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A workspace is so much more than a space to work

Gone are the days of boring, uninspiring, demotivating office spaces. We’re bombarded with lists of the ‘Coolest Office In The World’. And yes, some of them really are cool.

Me at the Peer 1 office in Southampton — on the slide

Me at the Peer 1 office in Southampton — on the slide

Zoopla’s London office mimics a house — with living room, dining room, library wine cellar and even a treehouse. AO’s workspace in Bolton also has themes to it, like Lego and football. Smarkets (a sports betting exchange) offers free food, free monthly parties, and plenty of regular out of work activities. They are more than just offices. They create a culture.

I have been an advocate of fun workspaces for years. It’s my thing. For me, creating the perfect office is about four main groups:

  1. Current employees
  2. Future employees
  3. Current customers
  4. Future customers

When I worked for Peer 1 in Southampton we wanted to create a workplace that would help us hire the best people in the available market place. As an IT service firm the people and the service they delivered to clients was our difference in the market, so getting the best available was the priority. The office was a key element of that. It helped with PR, created some great news (see BBC report here — with a little bit of me thrown in!) and a brand that talent would want to come to work for. That could almost be even more important than catering to existing staff.

Telepgraph article

We definitely made a statement with our that Southampton office. We had a slide, indoor garden, cinema, cafe, free tea and coffee, free breakfast cereal, pool table, indoor swing, there was even a pub!

For many businesses moving offices, or renovating, or just making little changes, can seem a massive task. One they really don’t want to start. But creating a great workspace doesn’t have to be difficult. Or costly. At the time we were fitting out our office the contractor we were using was also working for a large corporate client spending three times per square metre more than we were. And it ended up as a bland no impact space.

So what changes can be made to create a great space:

Get the location right

It really is location, location, location. Get the location right, and the rest will follow. I hate working on industrial parks. They are the most soul destroying places with the most horrible food! So, it’s not just about what is IN the office but also WHERE the office is.

At Peer 1 in Southampton I didn’t want everyone to have to drive to work so we opted for a location on Town Quay. There was a free bus service from the train station, buses ran past, there was ample parking, and it was in the city centre so some people could cycle or walk to work. You could build the most amazing office but in the wrong place and it still wouldn’t attract the best staff.

Brag!

I think you have got to have some sort of brag wall. If a client or prospect walks in they know they’ve come to a place that looks after clients or prospects like them. You can highlight the brands you work with, and the solutions you have built for them. It says “we work with businesses like yours”.

Open plan

I like open plan because it helps create an atmosphere. However, I realise this isn’t always practical. When I was working at Rackspace we needed somewhere more private, so we worked in a meeting room. We put sofas in them, not a table and chairs. Some conversations or HR discussions are better had in a more relaxing setting.

Make it a team effort

To create a great culture it’s essential to get everyone involved. Trust people to work towards the best outcome — in this case a fabulous, inclusive office. When we were planning the new Peer 1 office I asked all staff to tell me what they liked/disliked about the current space, and what they wanted from the new one. I gave them this site for inspiration — https://officesnapshots.com. And there were a lot of ideas: herb gardens, climbing walls, sleep pods…. A lot! We also created a committee whose job it was to oversee the renovation of the office. Not only was this useful in getting the refit finished, but it also went some way to giving staff an opportunity to take on more responsibility and develop their leadership skills.

First impressions last

At Rackspace we also had a “director of first impressions” — that was what the receptionist was called. The reception area was their domain, so they made sure that there were fresh flowers, they made sure that the meeting rooms were always perfect, they made sure that the coffee machine was always working, and that it had cups! The first impression is all important.

Get away from that desk!

The evidence suggests that if you concentrate hard for 45 minutes on something then you’ll be more efficient if you then spent 10 or 15 minutes doing something else. Then you can go back to either the same work or a different task. So, it’s important to give staff activities to get them away from their desks. They could go shoot some pool, play a video game, play on a swing, or just make a coffee.

Don’t serve sh** coffee!

Please, serve good coffee and tea. How hard is that?! I’ve been to offices and they still use instant coffee. I wouldn’t serve you instant coffee if you came to my house, so why would I serve you instant coffee if you came to my office? It’s just so easy to have nice coffee. It’s not a million pounds. It’s about four pence a cup when we’ve worked it out in the past. If you make one change to your office, then let it be this!

A happy home is a tidy home

I have been to many offices and sometimes I wonder just how people can work in such a mess. One particular office felt like it was the place where broken chairs and tables went to die! It was obvious that people didn’t care. I’ve already mentioned how important a first impression is, but you need to keep on top of it.

It’s a bit like the broken windows criminological theory that was popularised in the 1990’s by New York City police commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. It says that if you leave a car in a layby with one tyre missing, or a broken window, it’ll be completely trashed. But, if it’s in one piece, it won’t be touched. I believe if you keep the bar high, standards won’t drop.

Make some cakes. Really. It works.

Cakes image

I got the idea from a company called What If. They created these great trays with fantastic food and drink that would be offered to visitors when they arrived. I liked it. It’s about the Wow factor. At Pipeline we decided to make a visit to our offices part of the selling process. We had already found that if we went out to close a deal we’d have a 40 percent success rate, but if they came to see us the close rate went up to 60 percent. So, one of our staff offered the services of her mum — she baked us the most amazing chocolate cakes! And when prospects came to see us we gave them the cake to tuck in to. We found ourselves in the position that if you came to see us and we served you chocolate cake, our close rate went up to 80 percent. I went on to implement this as other offices I worked at. And no, it’s not the same as going to Marks and Spencer for a cake of biscuits. It shows we have gone out of our way to make this really different. It takes effort. Customers therefore infer subconsciously that we will also make an effort for them in the future.

I suppose what I mean is ‘sweat the details’.

If an employee, future employee, customer or future customer thinks you do the small details well — like creating a nice tidy, friendly, fun workspace — then they’d be more than happy to work with or for you. And it really doesn’t need to be expensive.

Written by expert business coach Dom Monkhouse — founder of Foundry Media and Foundry 51. Found out more about his work here.

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