As the line between personal and work life becomes blurred for many employees, they want an adaptable space where they can work comfortably, relax and be online 24/7.

People charged with designing work spaces increasingly recognise that flexibility is vital – and that no one does their best work sitting at the same desk, looking at the same wall, all day. For many forward-looking companies the work place has become a bit of a playground, offering well designed spaces to relax, socialise, create and – of course – work.

It’s all about giving employees the best possible experience at work. Employee experience is like customer experience, which considers every aspect of a customer’s perception of a business from their first contact. Employee experience looks at employees in the same way, from walking in the door in the morning to logging off at the end of the day.

blue-quotes

There is no magic formula for creating great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.”

Creating a positive employee experience includes a whole host of things – like a good company culture, great communication, perks that really matter to staff and an inspiring work space.

When Virgin’s Richard Branson announced that new parents would get a year’s paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child, he said: “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business.” He’s also been quoted as saying: “There is no magic formula for creating great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.”

Susan Peters, Senior Vice President, Human Resources at General Electric, says employee experience is about seeing the world through the eyes of employees, staying connected, and being aware of their major milestones.

And companies increasingly have to focus on employee experience as the war for talent heats up. If you want the cream you have to make working for you a pleasure and offer more than just a good salary. Employees want to like what they do, enjoy going to work, feel appreciated and work in a pleasant, stimulating environment. And as they spend many hours each week at work, physical space has a real impact on their experience. Employers know that keeping employees happy and healthy at work matters. Many companies now offer nourishing food, exercise rooms and picnic areas, and consider things like air quality, lighting and access to outside space.

 

Airbnb

Airbnb was one of the first companies to replace the chief human resources officer role with a chief employee experience officer. This shift in emphasis shows in Airbnb’s offices: the company recognises that people like to work in different ways so offers a range of places to work, from open spaces and meeting rooms to desks in the kitchen.

 

Amazon

Amazon is the largest private employer in Seattle, with more than 40,000 employees. Each Amazon building in the city has an individual design – the newest is a series of giant glass domes incorporating lush planting. Amazon’s ethos spreads beyond the buildings with cycle tracks, art installations and covered public walkways. There’s even a 1,000 square-foot dog park for employees’ canine companions.

 

 

Google

Google, meanwhile, is famous for its creative – some might say slightly daft – office spaces. Staff can work in Broadway-themed conference rooms or spaces that look like vintage subway cars. There are play areas, roof gardens, cafes that serve excellent free meals all day, outdoor terraces and ladders connecting floors. Employees can sit on bean bags or at standing desks – some with treadmills so people can keep walking while they work.

 

Nestlé

Google also allows its people to bring their dogs to work, something that’s been adopted in the UK by pet food manufacturer Nestlé Purina. Nestlé Gatwick has become the first Nestlé HQ worldwide to allow employees to bring dogs to the office, and Nestlé’s Pets at Work Alliance helps other companies become dog-friendly too.

A survey by Purina suggests that employees are happier and healthier when they can take their pets to work and 47 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that bringing a pet to work is a perk.

But do fun-packed office spaces work for everyone? Would your colleague’s bulldog drooling next to your desk be a nightmare? Do some people find the whole experience inhibiting rather than inspiring? It seems that many people value simpler things like fresh air, outside space and a good location.

blue-quotesImproving the landscape for employees comes from treating them as you would your customers.”

“They [inspiring spaces] can relieve some of the tension of a high-pressure office but they are not sustainable in the medium to long term in improving productivity,” says Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School, in The Independent. “How people are managed is by far the most significant factor.”

Are happy employees necessarily productive? In a TED talk, Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution, said that most work spaces are for extroverts who need lots of stimulation. But introverts, she said, can be highly talented individuals who prefer to work in different ways. Companies need to ask how they can accommodate both introverts and extroverts at work.

Although many offices, especially in large organisations, are open plan, it’s not the best working environment for everyone or for every job. The answer could be to have a choice of spaces and let workers decide where they are most comfortable; and of course that might change throughout the day depending on the task being done.

Global research from Steelcase involving more than 12,000 employees suggested that people are 88 per cent more engaged at work when they can choose a work space to suit what they are doing. So, for the best employee experience it’s not a matter of choosing an open plan over a compartmentalised office, but about offering
a choice.

The New Work Manifesto created by Bruce Daisley and Sue Todd is a programme of small changes that can help make offices better places to be.

The manifesto says open plan offices are bad for concentration – as shown by the number of people who wear headphones while they are working to avoid disruption.

“Right now it seems unlikely that we’re going to return to the smaller offices of old,” say the manifesto’s creators, “so the best thing that we can do is try to give people the opportunity to work in quiet spaces, or from home a couple of mornings a week.”

“Improving the landscape for employees comes from treating them as you would your customers,” says Ryan Scott, CEO of Causecast, “so consider the attention you put into the customer experience and replicate that effort with employee experience.”

And of course, provide them with the right tools and technology to support them, wherever they decide to work.