Creating focus and productivity in the workplace can be a challenge for some employers. Online distractions loom and cold Milwaukee winters can make office dwellers feel stir crazy. However, solitaire home screens and ice-covered streets aren’t the only explanations for those daily 9 a.m. meeting interruptions.
According to a 2015 survey from FlexJobs, 76 percent of the 2,600 respondents said they avoid the office when completing important tasks. Employees reported fewer interruptions from colleagues, fewer distractions and minimal office politics when escaping the office to work.
With only 24 percent of respondents saying they are most productive in the office, companies are faced with a challenge that can become an opportunity when planning business meetings. In some cases meetings are more productive when held offsite, venue operators say.
“A change in environment can help our brains think differently, open the door for new information to process or ideas to take shape,” said Erin Hochevar, director of community at Hudson Business Lounge. She suggested employers can increase office productivity by taking their employees—and hopefully not the office politics—elsewhere.
Located in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, Hudson Business lounge provides workspace for small business owners or freelancers without personal offices. But it also provides private meeting space for companies needing a change of scenery.
Hochevar said that the new environment needs to be conducive to comfort and human necessity. She said Hudson has comfortable chairs, workplace technology and a café to fully meet its clients’ needs.
Hudson is just one of many venues in and around Milwaukee that companies use for offsite meetings to escape office distraction.
Colergét Conference Center in Kenosha takes a different approach to meeting productivity. Its outdoor scenery and decorative Asian-inspired architecture aims to create a zen-like atmosphere for its clients.
“Every room has a view of our gardens outside. The beauty lends itself to daring to dream bigger and being creative,” said Kathy Barker, facility manager at Colergét.
Barker said the only downfall of the center is its limited space, which does not allow for bigger meetings or social events.
LMI Packaging Solutions in Pleasant Prairie uses Colergét for its quarterly board of directors meeting. Megan King, program developer, said the center’s peaceful environment helps employees avoid distractions and break away from their daily routines.
“You don’t walk in (to Colergét) thinking you have to do work today,” King said. “You walk in thinking you are going to do great work today.”
The Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee, regularly hosts meetings and conferences for both large and small companies. The hotel has seven meeting rooms and space for large team-building activities, according to Amy Schneider, general manager.
She said one company set up a mini-golf course during a conference at the hotel as a way to strengthen teamwork.
“Experiencing something different sparks ideas. It also breaks down barriers and lines of hierarchy within the company,” Schneider said. “It’s a breath of fresh air.”
Like many Milwaukee hotels, the Ambassador’s location and lodging capabilities allow for extended conferences or retreats. It also attracts companies from all over the state. Schneider said the hotel’s central location is an important asset.
Asian gardens and mini-golf at an offsite oasis might boost employee focus for a day or two, but what happens on Monday morning when it’s time to return to the cubicle?
Perhaps this quest for workplace relief hints at a greater issue.
In a 2012 Right Management survey, 81 percent of respondents reported they do not take a legitimate lunch break during their workday.
According to the survey, the findings indicate high stress levels in employees—so high that they cannot find just 30 minutes in their day to refuel. Companies are stuck between two unhealthy extremes: employees avoid the office, but when they are there, they are unable to take necessary breaks from their workload.
“The employee is a huge asset for the employer,” said Jennifer Walkowiak, director of commercial growth at Aurora Healthcare. Workplace wellness is her passion.
Aurora’s employee wellness program helps employers create healthier work environments, Walkowiak said.
The plan includes a health risk assessment and biometric screening to identify areas of health concern for employees. Aurora’s health coaches then work with employees to meet those concerns and work toward a healthier lifestyle at home and at work.
“We try to find a solution to help (employers) reduce health care costs,” Walkowiak said.