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Cool offices for hot labour

Michael_PageMichael Page, joint managing director of workplace consultant, Saracen Interiors, looks at the phenomenon of the ‘cool office’ and considers what it takes to fit into that category in a competitive labour market

There’s no doubt about it, the labour market is hotting up at the moment and there are certain sectors, and competing companies within the same, that are feeling the burn from the heat. With not much to differentiate some companies when it comes to salaries and packages, everyone is desperately looking for an edge and it’s the office itself and the facilities within it that can provide that jumping off point for those ready to make a change… 

A trend started by the likes of the big tech companies such as Google, whose perks include free haircuts, laundry facilities, food and gyms, the cool office (and its complementary perks) is fast becoming the norm. If you can’t be the best company, you can at least be the best to go into and be present at each day. These are the offices that look the part and act the part – state-of-the-art fixtures and fittings, high concept design, cutting edge technology, good coffee and a well-stocked bar (with a ‘help yourself’ policy, of course!).

At first these aspirational offices were mainly the preserve of the digital, design and media industries. Not any more. Many companies now, regardless of sector or expertise, are looking for more fluid, adaptable spaces which encourage effective, integrated working and new levels of employee collaboration and which will please and impress the staff.

The emphasis in commercial design has gradually changed over the years along with our perception of office space. It’s now all about flexible working and maintaining a healthy wellbeing as well as using the design to promote and reflect the brand and its values.

Attractive, harmonious workspaces and the add ons that keep staff happy play a big part in what is perceived as ‘employee wellbeing’. There are common buzz words and phrases that find their way onto the checklists on a lot of our jobs that are all about meeting this wellbeing expectation while also being bang on trend: Quiet areas, agile working, flexible working, integrated departments and let’s throw a snooker table and a few play stations in there too.

A great case in point, and one that managed to grab some headlines earlier in the year, is Manchester-based Rentalcars.com. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the company was upping sticks to a brand new city centre location and had over £2 million to spend on the fit out – an opportunity not to be missed. Its new address now boasts individual floors with unique themes, including road trip, world cars, drive-in movies and metropolis, an open air cinema, a park area, a beach, complete with beach huts, Starbucks bar, swings and a pool table, free breakfasts, hot fresh food and a salad bar.

You can see how an office like this might have an impact on recruitment. What potential new employee could resist? If you’re a young graduate who’s a bit hard-up, do you pick the company that pays for the odd jolly and lets you wear your jeans once a month or the company that feeds and entertains you every day? It’s a no-brainer. No surprises then if some companies are using their office fit outs and refurbishments as an opportunity to ‘out cool’ each other in a bid to attract the best staff…

Standard design used to be about bums on seats and how many you could fit in. Now, on the whole, it’s all about comfort and pleasing the team, with companies keeping one eye on how people interact in the office space and the other on how exactly to facilitate that.

It’s not just about attracting the best staff either. It’s about keeping them once they’re in. Google provides all meals for those who want them and, as a result, its young staff work longer hours and make the most of the free food.

Introducing free food and drink can be a pretty canny move. Not only does it encourage staff to put in the extra hours, arriving before breakfast and leaving later at the tail end of the day, it also builds staff morale by introducing an atmosphere of camaraderie. Members of staff who socialise with each other are far more likely to be loyal to each other and work well together than the individuals who don’t have much of a relationship outside the confines of their job descriptions.

These members of staff are also more likely to develop a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the brand. If workers are comfortable in each other’s company and happy to be around each other, they will enjoy their jobs a whole lot more and view the company more favorably by association.

If you can’t do the food, there’s always the drink. Some companies have free drinks on tap – including specialist coffees and other hot drinks – while many have regular Friday drinks in the office. These drinks and snacks send out an implicit message from employer to employee: We like you; we appreciate you; we trust you not to abuse our hospitality; we want you to like being here and to enjoy the perks of the job.

When it comes to alcohol at work, there are a few things to remember. It’s great to be seen as the place to be – an envy-inducing workplace where the employers know how to treat their staff, clients are keen to visit and everyone wants to hang out – but there are various bits of legislation surrounding office socials and drinking in the workplace that it’s worth being clued up on.

If a free bar’s a step too far then concentrate on the cuppa and make a good coffee machine an integral part of the facilities. A high quality, fresh brew is a relatively small gesture that can go a long way and sets the tone for both staff and visitors alike. Workers tend to focus better and raise their game with access to good rocket fuel and it’s recognised as a treat.

Ultimately, it’s the little perks that resonate most with a team and go a long way to fostering a spirit of loyalty and community. If the facilities provide a home-from-home then the staff are less likely to head off promptly and will be more happy to extend the working day and simply just hang out for a bit.

About Sarah OBeirne


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