Podcast: Juliet Funt on Why White Space Matters
White space… Even the sound of it is rather refreshing. It immediately signals there is a blank canvas, ready for your creativity.
That’s exactly what many companies strive for: creative concepts that lead to innovative products and services. But how do we get more white space in our workplaces? How do we create an environment that allows creativity and innovative thoughts to flow freely?
Ask the guru of white space in the workplace, Juliet Funt, CEO of WhiteSpace at Work, whose clients include brands such as Nike, Sysco, P&G and Anthem. Juliet has dedicated her career to enhancing productivity and creativity in the workplace.
In this episode of The Leadercast Podcast, Juliet, who will be speaking at our Leadercast Live event on May 10 near Atlanta and broadcast to a location near you, explains the idea behind white space and the power it has to increase productivity and creativity within the workplace.
White space is the strategic catalyst of creativity.
Let’s time travel to the ‘70s: You walk into your boss’ office. They’re rocking in their chair, rubbing their face deep in thought. They don’t even notice you. Instinctively, you know to slowly back out of the room, because they’re probably conjuring up the next game-changing idea for the company.
Now days, we call that wasting time. Idleness. At best we’d say, “They’re taking a break.” Juliet says the modern workplace has it backward—we’ve lost our respect for blank space—the time when there is no activity and through which the best ideas are born.
How do you define ‘white space’?
“White space is a strategic pause taken between activity,” says Juliet. It’s open, unscheduled time, in between what you’re doing. It happens in the five minutes between your meeting that ended at 9:55 a.m. and your 10 a.m. sales call.
White space is not meditation or mindfulness, says Juliet, which are powerful tools that she uses separately within her company. Mindfulness and meditation require instruction and discipline, and when a stray thought comes along, you drive your thoughts back to the instructions and discipline of calming your mind.
Conversely, with white space, you chase down that stray thought. You follow it, you get curious and you see where it leads.
Companies want to eliminate workplace stress, but are looking in the wrong places.
Stress and tensions abound in today’s workplace due to an accelerated cadence of work, increased smartphone usage and decreased impulse control. Many companies have tried to eliminate stress with a variety of techniques like workplace yoga, massages, work play and even sleep specialists. But they’re often missing the mark—employees are still stressed.
Juliet used this analogy: Consider a beaten up car you love driving but needs some love. You polish the paint, change the oil, detail the interior, then drive it down the road. But the road is full of potholes, cracks in the concrete, and debris and mud. All your polishing and car maintenance will have done little to improve the overall situation.
Both the car and the road must be addressed. Juliet says the road is the organization itself. If your organization is buried in complexity because of unnecessary work, and makes it torturous for people to do their jobs, then all of that good stuff you give them is just making them feel responsible.
Companies are losing money by NOT making time for white space.
Until these systematic issues are solved, companies are wasting employee time, stressing them out and losing out on their most productive work. WhiteSpace at Work has created a “quantification of busywork” framework to quantify how much money time-wasting activities are costing companies each year. Juliet’s team estimates that most companies are wasting $1 million a year on low-value work for every 50 employees. Yes, that means if your company has 500 employees, there’s a good chance you are wasting $10 million a year.
But here’s the good news: Juliet offered a few techniques every business can use to improve their workplace environment.
1. Aggressively attack waste.
“It’s hard to be enthusiastic and optimistic when the workflow is like walking through molasses,” says Juliet. So look everywhere. Find the excess emails, the unnecessary meetings, the reports no one reads and you are naturally establishing white space by eliminating low-value tasks. Eliminate waste, increase whitespace.
2. Make white space permissible.
You don’t want to go through your company for six months eliminating junk, only to have that extra time refilled with new junk. You want to overcommunicate to your staff that the importance of eliminating low-value work is to create time and space for creativity.
3. Understand that words matter.
The term “white space” isn’t accidental. The words we typically associate with time in between activities is negative: idleness, breaktime, wasteful, sitting around, waiting, etc. However, the term “white space” immediately evokes a blank canvass, a breath of fresh air. The wording itself is a positive container. Replace the term “idleness” with “white space” and people now have permission to rebrand those extra moments in between their activities to give their minds time to explore.
A Special Giveaway From Juliet:
In the podcast, Juliet shared a free gift for the fans of our podcast (specifically, this gift is for any leader of a company with 500-plus employees). Juliet is offering a free quantification report to give you insights on exactly how much time is slipping between the cracks at your workplace. Email her team at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Free Quantification Report” in the subject line to learn more about this offer.
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This post is based on an episode of The Leadercast Podcast with Juliet Funt, CEO of WhiteSpace at Work and Leadercast Live 2019 speaker. Learn more about WhiteSpace at Work here. To hear this episode, and many more like it, subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.