We’re moving office! (Eventually). Why is this interesting? Well, it means we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what makes a good office environment. And, along the way, we made some surprising discoveries about the importance of employee happiness too.
In part one of this article, we identified the office as playing an important role in the wellbeing of employees. Now, in part two, we discuss the simple, fundamental, (largely) universal benefits you can employ to make your office a happier (and, therefore, more productive) place to be.
Harnessing the workspace to improve happiness
Allow us to introduce the Expend 7L framework for a holistic approach to a happy office. Why L? Why 7? Well, the first four basically wrote themselves and, you know, when you’re on a roll you may as well keep it going.
Seriously though, they all perform well against the Pareto principle - which in this case encouraged us to identify which aspects will produce the maximum benefit for the least input (or expense).
A good example is plant life. Even one plant makes a difference - small effort, big (& long lasting) gain. One box of Cadbury’s Roses - small effort, but little (to negative, or short-lived) gain.
The (magnificent) seven:
We recommend applying as many of the L’s to your workplace as you can (or aspects of all of them), but even one will vastly improve the workplace when executed well.
Let’s dive in.
One of the best ways to increase happiness in the workplace is to offer a space with plenty of natural light and a sense of ‘openness’. According to experts, a good supply of daylight is essential. This goes to a biological level even. Sunlight on the skin creates vitamin D - one of the vitamins the body is unable to create itself. Enough vitamin D doesn’t just lift people’s moods - it also has a positive impact on energy levels and mental clarity as well.
It’s why, in our search for a new home, we’re placing an extremely high priority on natural light. Of course, not everyone can have the corner office with floor to ceiling windows. Taking steps to maximise the amount of light available to everyone (i.e. in communal areas) can also help. Don’t panic if you’re stuck in a dark workplace though. If that’s the case, perhaps change the colour of your lightbulbs to ‘daylight bulbs’, or encourage the taking of regular breaks to walk outside. As little as 15mins of direct sunlight can have a surprisingly beneficial effect.
Also, it isn’t just light that can make for a happier office - the layout makes a huge difference too. There is a raging debate over whether the open-plan model is the best way forward. Traditionally, offices have been built to give important people like managers privacy - but according to research, an open plan environment is the best way to foster a positive attitude. One famous example is Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter and Circle - simultaneously), who works in the centre of the open plan area, where anyone can come and talk to him at any time.
You don’t need to be this extreme - there is a vast spectrum between a 100% open plan ‘flat hierarchy’ office, and a 100% siloed ‘cubicle-style’ arrangement. To find the optimum for your business, consider what your organisational priorities are and how your office can help achieve these. For instance, if you prioritise collaboration, the exchange of ideas and the potential for divergent thinking, go more open plan. But equally, some will always find they do their best work in a quiet, distraction-free place. Hence the recent trend towards blended ‘third-space’ offices, which attempt to combine the best elements of open, quiet and collaborative zones. Again, flexibility is the panacea - aiming for a comfortable, adaptable space can improve employee happiness immensely.
Especially plant life.
To amp up the happy factor even more, you can add personal ‘lively’ touches to the office space like plants, quirky furniture and artwork. Biophilia currently seems to be something of a buzz word in the office sales arena. It refers to the hypothesis that “humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life”. Cue Instagrammable office spaces, with mountains of greenery and impossibly happy looking people breaking out in to rooms where they can frolic around laptops.
Happily though, you don’t have to completely blow your office expenses budget, research has found just one plant is enough to make all the difference. And not only do they create visual interest that breaks up the usual office monotony, you’ll also benefit from the plants acting as a natural air purifier (NASA recommends the Snake plant). For a primer on biophilic design - head here.
Granted, this is one of the harder office characteristics to change - especially if you’re locked in to your existing location by a long lease, geographic constraints or simply owning the office outright. Yet, if you’re looking to move, as we are, it’d be wise to consider your existing employee demographics, as well as the type of employee you wish to attract going forward.
The location of the office can greatly influence both employee happiness and the perception of the business itself. In our case, as we’re among the top 100 UK fastest-growing businesses, establishing ourselves in the heart of the London Fintech scene is a large driver of our location choice. It also helps that there are thousands of other businesses in the area, some of which may need help managing their company spending!
If your hands are tied, there are still aspects where you may be able to add location flexibility and improve the sense of wellbeing among staff. For instance, basing yourself in a co-working environment often gives you access to ‘sister’ locations of your main building. Offering some flexibility to those who want to work in a different location on occasion.
The easiest way to offer universal location flexibility is through remote working. Technology is advanced enough that this really isn’t even a big deal anymore. It’s possible to run entire businesses remotely these days. And very successfully too - witness Zapier ($50m+ ARR), Basecamp * (3m+ users) and Automattic ($1bn+ value). Handily, each of these offer tips and insights on the mindset change required to enable this, and break out of “the presence prison."
There’s no need to go fully decentralised straight away though - we acknowledge it would be a daunting step. However it is worth considering a remote working policy that offers an equal remote work ‘allowance’ for all.
You’ll likely find many employees choose not to exercise this freedom, but they don’t have to. Merely having a choice itself has been shown to change an individual’s state of mind. Knowing that they have chosen to turn up to the office creates a perception of autonomy and agency, and that “perception of control is not only desirable, but is also probably a psychological and biological necessity".
You’ll also be surprised to find that those who do work from home often work more hours and do better work too. Due to the trust employees will feel they’ve been given, increased concentration in their own quiet (distraction-free) environment, avoiding the stress and hassle of the commute and being better rested - as they don’t have to get up early to negotiate it. It could also save you the rent on desk space too!
* Incidentally, the founders of Basecamp have written some excellent books on the subject of remote working - including ReWork and Remote.
Thus, our fifth ‘L’ concerns working to encourage better relationships between your employees, this can be through the office layout itself, or offering the ability to socialise with each other and, ideally, laugh together.
Options include organising regular social events, dedicated team-bonding exercises, or a simple team lunch once or twice a month. Of course, you’d be wise to track your spending on these too, so you can measure that against participant feedback to understand which type of event is the most cost effective!
This social aspect is important. Studies have shown that who you work with is a powerful influence on whether you are happy in your job - more so than other factors such as benefits and salary. So make sure you do what you can to help friendships blossom.
If you work for yourself, consider spending time in a shared office or co-working space, where it’s easier to meet other people in similar situations. They often hold events too, which is a great way to meet people and learn new things at the same time. There’s a reason WeWork has become so popular!
We all know it. Diet and exercise are key to overall health and wellbeing. The benefits of which carry over to the workplace too. But why does the office itself have to be so antithetical to good practices in this? You’ll likely have heard the proclamations that sitting is “the new smoking” (more than 6hrs a day increases your risk of early death) and increasing evidence that sugar is essentially poison.
Why, then, do we so readily cultivate an environment that doesn’t just enable poor behaviours, but essentially actively promotes them as well? Think about it. Chairs everywhere, lunch is normally a seated affair, office snacks that are usually laden with sugar, pressure to show up when you’re feeling less than your best - it all adds up.
“Healthy habits improve you—your energy, your focus, your mood, and your performance…a box of glazed donuts might seem like a great idea to motivate people. But, when the sugar-rush dies, so will their energy.” - Tom Rath, author of Eat Move Sleep.
It pays to encourage better self-care. You don’t have to take it to the extreme and install gyms, exercise equipment, sleep pods or standing desks (although these are great, if you can afford them). There are less expensive methods that won’t ruin the budget. Try starting small - allocate some funds for healthy snacks, start an ‘office library’ for employees to educate themselves, offer a cycle-to-work scheme (or adequate bicycle facilities), partner with a nearby gym for reduced membership, hold a yoga class every week, or combine longevity with ‘laughter’ (above) and encourage employees to enter charity races or tough-mudder style competitions.
Not only will this improve employee morale, health and performance, but healthy people are sick less, and therefore, can work more.
Yes, ok. We’re stretching for L’s here. However, having made all this effort to improve the workplace environment the increase in quality and quantity of work should be very satisfying. However, nothing fosters a negative attitude faster than feeling undervalued and unappreciated. So you must be sure that your employees know that you appreciate their effort. However, this is not as easy as it first appears - doing it the wrong way can backfire if it seems insincere or a mere platitude.
Feedback and motivation is an entire can of worms in itself, one we don't have time for here. Instead, we encourage you to check out these 5 ways to give good feedback, and our own discussion of leadership & motivation.
Luckily, proper praise doesn’t have to be an expensive process involving endless company spending on impressive prizes - just acknowledging people and thanking them for their efforts can go a long way. Especially when it's done frequently, unexpectedly, and with variety. A simple ‘appreciation board’, near the break room perhaps, which details employee success, positive customer feedback, or company milestones.
So, there you are! The 7 L's of harnessing your office to improve everyone's happiness and therefore the business' productivity and quality of output as a whole! It may seem like a lot, but as we've remarked before - you can start small, identify what is most pressing, and go from there. Don't forget to record & track your spending too - it'll help you determine the efficacy and return on your efforts. If you need an effective platform to manage your spending, check us out! Managing expenses is kinda what we do best.
After making sure we're in a happy office, that is.