Workplaces often don’t work

Last week I read that the glamorous Apple head office (Apple Park in Cupertino, California) has an unusual Health & Safety issue. The futuristic circular space – designed to encourage openness and collaboration – is largely made of glass.  But employees keep walking into walls, closed doors. So much so, that they have had to find an analogue solution by sticking Post-it notes to high impact areas!

In fairness, Apple Park’s facilities more than compensate for the occasional bent nose. With a wellness centre, seven cafés, and acres of landscaped parkland filled with jogging and cycle trails. I’ll bet many of you wish you worked in such an environment.

However, California isn’t Africa, and some ideas don’t always work across cultures. Take the idea of open plan offices, for example. In our region, I can tell you that they aren’t as popular as some bosses think. And that is because open plan only works if employees feel safe and confident at work.

If the culture is hostile; if the management style is threatening; if the leadership team are bullies; then open plan is counterproductive. Employees feel exposed and become acutely sensitive to potential threats, both real and imaginary. That’s why people walk away to make difficult or sensitive calls. Why they seek out unused meeting rooms to get some quiet work done. Does that happen in your workplace?If it does, you’re not alone. The research company Gallup recently surveyed employees in 142 countries and discovered that actively disengaged workers continue to outnumber engaged employees by 2:1. Further studies by Ipsos for have shown that place matters: The physical work environment has a strong impact on employee wellbeing and engagement. Responses from 10,500 workers in 14 countries come as a wake-up call for any leader who thinks workplace design is all about making themselves feel good.

Highly disengaged employees say their work environment does not allow them to do the following important things:

  • Concentrate easily
  • Easily and freely express and share my ideas
  • Feel relaxed and calm
  • Physically move during the say, and change posture
  • Feel a sense of belonging to my company and its culture
  • Work in teams without being interrupted or disrupted
  • Choose where to work in the office, depending on my task
  • Socialise and have informal, relaxed conversations with colleagues

We all have a special place where we feel our best – a favourite room in house, a popular restaurant. Other spaces make us feel something specific; a stadium where we feel part of the team, a church where we feel at our most spiritual. But what does your workplace make you feel?


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

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