Is playtime over? The rise and fall of the “cool” office

Originally published by Hays Canada

Some offices sound more like luxury resorts than workplaces from pools and gyms, to nap rooms and on-site massage. Google is famous for their innovative and quirky offices, but they’re far from alone in this trend.

Corus’ building on the Toronto waterfront includes a slide from the fourth-floor for a quick exit at 5pm on Friday, while Deloitte’s new downtown office has an employee-only café, meditation lounge, and treadmill desks for the consummate multi-tasker.

But are these really helping employers attract and retain?

A recent study by workplace consultants and office designers Peldon Rose indicated that employers often underestimate the importance of their office environment. The 2017 report showed that nine out of 10 workers believe their office environment directly impacts on their productivity, but only a third said their current office environment supports their well-being.

However, that doesn’t mean the answer is yoga studios and board games. According to a study by Organizational Psychologist Professor Sir Cary Cooper, found that employees who work in environments with ‘natural elements’ such as natural light, live plants and, if you’re lucky, a view of the sea, are more productive at work.

Our recent What People Want report found that company culture was very important to employees, especially when it came to choosing to stay with an employer. However, when we asked what mattered most for culture, things like office amenities and perks were low on the list. Across all demographics, strong leadership, open communication, and work-life balance are considered most important.

Your office environment can reflect these core values, but employees won’t be swayed by amenities if your company doesn’t back it up with great leadership and communication.

Jonathan Taylor, Senior Business Psychologist at business psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola, says the workplace environment can convey a number of messages to employees and the outside world. “As well as the basic ‘a happy worker is a productive worker’, a fun working environment sends a strong message that the company trusts its employees to get the job done, but that they have autonomy in how they manage their time,” he says.

The social environment at work is really important, Taylor continues, because we all have a fundamental need to belong and to have positive social interactions with others. This has a direct impact on our engagement and productivity. “If we feel we belong, we’re more likely to work harder for the ‘common good’,” Taylor believes. Progressive workplaces, with their secret gardens and rooftop allotments, also allow and aid ‘timeout’ and recovery during the working day which is, according to Taylor, crucial to our wellbeing. “We’re not machines and we’re not designed to work for several hours at a time without a break. A bit like physical exercise, we need to take regular breaks throughout the day,” he says.

Taylor says employers need to factor in the more introverted employees too. “Extroverted individuals will thrive on having additional stimulus from their environment, but introverts generally prefer less stimulation at work,” he notes. “Like our schools, workplaces tend to favor extroverts – think of open-plan offices that are designed to encourage more conversation and knowledge-sharing, but also encourage interruptions.”

How can employers ascertain which aspects are really valued by employees or just there for show? Don’t follow fads, or buy in to gimmicks – focus on creating an office that aligns with and supports your company culture.

Chris Alldred, Design Director at office design agency K2 Space, says it’s no longer about creating a ‘cool’ office but having a varied, bespoke workplace. “Traditional, long-established brands are creating workplaces that previously would have been unheard of,” he says. “Workplaces that now typically include showering facilities for cyclists, sit/stand desk solutions that promote movement and a variety of spaces that staff can choose to work from, depending on the task at hand.”

Instead of getting a games room because it will look good for internal recruitment, get a games room to encourage employees from different teams to socialize and collaborate. Adding a meditation space or yoga studio demonstrates your company’s commitment to mental health and well-being, and supports employees taking time to step away from tasks so they can return refreshed and renewed.

The “cool” office isn’t on the way out, but it is becoming more nuanced and refined. All the amenities in the world won’t help you keep your team happy without the right core culture, but with the right approach you can introduce policies and spaces that support and enhance your culture.

Rowan O’Grady is the president of Hays Canada.

See also:
Why you need to reduce information overload with your team (and how to do it)
How to plan team-building activities that don’t stink


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