Transformational Leadership

Morgan Lovell: Sound Surround

David Henderson asked:

Why are so many offices dull? We cringed when we watched The Office on television, yet most real life settings are no more inspiring. In an independent survey, conducted by Morgan Lovell, just one in ten office workers said they feel motivated by their workplace. Some even said they considered leaving a job because the office is so bad.

A lack of motivation at work can, of course, be caused by many factors; having a boss like David Brent, for instance. So does it really matter if the physical workplace isn’t inspiring?

What does matter is innovation. In his pre-election budget, Gordon Brown called for a stronger focus on creativity to improve the competitiveness of British enterprise. Creativity and innovation are firmly on the economic agenda as huge numbers of jobs in administration, manufacturing and call-centres (operations requiring formulaic intelligence and muscle power) are lost to places such as India and China. UK business focus is shifting toward people skills, emotional intelligence, imagination and creativity.

But what does this have to do with bland offices? Last year, a survey by Management Today found that over 85 per cent of managers saw office design as a key indicator of company culture. Transforming where you work transforms the way you work. And design isn’t just about attractive furniture. It’s about what that space does for the people that use it. A well-designed office can assist morale and creativity; workers who like the space they’re in are more productive, more likely to stay, and less prone to sickness absence.

Good design pays for itself in other ways too. A company’s office is an expression of its brand values and makes a major statement about what the company stands for.

In the face of such evidence, why do many UK offices still look dull? The principle reason is ignorance. According to Morgan Lovell’s research, the management teams of medium-to-large businesses in the UK rated ‘helping to increase employee creativity’ as their lowest priority when it came to planning a work environment. Over 70 per cent of UK companies have taken no advice on the link between productivity, morale and office design. It may not be the biggest factor in whether or not a business achieves a motivated, creative workforce, but it will be a factor. Not enough businesses acknowledge this.

Tom Peters, the management guru, asserts: “Leadership should be carried out in full technicolour. Yet most so-called leadership is grey and indistinct – conservative management leads to dullness which, in turn, leads to decline.” Still many prefer to play safe. Homogeneity rules: ”Just paint the walls white”, they say, knowing that white walls are unlikely to offend anyone (apart from the FM, who has to keep them white). Many directors talk about their vision for business yet struggle to envisage what a vibrant design proposal will actually look like in reality.

For an average UK business, 85 per cent of its overheads are people costs; 15 per cent relates to accommodation. Received wisdom is that companies spending the 15 per cent more wisely see a disproportionately large payback on the 85 per cent. Refurbishment is a big investment which can pay dividends. Cost – or rather perceived cost – can put firms off. Yet vibrant needn’t come with a higher price tag. Fear also plays its part in discouraging change; FMs dread the nightmare that is the self-managed refurbishment.

Every company has its own set of challenges but there are some generic guidelines. First – get the ‘hygiene’ factors right. Install comfortable furniture, clean loos, good quality light and air, heating and cooling, sufficient storage, reliable lifts etc. Second – encourage free-flowing communications, for example, by lowering partitions, creating break-out zones or relaxation areas: ideas often spark from an exchange of views with a colleague. Third – provide a tailored area where good ideas can be nurtured, developed and implemented. This tends to vary dependent on the culture of the organisation and the types of individuals within it. Some need to be removed from all distractions, others perform best in the midst of chaos.

Ask yourself a question: do I want to provide a workspace that my organisation is proud of? One that the board are surprised by and delighted with? One which colleagues are happy to work in and proud to show off to their friends? One that impresses prospective recruits and fills competitors with envy? FMs involved in relocation or a refurbishment have a golden chance to make it a wildly successful, value-adding, entrepreneurial, profitable activity. It’s a chance that more firms should be seizing, if we are to deliver workplaces fitting the UK’s future as a creative knowledge economy.


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