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Places People Prefer

The Office


Changing for the better

Changes to office culture can be difficult to bring about, but the potential benefits to staff wellbeing make it worth the effort

Office culture and wellbeing at work are closely linked, and an article in a report published by Creative Review (and sponsored by British Land), focuses on this link. The report quotes research by business management consultancy Great Place to Work (GPTW) showing that both culture and wellbeing are both key to attracting and retaining talent. It found that the top four drivers of wellbeing in UK organisations are:

  • Values-aligned and ethical behaviour
  • Teamwork
  • Work environment and processes
  • Recognition

GPTW has also identified the UK’s 100 ‘Best Workplaces’, which are characterised by employees who feel:

  • that there is a higher level of trust between them and their employers
  • that they are able to take time off when necessary
  • that the workplace is a psychologically and emotionally healthy place to be

The sound of music

So what can organisations do on a practical level to change their culture and improve wellbeing? In their new office space at Paddington Central, tech firm Microsoft Lift has taken an innovative approach to this issue in which music plays a central role.

If you are in a quiet space, it’s normal for the majority of people to respect the social norms of talking quietly and not bothering others around you,” says Studio Head Lee Schuneman. “If you are in a noisier space, you will adjust to that environment and talk accordingly. We discovered that adding low music encouraged people to speak more normally and engage with each other in a more natural way.”

Another change Lift has made has encouraged interaction and collaboration – the lifeblood of any creative organisation.

“Many offices though are designed with process in mind rather than a focus on pure interaction,” says Schuneman. “For example, meeting rooms can be booked via an online tool; you show up that time and don’t interact with whoever was in there before you.

“We opted instead to have fewer meeting rooms, but more large tables within our open environment so that meetings can be more ad hoc. But if you do need a meeting room, you have to go and knock on the door, talk to whoever is in there and ask when you can use the room. Just the simple act of interacting with someone like that helps achieve a more social space.”

Working guidelines

Another London-based creative business, advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, has also changed its corporate culture.

Managing Director Helen Andrews explains the background. “Last year, we gave some thought to the way we were working and how some of the norms of the industry – late nights and long hours – coupled with always-on technology and days filled with meetings might not necessarily always be helping us get to great work,” she says.

So she introduced some guidelines: no email between 7pm and 8am, at weekends and during holidays; a 40-hour week was to be encouraged, with 4.30pm finishes on Fridays; internal meetings to be held between 10am and 4pm to help facilitate flexible working; and a formal days-off-in-lieu policy was established.

“The guidelines weren’t about working less, they were about protecting our ability to work better, and to give ourselves more time to think,” Andrews explains.

A year on, a survey of employees has revealed that 91% of respondents felt they had a better work/life balance since the new working guidelines were implemented, while 84% said that they had worked less overtime. “This led to people feeling they had an opportunity to think more deeply, manage their own time better and work during the times that suited them best,” Andrews adds.

Healthier and happier

Making fundamental changes to working practices like this isn’t straightforward, and Andrews admits that some of the changes have been easier to adopt than others. Adhering to the email guidelines has proved successful, while adapting to the restricted meeting times has been the most challenging.

But Mike Wiseman, Head of Office Leasing at British Land, says it’s worth making the effort. “We believe in creating workplaces that enable staff to perform at their best, and there’s a growing body of research that shows that wellbeing is a major factor in making that possible.

“What’s more, companies are increasingly recognising that the workspace is a significant factor in attracting and retaining talent; a survey that we carried out last year found that workers are increasingly prepared to move jobs to find their ideal working environment. So any cultural changes that will render that environment a healthier and happier place to be should yield benefits in terms of increased job satisfaction and productivity.”

To download the Creative Review report, Working well: Wellbeing in the creative workplace, click here



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