How Your Organization Can Evolve Into An Over-The-Top Workplace Of The Future

By Baron Hanson
February 1, 2011

Welcome to the modern world of over-the-top workplaces designed to save employees time, money and life-aches.

For advanced companies and executives in specialized human resource or innovation-driven industries, over-the-top workplaces designed to alleviate employee work-life pains have entered more CEO and CFO radar screens.

The brightest companies have been paying close attention to employee wellness for years, to embrace new capacity and greater productivity. Management discussions are placing more emphasis on benefiting their company quotidian and HR brand, while fiercely protecting their bottom line. Make no mistake; top employees either wake up eager to engage a workplace they love, or are seeking to exit a workplace they hate.

Enter Google. While their corporate digs have been referred to as a Gen Y playground for recent college grads, Google employees enjoy free cafeterias, on-site medical care, complimentary laundry and dry cleaning, free transportation, unbelievable fitness facilities, delicious cafes, stimulating game rooms and amazing conference areas. One relaxation loft has vibrating recliners facing live fish aquariums, among other stress-alleviating gadgetry.

If their computer malfunctions employees can simply slide down to the next floor. A hybrid café computer center staffs geek squads and baristas to fix laptops and lattes. I’m not kidding: an actual playground slide connects one floor to another. Is Google productive? Check out their stock price. Absenteeism? Highly unlikely. Interesting commercial real estate trend? You betcha.

Also architected via the likes of Microsoft, Pixar, RedBull-London, Bain & Co. and Volkswagen, stunningly innovative work areas and factory floors now offer tangible evidence for how and why custom workplace makeovers improve production.

The term “custom” aptly applies to account for differentiators such as climate, transportation and incentive norms. Large, northern city employers, for example, benefit from public transportation considerably yet suffer cold weather challenges. Smaller, southern coast employers depends on individual commuters yet suffer perfect beach weather “absenteeism.” Each workforce may have a different compensation and incentive model so individual workplace analysis is required prior to renovation.

At top MBA campuses students, faculty, and visitors are also proactively satiated. Meals, errands and toil are architecturally solved in advance. At Harvard Business School, chef-laden cafeterias, full-service print shops, a travel agency, a post office, laundry services and state-of-the-art fitness facilities save students oceans of time to help them focus on schoolwork and job searches. Unlike Google, MBA candidates pay handsomely for modern conveniences.

One does not need to be in Boston, London or Silicon Valley to consider modern workplace renewal. Data and evidence from state-of-the-art office, manufacturing plant and graduate school campuses offer legitimate lenses for employer consideration anywhere –– especially in rural and industrial regions in serious need of attracting top talent.

There are three general problems facing all people cooped up inside outdated, poorly designed and dreary workplaces:

1) Little time to access healthy food throughout the long workday.
This is the number one benefit reported into research. Impressively, 48% of companies surveyed have cafeterias. What about the other 52%, and those not yet surveyed?

2) Hardly any time to detach physically for indoor/outdoor exercise during the workday.
Yes, 1,000’s of companies have engaged the fitness challenge, either via gym facility installation or local membership subsidy. Architecturally, more companies could do better designing fitness into their workplace, such as indoor running tracks, rooftop martial arts and yoga, parking lot basketball –– you get the idea.

3) Zero time remaining to deal with life-aches.
The best salespeople may collect the most parking tickets. The hardest working engineers may fail to notice their taillight has burned out. The best and brightest employees are in unhelpful physical shape because they work flat out to the point of exhaustion and exacerbation. Marriages suffer. Dry-cleaning and laundry, automotive repairs and permits, doctor visits and prescriptions –– the list of life-aches cutting into employee work and mental space today extends to the moon and back.

Productivity and preventing burnout are now becoming a matter of physics. Employees no longer have spare time. What few moments remain beyond professional and family obligations not swallowed by the Internet presents a Blue Ocean opportunity for companies to internally save their workforce more time by bringing freelance solutions in-house.

With so much energy industry discussion focusing mainly on scarce oil and gas prices, mined fuel resources, and electric power grid supply, here’s an alternative energy source to consider: consistently well-fed people.

According to Charleston, SC personal trainer and nutritionist John Pierson, skipping meals –– mainly breakfast, lunch or both –– is perhaps the most reoccurring problem plaguing the health and mindset of office and factory workers. “Not only should people be training at least once or twice per day for 30-40 minutes, they should be eating six (6) small meals per day that consist of protein and vegetables, including consuming one gallon of water per day, to keep their metabolism running strong.”

Workplaces that proactively solve daily meal, fitness, grooming and life-emergency issues for their workforce will help transform tired, depressed and overstressed employees into fully energized, no excuse rock stars once again.

Actual employer ROI

How can such conjecture be financially justified?

Employee-focused workplace renovations are not free. The funds for healthy catering, fitness and errand-killing innovations do not fall from the heavens. Value engineering is required. It is safe to hypothesize that economic turnarounds over the next 5-10-15 years will correlate with how well organizations architecturally provide proactive sustenance, over-the-top wellness and time-saving convenience to their employees –– as if they too were the organization’s best customers.

Barbi Reuter, principal of PICOR Commercial Real Estate in Tucson, Ariz., suggests: “Debates over [workplace] ROI may continue, but strong arguments can be made for the value of both design and use of space that contributes to productivity. Balancing short-term versus long-term dollars is challenging for occupiers at both ends of the spectrum (public firms accountable to quarterly results vs. entrepreneurial start-ups). In larger organizations, those making corporate location and space planning decisions need to collaborate closely with those measuring employee satisfaction and productivity. Pay now or pay later?” Reuter argues.

Accountability and metrics should ideally focus on:

A) Dollarized maximization of current and future fully compensated employee time and expectations, and
B) The drastic reduction of costly employee excuses, mainly pertaining to absenteeism, and
C) Prudent commercial real estate finance and investment analysis

Taking accountability a few steps further, the HR-upside for over-the-top workplace design and state-of-the-art catering is increased company-wide expectations: Better education and grades, greater individual job responsibility, more sales results, better operations quality and profitable financial reports. Pending feasibility, such perks as physical trainers, chefs, barbers, massage therapists, wardrobe cleaning and repair (etc.) could be arranged in-house based on a survey of employees’ most pressing needs.

The strongest companies going forward will require nothing short of miracle workers willing, able and capable of top performance under any circumstances 110% of the time –– with zero excuses. If these valedictorian-like expectations seem akin what Vince Lombardi demanded of his players, West Point demands from their cadets, and the Secret Service demands of its agents, that’s because they are. Laziness is excused from the bus in a nanosecond.

President Barack Obama stated our unified economic mission well: “We must win the future.” Why? Astute design, manufacturing and assembly work is coming back to North America and Europe thanks to an unreliable, untrustworthy China. Their lawlessness, poor ethics and sketchy manufacturing quality present reverberating opportunities here.

The problem is, doubled workloads and tripled job expectations will be forced back upon executive teams, manufacturing crews, suppliers and extended council. This physics of this nationwide (global) HR situation are also clear: Intense, high-pressure work for long hours will require on-site workforce satiation and life-ache support.

Here are three critical steps to set in motion as soon as possible:

1) Form a workplace architecture, innovation and daily menu committee. This team is responsible for conducting structural safety homework, employee survey inquiries and feasibility studies to determine what advanced renovations should be securely and logistically implemented according to your HR policies and the law.

2) Plan a budget and renovation timeline that is tied to a mixture of operational performance metrics: Perfect attendance, more sales, improved customer service and bottom line gains. At the end of the day GAAP and employee accountability still rule.

3) Eliminate any barriers or resistance to serving food all day long at work. Healthy, organic and local culinary entrepreneurialism abounds, even in the middle of nowhere USA. From micro-catering companies to mobile farm-to-table chefs, proactively serving über-healthy breakfast and lunch spreads is perhaps the most time-, toil- and health-saving step that over-challenged workplaces can implement.

At Google, free and healthy meals are their number one perk. At Microsoft, Facebook and hundreds of other progressive companies, brilliant management philosophies have proactively redesigned and reinvested in the most empowering workforce workplaces in history. Their company valuations are also ebbing and flowing through the roof.

In the final analysis, most workplaces are not architected to provide the levels of human nourishment, fitness and life-assistance required to exponentiate our economy again. Since dreary, drab, depressing and reactive are the enemies of workplace innovation –– with healthy, vibrant, state-of-the-art and proactivity as proven solutions –– what steps can your company afford to take in order to feed, exercise and assist its most productive workplace going forward?

Baron Hanson is the principal and lead consultant of RedBaron Consulting, based in Charleston, S.C. Follow the firm on Twitter at @redbaronUSA. This piece is a SmartBrief exclusive.

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