1 July 2018

beach meeting

A meeting on the beach is far more fun than a meeting within four plain walls!

Every year we wish for a beautiful summer in the UK. Dreaming of glorious sunshine and days on the beach. Ironically, this year, it seems we’re now wishing for air-conditioning or even a drop of our usual Manchester rain!

The past couple of weeks have seen some unbelievable temperatures, with not a cloud in the sky. So much so that it’s hotter here than it is in Verbier where we were planning to take a holiday. Now we’re moving our break to Wales!

At the weekend and on holiday, weather like this is blissful, but what about when you have to wear a suit, sitting on a packed tram for an hour each day, and carry on with your day-to-day life?

If I were in their shoes…

As a business owner, it’s important to think about the situations we create for our teammates and consider what would I want, if I were in their shoes?

When looking at life from this view point, it becomes much easier to realise that it’s possible to make a big difference to other people’s lives and that it makes sense to adopt this philosophy.

Unfortunately, we don’t get beautiful weather week in week out in Britain, and as a result, we don’t often design and build beautiful outside spaces like they do abroad. We simply don’t have stunning weather often enough to justify it.

That is one of the reasons why, when a heatwave happens, it’s important to think outside of the square box that is our office and, perhaps, build a beach. This year the beach has actually been a huge help. We’ve got a significant amount of building work in progress in both our buildings at the UKFast Campus, so by making a beach, we’ve got another large space for people to hold meetings or relax away from the construction work. We could have got portacabins but somehow they just don’t cut it.

Having this outside space means that meetings don’t have to be suffocatingly long within four walls, looking longingly out at the sunshine. The team can easily hold their meeting with their feet in the sand, discussing matters over a game of badminton or swing ball. It’s hugely creative, lots of fun and so much better for everyone’s overall wellbeing.

This week we had our entire board meeting with our directors outside.

A change of clothes, not a change of pace

It’s amazing how much difference changing the dress code has when the weather is either extremely warm or cold. We have a general rule at UKFast that if the temperature hits more than 20, we have Beach Week. The suits go back into the wardrobe and beachwear is the order of the day.

We have great fun with it too, this week the team decided to dress in Hawaiian shirts! As a business leader you can’t expect your team to perform at their best when they’re uncomfortable. The heat then becomes a massive distraction rather than a motivator.

Have you noticed that when the weather is nice, people seem to have more energy? Of course, maintaining that energy in the workplace is key to ensure we are looking after our customers and their needs but the fun shouldn’t stop because you have a job to do. We spend a third of our lives at work, a third asleep and a third at work. That’s too large a proportion of our time to be unhappy!

Interestingly, a small investment in the team like a meal out or a BBQ, or bending the dress code for a while pays off for the business in the long term. The happier people are, in general, the more productive they are. And happy people are more likely to stay with the business for the long term. Retaining great people and motivating your team to feel engaged has a significant and positive impact on the bottom line.

How do you make people feel?

Whilst I understand it’s not as simple for smaller businesses to bring in 200 tonnes of sand to build a beach in the car park – especially if you rent an office, the landlord might have something to say about that! However there are still many gestures you are able to make to bring some sunshine into the office. Ice lollies in the afternoon, screening the football with a few beers in the evening, a meeting in a park – you just need to be creative.

We didn’t always get it right. The UKFast of a decade ago is wildly different to the UKFast of today. We used to try to emulate huge successful blue-chip organisations and be like they were, even though we were tiny in comparison. Now I realise that this approach wasn’t us and we needed to come up with our own formula.

Finding your perfect formula is easier than you might realise. By simply listening to the people around us, past and present we learn invaluable lessons.

This approach has seen the UKFast culture accelerate and take on a life of its own. It’s built from within, by the team themselves.

People deserve and expect morehawaaiian shirt day at UKFast

The value and power of a team and the people within a business is often underestimated by the people at the ‘top of the tree’. I blogged this week about the IBM CEO not engaging with her team on site visits and banning them from interacting with her. This is incredibly sad and no doubt has a huge impact on the team around her.

It makes no sense whatsoever to elevate your status so that your team mates are unable to approach you at any point. This sort of organisation and structure is outdated and nowadays people deserve and expect more. Great team mates will not tolerate this type of nonsense and companies like IBM will lose top talent to businesses who have a much more relaxed and open approach.

Getting to know your team and building relationships is the easiest way to make people feel valued and for them to know that you genuinely care. And this is hugely important. We are nothing without the people who drive the business and work tirelessly and passionately for our clients. They need reassurance and regular thank yous. After all we are all on this journey together. A team of hundreds pointing in the same direction, driving toward the same goal, is far more powerful than one person at the top trying to corall everyone into their direction.

Small things make a big difference

When the people within your business are unhappy, or you see yourself as ‘above them’ – this is a huge problem. Yet it is often the simple, small things that make the most difference.

I love hanging out and having a joke with everyone in UKFast. I love listening to their feedback and I love saying thank you and well done when they make a difference. The difficulty now as the business grows is that it’s impossible to know all the great stories that are going on. There are simply so many. So my job these days is to ensure my directors, managers and teammates in general, all collaborate, share their opinions and give credit where credit is due.

The best way to ensure this happens is in our Monday Morning Meeting where the whole company gathers and we get to hear what is going on right across then business at every level and in real detail. Both this and the monthly team newsletter enable us to say thank you for the difference everyone makes.

Whilst it’s important to pay people well, ultimately people are not motivated by money; they are motivated by how they are made to feel. It’s a lesson that I wish I’d learned earlier in life. Now I have, it drives our decisions every day.

By giving people more than they asked for or expected, both customers and teammates alike, you are far more likely to build a better business.

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