05 Apr 2016

The right side of cool

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Where is the line between a fun, collaborative workplace and one that distracts, asks Scott Lesizza of workplace furniture provider Workwell?

Category: Features

There’s a lot of chatter about the “cool” office spaces we all envy a little – the ones with gaming areas, nap nooks and fully-stocked kitchens. But what is the line between a fun, collaborative office space and one that’s too lax and distracts employees from being productive?

Companies, of course, want to be perceived as established and financially healthy – and the amenities you offer employees can help you accomplish that, while creating the kind of atmosphere job-seekers envy. But you can’t just throw up a basketball hoop and tell your employees go play without some ground rules first. Before diving headfirst into the ballpit, so to speak, company leaders should ask themselves what they are trying to achieve with what they offer, and how they’re going to manage these spaces, as well as expectations.

As an employer, it’s important to provide office amenities that promote an environment where great ideas blossom and a sense of community grows. But also be conscious that these reflect a mature company (hint: no beer pong). Some of the best office programming includes multiple collaborative work zones, because no one likes to spend all day at their desk. These spaces can be laid-back lounges with more comfortable seating arrangements where meetings can happen outside of the everyday conference room.

Still, if you really want a basketball court or something similar, which can be great for team building and promoting a healthy office, set some guidelines on the use of these spaces. I’m not saying slap hard hours or closed signs on certain amenities when you want people get back to work, but be upfront about balance. Some spaces still need to feel like a perk that employees have earned for their hard work. That applies to the upper management too, because you have to set the example.

Indeed, management sets the tone. This can get tricky in the all-too-common open-office environment. If you asked employees whether they would prefer to sit next to their boss or next to the guy in the office that wears the same clothes every day, many would probably pick the latter. But executives get more from their teams if they are in the trenches with them.

If you’re going to ask your people to sit on 5ft-long benches, you better not sit in an ivory tower. Most top executives we speak to prefer to maintain full floor-to-ceiling glass offices but with an open-door policy and a willingness to engage their people “on the floor”. The open-door policy extends to allowing their private offices to be used for other purposes – as mini-conference rooms, for example. It’s important to engage, but not too closely as to be intimidating, and to ask your employees what they want.

And remember that Xbox and foosball tables are great for some offices, but not for others. The key is to be intentional – the right mix of amenities can improve productivity, attraction, retention and, of course, the bottom line. Just keep in mind these are still business decisions with consequences.

Scott Lesizza is principal at Workwell Partners

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