Q: Our department's physical layout has created a lot of problems. My employees work in a completely open area without cubicles or dividers. There are no enclosed spaces where we can talk privately about confidential matters, such as personal problems or performance issues. The staff frequently complains that it's difficult to concentrate with so many people around.
I have suggested wearing headphones, but no one seems to like that idea. Instead, I get a lot of requests to work from home, which creates its own set of problems. We're about to move to a new building, which gives me an opportunity to reconfigure our space. What would you suggest?
A: Fortunately, the completely open work environment was a fad that now seems to be dying. A little privacy should improve both productivity and morale, so install cubicles or dividers to reduce noise and other distractions. Although some people can focus in a hurricane, most employees find that constant movement and conversation make it difficult to concentrate.
Do not assume, however, that a revised floor plan will automatically eliminate those work-at-home requests. Apart from escaping office chaos, people may also enjoy working in their pajamas and avoiding traffic snarls. So unless you plan to eliminate this privilege altogether, you need to develop a clear telecommuting policy.
To encourage collaboration, the new layout should include a small conference room or meeting area where colleagues can gather to discuss plans and projects. And since every manager must be able to have private conversations, be sure to give yourself an office with a door.
Q: For 18 years, I stayed at home to care for a child with special needs. My son now has an independent living arrangement, so I am in the process of looking for work. Before he was born, I held several retail and clerical jobs, but after being unemployed for so long, I have no idea what to put on my résumé. How can I encourage someone to hire me?
A: Now that you've decided to return to work, a self-study program can help you learn about the five basic steps in a job search. These include setting realistic goals, creating effective "sales tools" (including a résumé), networking, interviewing and making a wise job choice. Many books and online resources can provide guidance in these areas.
With an 18-year employment gap, you should give special attention to networking. Blindly sending out résumés is a waste of time, since competing with other applicants will be difficult. You need the added boost that comes from making a positive personal impression or being recommended by a strong connection.
To strengthen your résumé, include any volunteer work you may have done for charitable or civic organizations. You might also consider increasing those activities, since volunteering can provide recent experience and references. Work is still work, even if you're not receiving a paycheck.
Finally, congratulations to you for devoting so much time to your son. Your dedication has undoubtedly made a tremendous difference in his life.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com online, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach