Work might be serious stuff, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be exciting and amusing too. Georgina Fuller discovers how rewarding your staff can start right at your employees desks
The famous Silicon Valley in California is the technology hub of the world and a place where some of the biggest and brightest (think Google and Facebook) lay their designer baseball caps. Silicon Valley has also become a pioneer of the ‘cool’ office since its conception in the mid 1990’s, and stories of the famous Utopian workspaces, where unlimited snacks are always on offer, employees can take a nap on uber comfortable sofas or brainstorm over a game of ping pong abound. If we contrast the artistic, graffiti covered walls and open-plan, playground style workspaces of the Valley with the ultra-corporate, grey and sterile offices recently reflected in the Wolf of Wall Street film, we can perhaps begin to see how a working environment reflects the culture of the industry you work in and its employees.
So what makes a ‘fun’ place to work? The people, office environment and company culture will all no doubt all play a part but, ultimately, it has to come from the top, says Oliver Gleave, managing director of Jupix, property software development company. “I’m not sure you can force any culture, fun or otherwise, onto a business,” he comments. “It has to come from the top down. In our business, it’s come from me and the board, who, while recognising the benefits, also want to work somewhere that's fun. If senior management aren’t on board, or you have a few members of staff half-heartedly trying to force their version of ‘fun’ on people, it won’t work and, if anything, can have the total opposite effect.”
Jupix, which is based in Northamptonshire and has rapidly expanded from 21 to 42 members of staff in the last 18 months, certainly sounds like an enjoyable place to work. The company run a quarterly competition for the best, hardest working member of staff and, at the end of the year, the overall winner gets a holiday. Last year, the winner got to go to Las Vegas for five nights with a friend. The prize-giving is also themed, so last year was ‘The Ace of Spades’ and this year it’s Star Wars. “The overall winner each quarter gets £250 in vouchers, second place a £75 meal for two, third gets an extra duvet day and 4th gets £40 in cash,” Gleave says. “We haven’t yet decided where to send the winner this year. The Virgin Galactic flights are sadly a little out of budget!”
All the small things
The company also reward teams on a monthly basis and the winning team gets a t-shirt, unlimited tea and coffee made for them by the rest of the office and the privilege of leaving early on a Friday. Other initiatives include an on-site Playstation 4 for break times, two ‘duvet days’ and a company ‘hoodie’. “While the general rule for office attire is smart dress, staff can wear their SuperJupix hoodies whenever they like. This sort of thing gives a great feel for the brand internally, is very visual in the local area when team members go out, and gives the team a chance to dress down when they feel like it,” Gleave explains.
The office environment should also reflect the ethos and attitude of the company and be a pleasant place to work. So says Michaela Clement-Hayes, content manager at FusePump e-commerce company. “Our office is brightly coloured and open plan with lots of pictures and photos. We have a library area, games area and bar area plus a well-stocked kitchen,” she comments. Other perks include half-price gym membership, weekly football matches and a range of healthy (and not so healthy) snacks, such as fruit, seeds and nuts. Cocktail hour is also a popular draw for staff on a Friday, says Clement-Hayes. “On Friday afternoon the bar opens for Happy Hour and we take it in turns to create cocktails for our colleagues. From the classic Mojito to the Ninja Zombie there’s enough variety to get us ready for the weekend, especially as we finish an hour early on Fridays. We also have Friday Challenge which can be horrific… like the bug eating challenge, or hilarious… like the make-up challenge.”
The events committee meets monthly to organise activities and competitions, including regular theatre trips, Winter Olympic Games style competitions and pancakes for Shrove Tuesday. “Plus everyone receives a card and cakes on their birthdays and the summer BBQ and Christmas parties are both great fun,” adds Clement-Hayes.
Perhaps it’s no great surprise that, in addition to boosting morale, engagement and creativity, the right working environment can also have a significant impact on productivity and performance. Norma Pearce, HR director of EMEA at Plantronics, which manufactures electronic headsets, explains: “There is little doubt the “fun factor” that goes along with offering creative areas and games at the office is greatly appreciated by employees today. That being said, the real reason these additions help businesses win over and retain their top talent is that they offer people the right environment for them to perform at their best in.”
Collaborate and communicate
Plantronics launched a flexible working initiative in 2008 and transformed its head office so it now includes four distinct areas for collaboration, communication, contemplation and concentration. “Those people who want a lively area to generate ideas and feed off the energy of their colleagues can find it. Those who need to focus and want quiet can also find that,” Pearce explains. “We also looked at acoustics. This is an area we’re experts in of course but it’s amazing how companies so often position all their employees in the worst possible way, sitting too close together and opposite one another so they start competing for volume when all on the phone or talking across each other. Simple changes to seating plans can reduce stress and improve productivity hugely.”
The results were dramatic, says Pearce. “Since we implemented the changes, job satisfaction is up from 61 to 85% and staff turnover is down from 15% to just 3.2%."
Tapping into your employees’ interests and passions can also be a very effective way of engaging with them and creating a workplace that will really appeal. Rob Bodill, founder and CEO of Jyrobike, actively encourages staff to spend time sampling their products at work. “We’re currently preparing to launch our version two of the Jyrobike so our Belfast office is full of prototypes and various bike parts,” he explains. “We’re lucky to have quite a large, open office space and I encourage the team to take time out from their desks and spend time cycling around the office floor for brainstorming sessions or to take phone calls. It’s not your conventional office space but it works for us and keeps us focussed on the product we are developing.”
On Wednesdays the Jyrobike team all go to a weekly spin class together and they recently took part in the Workplace Cycle Challenge. “I’m a firm believer in taking time away from the office to recharge the batteries and a mid-week cardio session is a great way to re-energise,” says Bodill.
However, whilst tailoring your working environment to your staff’s interests will, undoubtedly, be very effective and appealing, not all companies will be able to have the luxury of doing so. In which case, have a look at what your competitors are doing, Pearce advises. “Companies such as Google, for example, demand a great deal of creativity from their employees, which is why they outfit their offices with resources that promote “outside the box” thinking and stimulation for workers even when they are away from their desks,” she notes.
Some organisations, however, may not require this level of creativity and actually make staff less productive by offering too many alternative ‘fun’ work areas, Pearce warns. “Companies should focus on providing workers with an environment that will allow them to be as productive as possible, and enjoy themselves in the process. This could involve anything from creating flexible meeting spaces, to running hot-desking initiatives, to simply giving employees the tools and technologies they need to make the most of their time at the office,” she comments.
Find out what they want
Bodhill says it’s about finding out what motivates and inspires your staff. “I’d advise other companies wanting to introduce a more exciting workplace to engage employees and develop initiatives that will motivate and enthuse staff. For us, it’s about the freedom of cycling and the inspiration that comes from this, but whatever is unique to your company should be used to create a healthier, happier workplace.”
The culture of your company should also reflect your brand and values, says Gleave from Jupix. “The things that we do with our staff, outside of general career development, are hugely important in setting the culture that we work in. The sorts of initiatives we offer have become integral to how we run the business and, ultimately, reflect a brand that, while at the sharp edge of technology, is also at the sharp edge of recruitment,” he notes.
It’s about creating a collegiate culture amongst staff and encouraging them to help each other out. “Ultimately the culture we have created is one that has created friends amongst the staff and really that is what you want from your team,” says Gleave.
And hopefully, at the risk of resorting to an overused cliché, a company that plays together stays together.