Work Without Borders

We're in this Together.

Take a look at companies like Google or Facebook. They’ve innovated the workplace and brought about the defining workplace trend of this century. Borders are coming down, and it’s no longer en vogue to work in cubicles. Collaboration is key, and open office spaces have begun to prevail—where there are no barriers between employees, and the executives are on the floor with the rest of the team. But even though the physical workplace has evolved, remnants of the former mindset are often present nonetheless. This mindset often manifests itself in the idea that any one person can compartmentalize his or her work, force it in a “cube,” and segment it off from everyone else’s work. By nature, a small business has a special platform to begin to topple these borders and knit together everyone’s sense of work.

The truth is that, when it comes to a business, everyone’s work is interconnected. Someone in sales cannot do what he or she does without the person in purchasing, and vice versa. There is an entire body of work to be done—that is, the company’s work as a whole. And while each worker still has a specified role, he or she cannot get stuck in a mindset of “that’s not my job” when it comes to pitching in to complete this crucial work. But how does this idea function in reality? Some form of order must still exist, after all. Roles must be assigned, and expectations must be clear. Both workers and leaders have practical steps they can follow. But in this first part of the Work Without Borders series, we will focus upon the former of the two.


No Such Thing as a Dirty Job

Many will remember the popular show “Dirty Jobs,” where host Mike Rowe joins in on the daily grind of people with the dirtiest and seemingly most undesirable jobs. And though most of us don’t need to collect garbage or inspect sewer systems, we can still benefit from Rowe’s message.

“Dirt used to be a badge of honor. Dirt used to look like work. But we’ve scrubbed the dirt off the face of work, and consequently we’ve created this suspicion of anything that’s dirty.” -Mike Rowe

Perhaps a “dirty job” is any job that someone sees as beneath them. Eliminating this idea is one of the key steps to breaking down borders at the workplace. We need to remember that no work is beneath us. As cliché as it may sound, all work is important. In the office, no task is too small or insignificant. If it’s important enough to need doing, it’s important enough to be done. Maybe it simply looks like replacing the coffee filter in the afternoon or putting away the leftovers from the meeting luncheon. In any possible way, strive to be the giver who is always willing to help.

On the flip side, we cannot devolve into a sort of chaos, where we blur lines between roles and leave the entire company’s work up for grabs. Rather, working without borders simplifies into one simple rule to live by: if there is work that needs doing and you are able, be willing to step in. Look at your work-neighbors and see if they need help. Accept new tasks when your managers ask. Small businesses can be especially flexible in terms of assigning roles and tasks. Just remember to balance what’s urgent and what’s truly important in the meantime. Abandoning a highly crucial task for a less crucial one doesn’t do anyone a service.


The Benefits

And what’s in it for you? From a purely mercenary perspective, you’ll likely be the one on managers’ minds when there’s talk of added responsibilities or promotions, because you’ll have proven that you’re willing to sacrifice the traditional borders of your job for the good of the company and of those around you.

But there’s an added benefit of adopting this without-borders mindset, which is arguably more valuable than the tangible rewards. Working without borders is ultimately about finding meaning in work. The boxed-up “cubicle” approach says a job is a 9-5 that assigns clear-cut tasks and ends when you leave the building. But employees do not often find fulfillment in their work while under this mindset. Job fulfillment isn’t a rarity reserved for engineers and fighter pilots, either. It is often about the mindset of the worker and whether he or she feels that the work truly matters.

Once we move beyond the “that’s not my job” mindset and tear down those borders, we can see the true value in any work, because work that is important enough to take up yourself matters; doing good even when no one else sees you matters; and helping real people, like your co-workers, bosses, and your customers, matters.