Creating an office culture is kind of like setting a room's temperature. You want it to be chill, but not too chill. Above all, you want people to feel relaxed, comfortable and that the conditions are optimal for productivity.
It's not easy to find that kind of balance. Every decision you make – whether it's making sure people are in by 9 AM to the number of free snacks available – reinforces or undermines a vision of how an office should operate.
I'm proud of the office environment at GlassView, an ad-tech company I founded in 2014. It reflects my own ethos and approach to work. I didn't begin with a grand plan to effect this change. Rather, it was the result of trial and error. In the interest of passing on what I've learned, here are four tips for creating an effective office environment:
1. Judge people on their work, not their hours. Many offices value time in the office over results. This environment prompts people to stay late because they don't want to be the first one to leave. The pressure also impels workers to show up early. More hours doesn't equal more work though. Parkinson's Law dictates that work expands to fill the time to complete it. We all know how this works. If something is due in two weeks, we spend 13 days denying the deadline's existence and one day actually doing the work. Some people will take six hours to a job that will take another one hour. Why penalize the latter person?
2. Encourage vacation – really. GlassView has an unlimited vacation policy. I know, you've heard it before. Some believe unlimited vacation is a sneaky way for employers to get workers to take less vacation time. That's because employees don't know what's acceptable. Is it cool to take a month off, for instance? Again, my attitude is, sure, as long as they make sure the work gets done. That means handing it off to someone else while they're away and making sure they don't leave any loose ends. Almost everyone does this. People who are responsible about their jobs are responsible about taking vacation too. The hard part is getting them to take vacation. I set the tone by taking a few weeks a year myself and making it clear that I won't be fielding emails during that time. When people see the boss do that, they feel like they can do the same thing.
3. Make wellness a value. We set times for meditation and yoga. We also make it clear that people aren't obliged to attend. By offering such activities, GlassView underscores its commitment to wellness. Others have done the same, whether they create napping rooms or offer courses in managing stress. Such efforts help workers ward off mental, emotional and physical burnout.
4. Plan fun corporate events. It may seem like a waste of resources to take a day off to go Jet-skiing in the Hudson River, as GlassView did recently. However, when you consider that it can take six- to nine months' salary to replace an employee, then such programs look more like investments. Such activities help form deep bonds among workers and foster communications. Overall, they help create a happier and more upbeat work environment.
The common thread is that employers need to treat workers like people. Many offices make it seem like they exist merely to extract work and knowledge. Employees then logically assume that the company doesn't really care about them, which encourages them to cut corners and look for another job.
But this isn't about utility. We spend so much of our time at work – time away from family and loved ones. Why not make that time as happy, healthy and balanced as possible?