The truth about what makes a perfect workplace

Ping pong table? Bean-bag chairs? Ultra-clean cubicles? A podcast reveals some revealing research and a device maker suggests the essential IT ingredient

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What makes a perfect workplace?

The answer keeps changing. At one point it was having your own separate walls and door, keys to the executive washroom (whatever that is) and a primo parking spot with your name on it. Silicon Valley tech startups added beer fridges, bunk beds (for all-night coding marathons) and ping-pong tables. Now some organizations are providing flex spaces with work stations open to anyone instead of assigned to specific people.

With so many people today working from home or the road, is it still worth asking what makes a perfect workplace? Psychologist Ron Friedman thinks so. He interviewed hundreds of workers and pored over the latest academic research to figure out the main ingredients for a truly great workplace. Friedman detailed those findings in his book The Best Place to Work and also during a recent 99U podcast.

Amenities aren’t everything: The beer fridge and ping-pong table “are wonderful but they don’t necessarily make you more satisfied or more engaged at your job,” said Friedman.

Cubicles can kill: … your productivity, that is, by stripping away privacy and adding constant distractions. That’s why “headphones are the new walls,” according to Friedman.

Daylight helps: “Research shows being exposed to daylight over the course of a day can help you be more productive” by boosting serotonin and melatonin, said Friedman.

The view matters: A desk overlooking nature stimulates creativity more than a view of concrete. “It allows us to relax and focus on ideas,” said Friedman.

Pride is key: Great workplaces focus as much (if not more) on building a sense of pride and ownership in their staff as they do on building a cool, stylish office space. Putting staff names, photos and bios on the company website is a “simple, inexpensive” way to do this, said Friedman.

Dollars and sense: “Money makes us happy in the short term but (that) doesn’t last,” warned Friedman. His research shows: higher pay just leads to higher spending; super lucrative jobs mean huge stress and longer hours; people quickly remember why they’re dissatisfied with their job once the thrill of a bigger paycheque wears off.

In short, a great workplace isn’t solely about surroundings. Friedman said managers should consider the company’s goals first and the physical environment second: “(Ask) what it is the people in the office are going to need to do in order to be successful and then build a space around that.”

What role does technology play in all this? A huge one, according to Hewlett-Packard’s Ron Coughlin. As he noted at a recent product launch, mobile technology has extended the workplace beyond cubicle walls.

“(People) are working wherever and whenever they want … The days of being tethered to the office are over,” said Coughlin, general manager of HP’s personal systems group.

The desire for even more workplace flexibility is fueling bring-your-own-device (BYOD), Coughlin said. Besides putting IT security at greater risk, he added, BYOD also means workers are using consumer devices for business – something they just weren’t designed for.

HP is addressing this by launching eight new tablets specifically designed for users in four industry verticals: retail, education, health care and field work (think oil, gas, mining, etc.) For example, the health care tablet has antimicrobial coating on it, the field work model can survive a seven-foot drop and the education version gives teachers a classroom management feature.

No matter what kinds of devices organizations use, of course, one thing remains constant: the need for an underlying network that can support a mobile workforce.

In fact, for many of us today, a mobile network and the devices and applications running on it is our workplace much of the time. Which prompts a final question: Doesn’t that technology deserve as much forethought as the height of your cubicle and the view from your desk?

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