5 tips for creating a great office environment & why that matters

5 tips for creating a great office environment & why that matters

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Summary

Why do myths persist and what are the existing freelancing myths.

Speak to any startup founder and they will tell you that there is a point where the success of the business is no longer about you, rather it’s about the performance of your team. I can recall exactly when that dawned on me. It was December last year when I was out for Christmas lunch with Nick (my co-founder).

I always sort of acknowledged that the business wouldn’t flourish if we tried to be all over everything – I could talk the talk. But I’d never really committed to walking the walk. So this year I’ve spent a lot less time operating the business and much more time trying to create an environment in which our growing team can thrive. What we’ve done basically splits into the soft stuff (living the values, restructuring how we review people & pay bonuses, changing the expectations around meetings etc) and the hard stuff. More on the soft stuff in a post to follow. Here are my top tips for any CXO on the hard stuff.

A budget FOR constant fun.

Teams perform better (in my opinion at least) when they work as friends and when work isn’t all about work. That way, everyone can be authentic. So we have a monthly fun budget (it’s about £50 per head) and a monthly ‘fun manager’ (this rotates) who spends that budget how they choose (roughly it covers snacks, a team lunch & a team event) and organises the fun. Yesterday we went for lunch at Vauxhall street food market & all sat outside in the sunshine filling our boots. It was great.

Spend time out of the office. 

Point 1 helps this a lot. Beyond the constant fun, we also go away as a team twice a year. We do an away week in the summer and 3 nights away in the winter (we are off to Seville in November). BAU work is kept to an absolute minimum. It’s all about getting to know one another, building team spirit and thinking about problems / opportunities more creatively (to that end, I’d also recommend getting your team away from the office for problem-solving sessions as everyone thinks better – we commonly use inspiring public spaces like The Sky Garden and the turbine hall at Tate Modern).

Have non-desk zones in your office space. 

We moved to a bigger office in the spring and 50%+ is devoid of desks. I’m really glad that we didn’t opt for a smaller (and cheaper) space as the return on investment is clear. There’s a sofa zone (which can accommodate the whole team at the same time, just about), a kitchen area (with 2 fridges, freezer, nespresso, microwave) and a dining table. We also have a terrace immediately outside with some outdoor furniture. I think all of this helps everyone to feel at home and spend time away from their desk – which always helps with productivity.

Use your walls. 

When I was at McKinsey, one of the projects I did was around effective working & building great teams. We did a lot of research and it was amazing how performance is enabled by collaboration & visibility. And how both are supported by getting stuff on the wall (checklists, problems being solved, milestones etc).  In today’s world of digital everything, it’s easy to get stuck in online tools, email or slack and forget the power of actually speaking to each other and using a post-it note! So on our walls, we have acres of lurid pink acrylic boards for all of this. Plus a zone with everyone’s personal development goals for the quarter (these are opposite the coffee machine so everyone is fully aware of how they can help one another to develop). We also have pretty framed prints of our MMO artwork, our team values, and our mission too.

Build massive desks. 

It’s much easier to buy a load of individual desks than creating massive ones. There are thousands of online office suppliers flogging solo desks – small and big. We didn’t find one that custom made enormous desks. I’m sure there are plenty of custom fit office suppliers who will create these for you. But, being on a budget, we just did it ourselves and enjoyed it too! We ordered 2.4m x 1.2m pieces of Ash (timber) and a load of stainless steel legs. And then we had a fun team session putting them together (plenty of power tools involved). The result are desks that 8 people can sit around and all face each other. As a result of this, the office is chatty, relaxed and there’s lots of natural collaboration.

I know that none of the above is new or groundbreaking (Google has done it all and much much more). But when you are growing a business, it’s easy to deprioritise budget away from these (they all feel like a luxury) and towards marketing, product or sales. So I hope this is helpful to Founders in a growth stage and maybe even some corporates who could improve the vibe of their space and with it, the effectiveness of their colleagues.

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