Since the financial crisis, productivity has continued to fall and, while it has begun to nudge upwards, the UK is some distance from meeting pre-recession levels. There is no silver bullet, but we believe that workplace design plays an important role. What is the impact on productivity when driven, motivated individuals have a working environment that meets their physical, practical and emotional needs? How do team dynamics change in a space designed to allow people to thrive?
We found the answers to these questions when we moved into our new headquarters, after appointing workplace experts to assist us with the design and development. We were keen to make the most of the opportunity to mould our new space to the desires and needs of our team – both social and task-related. Our goals were to improve staff engagement by putting health and wellbeing at the heart of our new workspace, and to attract and retain talent and boost productivity.
The entire headquarters was designed in collaboration with staff: what they did and didn’t want, what would make their lives easier, tasks more straightforward, processes more efficient and downtime more enjoyable. Every square foot was designed with their specifications in mind. It was clear straight away that our on-site gym would be an important asset – it’s now used regularly by more than 200 staff. It also offers classes and facilities based on what employees told us they want. The gym creates a culture of team bonding around group exercise and activities; for example, more than 130 people have signed up for the Manchester Tough Mudder.
Early collaboration within working groups was positive in bringing separate teams together prior to the move – cross-department and intra-team communication was core to our vision for the new building. We chose to position teams closer to those they work with most often, while facilitating an easy ‘flow’ of people between different floors. Fluid design allows easy transition between different areas within the building, which is further facilitated by tech and wireless devices.
Employees have told us they feel much more connected with colleagues working elsewhere in the building and that intra-team communication has greatly improved. New social spaces have also been a catalyst for encouraging a one-team ethos – informal areas allow people to hold meetings and enjoy breaks away from their desks. This includes a seventh-floor dining area, a lounge, amphitheatre, and roof terrace that transforms into a free bar once a month. There is also a variety of work settings, allowing every individual to choose their surroundings according to their activities for that day.
There’s no doubt that our new workspace has resulted in a happier team that is engaged, motivated and eager to progress, and our efficiency and productivity have soared.
Alongside the testimony of our employees and the impact on financials, our HQ was officially rated a high-performance workspace by workplace effectiveness assessor Leesman. This puts it among the top five in the world and third in the UK for effectiveness.
The key is to create a working environment that allows people to achieve more – both personally and professionally. Provide employees with what they need and the business and its stakeholders will reap the rewards.
Andy Bell is chief executive at AJ Bell