Create a Great Place to Work and Unlock Business Potential

Create a Great Place to Work and Unlock Business Potential

What makes a positive workplace culture? And why does it inspire better work?

By Elma Glasgow

The sparkly deely boppers on the receptionist’s head wobbled feverishly as she gave a bubbly “good morning” greeting. Her feather boa, scarlet lipstick and vivacious nail colour would’ve fit in wonderfully at any of Berlin’s cabaret venues, but this was not the KitKatClub.

I had just arrived at my office at a high profile charity. The receptionist’s festive outfit was in celebration of one of the country’s biggest fundraising campaigns. Readers, this was the morning of Red Nose Day – the charity was Comic Relief.

Rewinding to my job interview there, I recall immediately feeling at home. Was it something to do with the friendly buzz in the air? The energising red corridors? Or the giant red nose mounted on the wall? Maybe it was because I had been building a bond of sorts with Comic Relief since it launched when I was young, making it all feel rather familiar.

Looking back, I remember Comic Relief as a great place to work. Teams worked hard to whip the nation into a state of Red Nose Day fever to raise millions of pounds for projects in Africa and the UK. Despite the demanding deadlines (inevitable for one the world’s most successful charities), I remember laughing a lot, and feeling motivated and part of something pioneering.

The experiences I had there made me connect closely with the organisation and made me feel accountable to the masses of supporters raising money.

Happiness at work

Little did I know, but at the time I was experiencing something called Arbejdsaede. (I would write out the pronunciation but, believe me, it’s easier to just watch the video.)

Arbejdsaede is a word that only exists in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian and means happiness at work. It means that you enjoy your job, you’re proud of your work and you get on with colleagues. The general idea is you find a job that makes you happy, and you’re more likely to be successful. It’s turned the traditional attitude on its head, which focuses almost entirely on material success. Of course, financial reward is important, but there are other factors at play like having a positive workplace.

More and more people want a taste of Arbejdsaede, so I’ve looked into some of the elements that make a good working environment. From a new kind of office chair to finding the right location, it’s an area of business that can unlock potential among your people.

Good office furniture = good wellbeing

While we know that good ergonomics are vital, office furniture is just one element. But if you ignore problems caused by old equipment, your chances of reducing sick leave are going to be low. This can make staff unhappy and cause dips in efficiency.

People are increasingly in pain: back problems, sore necks and repetitive strain injury can be caused by something as simple as slouching at our desks. The working environment needs to support people at work, but fast-changing technology is presenting new challenges.

Allow me to enjoy a geeky moment and introduce the Gesture Chair. Developed by Steelcase, the chair’s design is based on 9 new seated postures discovered through recent global research. The chair supports your body as you move around, using desktop computers, smartphones and tablets. Check out the postures, and you’ll see why standard chairs may soon be heading for storage.

Office design and layout

Technology isn’t just changing how we sit. How we communicate, move around the office, and where we work have also changed. It’s not surprising then that outdated office design could stifle efficiency, creativity and collaboration, which, when combined, lead to innovation and progress. Design can even put off younger talent too, if it doesn’t fit in with their working habits, which are heavily influenced by technology.

Spaces for quiet working, privacy, brainstorming and relaxation are becoming the norm. But what works for one business doesn’t necessarily work for another. Design is unique and reflects the brand, its ethos and its people. Entertainment company, Mind Candy, invites people into a break out area with a pretty back garden scene. It’s more conducive to creativity – the business’ lifeblood - than a gloomy meeting room.

Office colours have always made a big difference to me – I used to think it was my imagination, but they’ve been proven to affect our work. Nancy Kwallack, a researcher at the University of Texas, makes a surprising observation: "White doesn’t help us be productive, and most work environments are white, off-white, or gray … There have been studies that asked worker preference about environment and color, and the majority felt they liked to work in a blue or blue-green environment.”

Other fundamentals of good office design are plenty of natural light, good ventilation, living plants, and tidy and safe floor space.

Choose the right location (or miss out on talent)

A good working environment stretches beyond the office walls. The more convenient and enjoyable the office location is, the more likely employees will stick around for a while.

Here’s when location doesn’t work. My friend, Julie, worked on a 9-month contract at a place one-and-a-half hours away on public transport. Although she liked the work, her colleagues and the office environment, she would arrive home each evening wiped out from the three-hour round trip and a seven-hour day.

On top of constant tiredness, Julie’s bank account was getting a hammering from the cost of travel.

At the end of the contract, she turned down the offer of an extension in favour of a job closer to home. Having seen Julie’s work, I know the employer lost a very talented employee, because the office was tricky to get to.

Poorly chosen office locations can mean dreadful commutes, which could hamper productivity. The only thing on the up could be staff’s blood pressure as they rely on coffee to battle fatigue.

Choosing the right office location is about customers too. Your wooing may be wasted if visitors need to drive around, looking for an office hidden from view. Customers will also turn their nose up if they find their supplier’s office is next to a water treatment plant that whiffs all summer long. This isn’t how you impress important people.

Thinking about location from different perspectives will stop you being immediately seduced by striking design or bargain prices. Your staff will thank you for securing easy-to-access premises in a pleasant (and whiff-free) setting.

Empowering people

A positive workplace is much more than ping pong tables and giant slides à la Google. Without that special touch that makes people bond with a place, cool stuff will probably go unused. People want to feel valued, trusted and empowered at work too. This, I think, is what rouses passion among workers, rather than disenchantment. Increasingly, people want…

Thank yous – Did you know that only one quarter (24%) of employees are happy with the level of recognition they received for their hard work? That leaves a big majority who want better employee appreciation.

Development – Staff are more likely to be happy if they’re given learning and development opportunities. But bosses have to follow up with new career opportunities, otherwise staff will take their new skills elsewhere.

Flexibility – People want more freedom to juggle personal and work life. They want to be able to leave early for school pick-ups, work remotely, flex their hours and job share.

Vision – As I discovered at Comic Relief, people are driven by being part of a broader vision. It creates a sense of shared goals and comradery, which is great for workplace atmosphere and productivity.

Giving people a good workplace is the smart way forward, whether it’s turquoise walls, chairs for strunchers or rewarding employees for hard work. Creating a great place to work begins by putting your people first; keep them happy and healthy, and your business is more likely to prosper.

And if the odd pair of deely boppers is a measure of how well you’re doing, well, I’d say you’re on your way to achieving Arbejdsaede.