office over a corner one.

So how do these different environments actually affect the way we work? Do open floor plans truly make us more creative and collaborative, or are we just more distracted? Conversely, does confinement make us more productive? Could cubicles have a comeback? A recent Boston Globe article cites a mix of feelings over the open floor plans that, according to architecture and design firm HOK, account for more than 80% of office renovations in the past two years.

"One way an open office space can foster a more collaborative environment is by increasing the chances that people will interact and exchange ideas," says MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini. Catalini has studied how proximity impacts collaboration and ultimately the generation of new ideas, using data from a large, science-intensive campus: after co-location, scientific labs were 3.5 times more likely to collaborate with each other than before. Moreover, the discoveries resulting from their daily interactions (serendipitous or not) were more likely to be of high impact.

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New approaches to the skills gap

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 3 months and 28 days ago

Last week, George Westerman, Research Scientist at MIT Sloan and the MIT Center for Digital Business, showed a headline from the Wall Street Journal article, "CIOs, Facing IT Skills Gap, Eye the Gig Economy for Talent," to the attendees of a panel he moderated at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium 2016. The panel discussion, Developing your Organization's Skills for the Digital Future, played to a packed room.

Gerald Chertavian MIT

While turning to freelancers and contract employees participating in the gig economy may be one solution to the talent gap, there are companies taking other approaches as well. One panelist in the skills discussion at the MIT CIO Symposium may have offered a solution for winning the talent war. Gerald Chertavian, CEO and Founder of Year Up, believes that there’s a wealth of untapped talent among the six million U.S. young adults who are "out of work, out of school, and without access to the economic mainstream." As he told the attendees, "These are smart, hard-working young people who just happen to have been born or live in the wrong zip code, essentially making a college education impossible for them."

Chertavian's organization works with more than 250 organizations and companies to develop the talent in these young people and move them into white collar, career-focused jobs, such as software engineers and (highly prized) Java developers. The list of companies turning to Year Up to address their talent shortage is impressive and includes Accenture, Airbnb, American Express, athenahealth, AT&T, Bank of America, Biogen IDEC, Cisco, Deloitte, Facebook, GE Energy, Google, and many others

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The real costs of layoffs

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 14 days ago


Corporate layoffs, often referred to as "downsizing", are very common nowadays. In the past, layoffs were a last measure for companies that were truly struggling. Or, downsizing was used only at times when the economy was exceptionally bleak.

So, why do companies now frequently use layoffs as an easy cost-cutting measure? And, what are the real costs of doing so? 

Corporate downsizing is often tied to short-term cost cutting measures. Unfortunately, this has become a more common practice, especially with publicly-traded companies, where there is extreme pressure for organizations to focus on quarterly profitability and share-holder value. Although layoffs may achieve these short-term financial objectives, the true costs down the road are often higher.

For example, when an employee is laid off from a company, a lot of knowledge leaves the organization. Morale amongst remaining employees is often lower, and the existing workforce is likely encumbered with having to fill the void and take on additional responsibilities. And what happens when that same company needs to augment their workforce again? There are costs to recruit, train, and retain the new employees.

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Is the tech industry overlooking half its talent pool?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 28 days ago

There is much talk as of late over the lack of women working in and leading organizations in the technology industry. For example, a report by the American Association of University Women concluded that women made up just 26% of computing professionals in 2014, a substantially smaller proportion than 25 years ago and about the same percentage as in 1960. Women in engineering roles in the US are even less represented, making up 12% of working engineers.

Mitra Best

MIT Sloan Executive Certificate holder and U.S. Innovation Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mitra Best, may have said it best in her recent blog post on CIO Dashboard: "It is ironic that while technology has broken many barriers to innovation, barriers to women’s engagement are rising." Mitra recalls her time as an undergraduate in computer science in the late 80s, when approximately 30% of computer graduates were women. She had assumed at that time that we’d reach parity in 10 to 15 years and was recently disappointed to learn that, in 2015, only 18% of computer graduates in the US were women.

Unfortunately, the underrepresentation of women in tech is, for the most part, a global phenomenon. In the U.K., women represent only 17.5% of computing professionals, and only 8.2 percent of engineers. In Israel, known for its thriving tech scene, women compose only 12% of PhD graduates in engineering and only 15% of professors in STEM subjects.

There is hope. Female scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians worldwide are breaking barriers and making incredible contributions to their fields, despite the odds. Projects like The Internet of Women, an upcoming book and global community to support women in technology founded by leaders from Cisco and New York Institute of Technology, prove that there are exciting cultural shifts taking place around the globe. Some of these achievements, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, are in part driven by the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and Millennial Development Goals, which emphasize gender equality and technology education for girls, respectively.

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Five tips for increasing your productivity in 2016

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 9 months and 1 day ago

Extreme Productivity

Have you made your 2016 New Year's resolutions yet? If you're a high achiever, increasing your productivity next year may be on your list. Many executives come to MIT Sloan Executive Education seeking techniques for making themselves and their teams more focused, efficient, and productive, and several of our faculty are well renowned for their thinking on these topics. We've summarized some of their thinking below.

Tips for increasing your productivity in the New Year

  1. Robert Pozen, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan and author of the best-selling book, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hoursrecommends starting with setting and prioritizing goals. "Most professionals have not taken the time to write down their goals and prioritize them. Without a specific set of goals to pursue, many ambitious people devote insufficient time to activities that actually support their highest professional priorities," Pozen told us in our previous post, "Ready, set, prioritize."
  2. Dr. Tara Swart, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan recommends you make a serious and dedicated commitment to getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep. "There's a perceived 'cut off' at the neck. In reality, there is a strong brain-body connection. The conditions of our bodies directly affects the quality of our thinking," Swart comments in the previous post, "The leadership skill you’re neglecting? Sleep". Despite many people claiming they only “need” a handful of hours of sleep each night to be productive, science proves that’s a myth; 98-99% of people physically require the recommended amount of sleep.
  3. Pozen also advises people to cut through the clutter. "First, let's understand that professionals are held back from being productive by both external and internal forces. External forces are things like emails and meetings--burdensome tasks that can detail even the most promising schedule. And internal constraints, like procrastination and perfectionism, can make us our own worst enemy. Pozen provided tips for how professionals can cut through the clutter in "Five tips for improving every-day productivity."

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Companies and employees still struggle with work-life balance

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 9 months and 9 days ago

work-life balance

This post is the first in a series designed to help our readers achieve a more productive, healthy, and less stressful 2016. 

Work-life balance seems an ongoing struggle for both organizations and individuals. In fact, it's such a pervasive issue that Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research, and education, offers tips to reclaim work-life balance control.

On the one hand, there are organizations like Amazon that seem to shun the idea of work-life balance. A recent New York Times piece "Inside Amazon: Wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace," described the company as one at which "culture stoked their [employees’] willingness to erode work-life boundaries." The exposé detailed a business that rewards employees toiling long and late and subjects employees to "marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends." The New York Times piece even quoted (on record) an Amazon employee who stated, "One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight." 

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Retailing during the holidays

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 10 months and 28 days ago


Earlier this week, gear and sports retailer REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) announced that its 143 stores will be closed on the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as "Black Friday," a day that many retailers view as the most important shopping day of the year. The Seattle-based retailer has launched a campaign "encouraging people to forgo shopping and spend time outside instead."

The issue of retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day has become a contentious one of late. While convenience stores, grocery stores, and liquor stores may be providing essential goods on the holiday, few people really need to go out and buy electronics and other gadgets on a day intended to be about family. As we highlighted on the this blog last year, most people who rely on retail jobs for their income are forced to work on holidays if the store decides to stay open. But the decision to close on the following day is nearly unheard of in the U.S.—especially considering that REI is paying its employees for the day off.

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Who will power the IoT economy?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 11 months and 10 days ago

By Peter Hirst, Associate Dean, MIT Sloan Executive Education

IoT smaller

From driverless cars and sensor-laden industrial equipment to connected kitchens and smart cities---the Internet of Things (IoT) is cropping up everywhere, or so it seems. Recognizing the tremendous economic potential, tech giants and startups are investing heavily in IoT products and platforms. A recent report estimates that "the IoT will result in $1.7 trillion in value added to the global economy in 2019." Yet many employers are struggling to find the talent to propel the rapidly developing IoT economy towards the full extent of its promised value.

At last year's Internet of Things Word Forum in Chicago, Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, Vice President and General Manager of Cisco Services, presented startling findings based on data from CareerBuilder, IBSG, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • One-million shortage of qualified workers in the Internet security industry in the next five years
  • Two million jobs needed in information technology and communications in the next ten years
  • Over 11 million people unemployed in the United States at that time
  • 45% of employers unable to find qualified candidates for open jobs

 As of this August 2015, the number of unemployed people in the U.S. dropped to 8 million. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth came primarily from healthcare, social assistance, and financial services sectors--not technology companies.

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