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How to create an inspiring office environment

16th Mar 2017
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When we first opened our doors in 2008, our two-man band had fewer prospects than a vegan deli in Texas. It’s since grown into a £2m business with offices in London and Cape Town and an impressive list of international clients.

Building a successful business during a recession takes grit and determination and while I take great pleasure in thumbing my nose at the sceptics now, I’m not going to lie. Those early days were tough.

Between finding new clients, out-working the competition, being consistently creative and making sure the bills got paid, it’s little wonder sleep became something other people indulged in.

Time passed and after a while we found our rhythm. Our client base grew, bills were being paid and sleep found its way back into our schedules. But now we had a new challenge to navigate.

Along with our client base, our staff complement had also grown significantly. Suddenly we had an office full of humans, each with their own talents, foibles and personalities. We were working well as a team, putting out consistently remarkable work, but…

You can’t throw together a group of diverse characters without proactive input from management. That just has anarchy written all over it. Recognising that we were in that sought-after place where everything was running like clockwork, we began implementing a plan to ensure it would always be like that.

Office environment

If you live by the beige and drab school of decorating, your employees will be beige and drab too. They’ll also use every excuse in the book to avoid coming to work and honestly, who can blame them?

Recognising that an inspired team needs an inspired work environment, we set about creating a fun office space that would do just that. We focused on colours that are known to have a positive impact on mood and productivity. We bought ergonomically correct desks and chairs and gave staff the option of sitting on a Pilates ball if they preferred.

The kitchen is fully kitted out with all the necessary basics, so the team has everything they need to enjoy lunch at the office. We also bought a Ping-Pong table (which doubles as our boardroom table) and an X-Box, both of which fuel creativity and team spirit.

Being London-based, winters tend to be miserable. We created a chill area so there’s no need to feel like you have to go outside to escape from the office for a while. For us, having a space that felt friendly and inviting was key and if our low staff turnover is anything to go by, we’ve definitely achieved our aim.

Company culture

Creating a team of talented, creative people is one thing, getting them to play nicely is a whole other endeavour. Especially in our case, as we tend to hire slightly quirky personalities.

We needed to come up with a plan to ensure everyone would work well together. We achieved this by putting a solid on-boarding strategy in place, one that extends beyond the obvious (working hours, time sheets, file naming conventions, etc.).

Whenever a new person joins the company we make a point of explaining how we function as a team. We highlight that being considerate and thoughtful aren’t just nice to have qualities, but part and parcel of who we are.

Thanking our staff for their hard work is also really important to us. We’ve found people are happier and more inclined to go the extra mile when they know their efforts aren’t going unnoticed. Every Friday we celebrate the week’s achievements in a round-up email. Yes, it takes time to put together, but the team looks forward to it, so for us that makes the time spent worthwhile.

Feedback and recognition

Without feedback, you have no way of fixing what’s wrong. Likewise, if someone is doing well they need to be recognised for their efforts. We implemented a quarterly appraisal process that includes anonymous feedback from fellow team members and a one-on-one with management.

The team also has the opportunity to outline their personal development goals within the company and talk through them during their appraisal. By offering our staff the chance to grow in their role and in the company, we’ve found people are more inclined to take on responsibilities that fall outside of their role to see if it might be a good fit for them.

Hiring well

It’s a lot easier to hire the right person than it is to fire the wrong one. We’ve instituted a careful vetting process, which includes cracking the nod from Devon, our office dog (more on her in a bit), to ensure we always employ people who will be a good fit for our team.

That’s not to say we’ve created a Stepford-esque environment, where everyone is agreeable and nobody colours outside the lines. We haven’t. What we have done, however, is put together a team of diverse personalities with a common goal of creating consistently remarkable work in a way that benefits themselves, the team and the company.

Systems and processes

Creative genius is a wonderful thing to behold, except when it comes to admin, then it’s pretty much a waking nightmare. The simplest way around this is to have solid systems and processes in place and then to ensure they’re ingrained in staff members from day one.

Whenever we have a new person join the team they go through an intense induction into all things TopLine for the first two weeks of their employment. Part of this entails learning our systems and processes. From file naming conventions and applying for leave to running an internal brainstorm and dealing with clients, we have a system in place for everything.

Interestingly, you might think that creatives would balk at the idea of such a prescriptive environment, but that hasn’t been our experience. The reason for this is that it’s presented as the norm with no other alternative. When people know what’s expected of them and understand the consequences of not adhering to the guidelines, they’re more than happy to play along.

Flexibility

The days of 9-5 at the office are long gone. If you have a laptop and access to Wi-Fi, you can pretty much work from anywhere you like. We created our offices to encourage teamwork and a sense of comradery, but we also recognise that people sometimes need a change of scenery to do their best work.

We offer our staff the opportunity to work flexible hours and to work from home a couple of days a week if they choose. We have parameters in place to ensure the work still gets done, but overall being flexible has proven to have a positive effect on our team.

Office dog

We didn’t intend to get an office dog, but when I got Devon I got into the habit of bringing her with to work because I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her home alone. It didn’t take long for this 12-week old Black Labrador to win the team over.

Devon turned five recently and we couldn’t imagine the office without her. She’s part of the team, but more than that, she’s done (and continues to do) wonders for company morale. If you’re having a bad day, she makes it instantly better, and if you’re in a good mood, she’ll turn it into a great one. Having her around has also resulted in us hiring a team of dog lovers (who are known to be excellent humans).

Our pet friendly policy doesn’t stop with Devon though, if staff want to bring their own dog with to the office, that’s absolutely fine. With the obvious proviso that if they make a nuisance of themselves they get sent home. (The same applies to the humans, so it’s not seen as discrimination.)

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