I recently went to colleague’s office and was greeted by her dog before the receptionist. To be clear, this is not a funky hipster work environment, it is an administrative office environment with some informality in dress code and general atmosphere but not a pool table in the lunchroom kind of place and no miniature hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling.
Some employers realized some time ago that when people “feel at home at work” it reduces turnover and they potentially work harder while they are there. Paying attention to employees’ psychological wellbeing through the work environment is impactful while also communicating the employer’s values and workplace culture.
Many employers pay attention to workspace design believing there is a connection between workspace design and performance, collaboration, creativity and ultimately productivity. Proponents of the correlation argue that workspace impacts your ability, motivation and opportunity to be productive. As a result they pay more attention to thermal comfort, access to daylight, noise control and crowding issues among others.
When “great place to work” competitions emerged some years ago, many employers paid increased attention to employee needs through on site gyms, daycares and relaxation rooms. Many a remote employer (read: not near food outlets) realized long ago that providing some type of food service was critical however some employers have taken those amenities further. It is quite a jump from having a cafeteria to having a chef on site who also prepares takeout gourmet meals for your supper.
Pool tables, foosball and table tennis became standard in funky, youth oriented mostly tech environments for both established employers and start-ups but it now goes much further. Sliding down a fire pole instead of taking the stairs, working at a treadmill desk or having a snooze in the nap-pod are some of the hot amenities today. The “Disneyfication” of fun and smart workplaces where the office feels more like a playground is largely attributed to tech giants Google and Facebook. Pushing your scooter through the office now happens in countless other work environments, many of them not in the technology sector.
Some employers also figured out that employee health amenities like a multi-use space for lunchtime meditation, dance and yoga and time saving amenities like a shuttle service from a nearby daycare or onsite dry-cleaning drop off might be more effective than funky furniture or a sofa with video games in the employee lounge. However, the video game crowd will tell you the ability to take a break and escape through World of Warcraft has huge merit.
Critics argue many of these amenities are designed to keep people at work longer. They suggest that rather than having a workplace massage therapist or stress busting games, employers should focus on giving people greater flexibility and control over their work to strengthen people’s ability to manage stress. They may have a point.
Both flexibility and imaginative, casual environments are the hallmark of some cool workplaces. As one employee said to me recently, “the pool table is great and we do use it to relax and solve workplace problems but the flexibility in my schedule is much more important to me than games and cool furniture”.
Whether it’s a round conference bike for seven (you have to see this to believe it), a bowling alley in the office basement or slides for really big kids, making people feel at home at work pays off.
Most people feel most at home at work (and more productive) when they can “own” and adorn their workspace and more importantly exercise flexibility and control over their work. Now, where in my office can I put my life sized Spiderman doll?
Pierre Battah is Alongside’s HR, management and leadership expert. Pierre has worked closely with individuals and organizations from vastly different sectors and industries, and has taken his expertise on-air with the CBC. He has delivered hundreds of workshops and keynotes, and has provided counsel to managers and management teams to improve the performance and develop the leadership skills of more than 40 000 people.
Read more from Pierre at Alongside.com