Snooze, you lose? The changing dynamics of the agency workplace

The divisive issue of napping represents a wider cultural and generational shift at work, says MRY's chief strategy director

In the work environment, I’ve not seen a topic that is more polarizing and of our time than the issue of whether it’s acceptable to take a nap in the office.

When I recently talked to one my strategists about a snooze I caught him having on the couch in the middle of the office, he simply and unapologetically responded, "That little nap made me so much more efficient for the rest of the day."

That’s definitely not the response I would have given my boss 15 years ago.

Although for many people napping is the sign of a slacker, the workplace snooze represents something much larger: a generational and cultural divide that maps back to the psychology of how many today see working environments and productivity.

Many cultures and businesses support the workplace nap, or siesta. The benefits are widely documented. At the Hong Kong office where I first interned, all lights went off at 12.30 p.m. for 30 minutes of naptime. A few years ago, I remember being on a video conference call with colleagues in Japan, during which, three out of the seven participants were fast asleep. In Japan, napping is the sign of a diligent worker. Google famously has nap pods.

We now live in a world that prioritizes practicality above protocol. How we work, how we interact and how we engage in the workplace has and will continue to change fundamentally.

Mobile and social technologies have created transient workforces. Perceptions in the office will change. What we achieve will become more traceable; office napping is a symptom of this change.

This means agencies need to create more inconspicuous spaces for their employees. Over the past decade, the open-plan workspace has become all the rage, touted as a means to foster a collaborative work environment.

This new paradigm, however, still brings with it negative repercussions. With open workspaces, comes a lack of privacy: the inability to have that HR conversation or quick chat with a loved one. All of us throughout the day need a moment to deflate from what sometimes can be a stressful work environment.

We recently opened a meditation room at MRY, which — with its simple couch, carpeting and an opaque door in an otherwise glass-filled, open space — I’m assuming is catching more Zzzs than Oms.

The changing workplace culture also means that agencies and other creative businesses need to learn to be flexible with time and space, allowing the Millennial workforce to define its own approach to creation.

Unless you work in an industry such as manufacturing, where the number of hours you work correlates directly with output, time today is flexible. We work on our days off, and we play during work.

Gone are the days when you can expect someone to stay behind really late because the boss is in the office until 10 p.m. We must change our psychology from managing the hours in a day to focusing on the output in a month. Review processes should focus on outcome and achievement as well as the innovative means of getting there, not just the ability to follow a set of rules.

People’s perceptions of whether napping in the office is a good or bad thing symbolizes a cultural inflection point of how younger generations perceive work in general.

Beyond the formality of dress code changes, this trend indicates not just a shift in office culture, but working style — even more so for businesses in the fields of innovation, creativity and technology.

In a world where change is the only constant, we must build agency environments that can adapt.

Ian Chee is chief strategy director at MRY.

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