17 November 2013

I am keen to build an incredible workspace for my team and I have joked, I want to “out-Google, Google” on the design and build front. Everyone quotes Google when singling out businesses who invest in their staff and design creative workspaces, and rightly so as they have done an incredible job.

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The Lounge at UKFast with the same wood as Richard Branson’s Lodge in Verbier, Switzerland

Imagine though, if we created an even better space and it’s a goal of mine to do exactly that, and whilst we are not currently able to match the likes of Google with their deep pockets, we are pretty resourceful and I am confident we are already on our way to creating something extraordinary.

Creating the perfect space isn’t just down to looks. Its about how a space is used and the feelings it gives off when you hang out or work in it.

I  joked with Dan Cobley the managing director of Google UK who first showed me around, saying that the measure of a great office is dependent on how many people walk around in their socks, and on that count, UKFast already wins as we struggle to get people to put their shoes on! In real terms though back then, we were a million miles behind, so it was a great lesson to meet the team responsible for the Google feel.

You have to ask yourself “why?” before embarking on a journey, and for me it’s about demonstrating that if the whole world treated their staff better, the world would be a better place, because everyone would be happier.

I am not trying to beat Google to create something prettier or shinier, it’s deeper than that. I want to demonstrate that Google is right. If you give people an extraordinary work environment your entire workforce gets behind you and understands you care. This in turn helps in your quest to motivate your entire team.

It’s so important, arguably the difference between winning and losing. Yet when I explain that, “creating a great environment makes your team happier, more motivated and ultimately more profitable,” I am met with cynicism. When you use Google to counter your argument, saying, “Google does that!”

Everyone discounts them from the example because they are such an anomoly. Yet I believe Google is great because right from the outset they treated their teams differently. They invest in their biggest asset, their people.

Now compare the top growing businesses like Twitter, Facebook, Redbull and the others, they are all adopting a much more relaxed approach and it doesn’t stop at office design, its evident in their management style and fun that everyone is having in the workplace.

So if my plan works, everyone will one day benefit. I have already proven that a small business set up with 2 people in a tiny office can grow beyond a £100,000,000 and I am embarking on the next stop of £1bn which is just as achievable, just through sheer momentum, by being nice.  (Thanks Chris)

But be warned, the office environment is just one part in the commitment required to grow something of real value. You have to genuinely want to succeed for the right reasons before the luck starts to kick in.

Sadly the government doesn’t support my theory yet and there are no clear tax breaks to invest in your staff outside of formal training. But your team’s wellbeing is equally as important as the training you provide. Hopefully when we have proven this is the number one factor to fix and grow the economy, this might be equally reflected in tax breaks.

For example a simple table tennis table might only cost £200, but to have it taking up a space in rent and rates amounts to in excess of a £5000 commitment. Add this to the pool tables, lounges, canteens etc, and you quickly realise that you are not getting the support to create the necessary environment to succeed.

The answer is, you have to go it alone for the time being.  One day, every business will have libraries, kitchens, gyms, crèches etc. Until then, those of us who have experienced the feel good factor of similar investments will never deviate from the strategy as its blindingly obvious once you start, just how important it is.

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The Creche @ UKFast being opened by Jo Swinson MP Equalities Minister

So if you work for yourself or someone else start the discussion off. Start asking questions, “what would motivate the team here, what could we do to make everyone feel better right away?” in a small business all you might need is a table tennis table and it will lift the energy when you really need it.

I asked the question at UKFast and as a result, we now have a crèche, which we opened last week, or rather Jo Swinson (Equalities Minister) kindly cut the ribbon and we are starting on the dog kennels shortly! Yes DOG KENNELS. And don’t worry if you are in the building next door they are being soundproofed and we will be piping chilled music to soothe them through the day.

If you give people what they want, why would they ever leave? I will let you know in 20 years if my theory works.

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