We Are All in the People Business

The workplace just got a lot more interesting. That’s good, because we spend a lot of time there

There’s a saying that a company’s greatest assets leave the building every day in the elevator. And it’s widely accepted that you need to create a working environment where people feel valued for doing a good job if your business is going to thrive.

Some take things to extremes. Google famously aims to create the ‘happiest, most productive workplace in the world’. Flexible working hours, casual dress, play areas, free drinks and snacks are all part of its philosophy of creating a place of work that people won’t want to leave. Some even come in on their days off.

Apple arguably pioneered the idea of the ‘workplace village’. This spring its new 175-acre Apple Park will start to fill with 12,000 employees. The ring-shaped building in the heart of the Santa Clara valley will include an Apple Store and café open to the public, the Steve Jobs theatre, a 100,000 square foot fitness centre and secure R&D facilities. But its crowning glory is the surrounding landscape of parkland and trees, with an orchard, meadow, pond and two miles of paths to inspire Apple employees to new heights of creativity. Like Apple’s existing HQ at 1, Infinite Loop, the company calls Apple Park a campus, nailing its appeal to the kinds of people who’ll be working there.

Other businesses have jumped on the work and play bandwagon. London ad agency Wieden+Kennedy offers stressed creatives a padded cell to relax in (hopefully it comes with a key). Its green cushioned walls, built in TV, games consoles and cuddly toys encourage a less pressured approach to work. Ticketmaster offers its employees a joy ride on a massive steel slide from the top floor to the basement, where they’ll find pinball machines, pool tables and an in-house bar.

It can feel as if HR departments are vying with each other to win the award for the wackiest working environment. Nonetheless, it’s a welcome change from the corporate grey suits and grim partitioned office environments of recent memory. And if it’s hard to imagine a firm of corporate accountants descending the building on a slide or jumping around in a ball pool, maybe extra flexibility of working hours or the freedom to work from home would be a more successful inducement.

That’s the interesting thing about these new working environments; they offer businesses the scope to tailor an environment that appeals to your target employees. If your business targets young mums, then make your own working environment a parent-friendly one. If you sell outdoor gear, then take a leaf out of retailer REI’s book and give your people Thanksgiving Day off so they can (literally) go take a hike.

People used to measure their career progress by the size of their pay check; maybe we’re moving towards a world where a great career is one that lets you take a year out to cycle around the world. The bottom line is that the way companies treat their people is the way their people treat the consumer. Because whatever your brand ethos is, whatever its strapline or consumer promise, however brilliant its design, somewhere along the line a human being has to deliver it.