You’ve seen the picture from startups in Silicon Valley. You’ve heard the tales of employees from companies where everyone is actually friends. You look around your new office, which has only been made possible by the great employees who have helped you build your company, and you’re wondering: how can I make our company like that?
Creating a great office and culture has a lot in common with throwing a great party, but over a much longer timeline. You want everyone to feel comfortable around each other, but also create opportunities for smaller groups that share more in common to form. It should be fun, but not overwhelming, and definitely not forced.
Most importantly, you want everyone to want to be there, and feel invested and included in the group as a whole.
Everyone should have a great office environment, so in an effort to help more businesses achieve this ultimate asset, I’ve compiled a guide for steps to take that will bring people together, without distracting those who are focused on work. Follow one, follow some, or follow all of these suggestions - anything will be appreciated by your staff:
Base Design on Behavior
The first step you should take is to take notice of your employees’ actions and habits. Is there a way their movement could be streamlined? Maybe the printer shouldn’t be in the supply closet (or maybe it should, if no one ever uses it)?
Empty spaces can be key findings - for example, is there a space that gets very little foot traffic, but could fit a couch or even two comfy chairs? By adding a mingling area, you’ll encourage those who are collaborating to gather there, instead of standing awkwardly over desks.
A great example of why you should look at behaviors before making decisions: the flop of the open-office trend. The concept works for some teams - if you currently have an individual office layout, but you notice team members frequently going in and out of each other's’ spaces, it’s likely a worthy option. However, if most stay at their desk and work solo much of the day, don’t bother.
Zone Your Office
Create spaces where different behavior makes sense. For example, setting up an area that’s obviously meant for relaxation - maybe with a drink fridge (stock of beer optional), foozeball table, and a few comfortable couches. This area should be far enough away from offices or desks that talking won’t disrupt those who are focusing.
Another hit among businesses has been “cigar lounge” type rooms, which are especially easy to set up if you have an extra room. These serve as great spaces for collaboration, away from the noise and disruption of those taking a break or decompressing, but without the worry of disrupting others with conversation. Consider offset lighting for this room, a speaker with sound system for background music (great for team projects), more comfortable seating, and a sturdy table. Additions beyond, such as artwork and further decor, will most certainly be appreciated but are not required.
An important factor to remember when setting up zones is to preserve the ability to concentrate for those who want it. However, by simply moving those who need or want to talk or play away from desks, there will be less distractions for those working.
Add Greenery and Pleasant Lighting
It’s a fact: nobody like fluorescents. If you’re lucky enough to have an office with big windows, make sure they aren’t obstructed. If you have regular sized - or no - windows, you can still make your office feel brighter and more open with plants and sunlight bulbs and lamps.
Add plants - though be careful of allergies. Even photos of nature help lower stress levels, though the real thing is obviously better.
All of these tips work best when combined with prompts to interact, such as regular happy hours, occasional day trips and lunches, and in-office clubs. Does this all seem like a lot of time wasted not working? It’s actually not, as it’s been proven again and again that employees who have work friends not only stay longer, but are more efficient.
Did these tips help? What do you do to make your office more inviting, and encourage your employees to work together?