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Thirteen ways to reinvent the workplace

Studies suggest that as many as 75% of British workers feel they are in jobs that don't suit them. In fact, the UK appears to have one of the unhappiest and least productive workforces in Europe. In a two-part documentary, The Wrong Job, Emma Kennedy discovers what went wrong and steps inside companies, rethinking the concept of work and the workplace in order to do things differently.

Here are thirteen innovative ideas for creating a “soulful” workplace – so we don’t want to skive the nine-to-five.

1. Encourage autonomy

The Timpson store in Faversham is painted pink, simply because it’s the manager’s favourite colour – and she’s allowed to run her shop just how she likes. CEO James Timpson explains his philosophy: “I wanted to run the business by treating everybody as an equal” and decided “our colleagues who serve customers and put money in the till are the most important people in the business. They can do whatever they want to serve customers the way they see fit.” They can charge what they like, order whatever stock they want, and do displays however they wish. It clearly makes for a happy workforce, with the company consistently scoring highly on the employer-rating site, Glassdoor.

2. Promote inclusivity

Brighton based health care social enterprise, Here, is another company that promotes autonomy. “I wouldn’t say that we’re hierarchy free”, says co-founder Zoe Nicholson, “but we certainly distribute responsibility, power and authority throughout the organisation.” They also encourage collaborative working so that “people come together” from “different parts of the work and solve problems together”, Zoe says. This inclusive approach makes problem-solving fast-paced and effective.

Some organisations are shifting the focus away from official job titles and roles in order to release employee potential.

3. Knock down barriers to communication

For true inclusivity, companies can make it acceptable and normal for colleagues to contact each other directly – regardless of status. Global engineering consultants Mott MacDonald was employee-rated the fourth best company in the country to work for last year, and Media Relations manager Tom Smith explains how the 'family environment' is to thank: “Everyone is open to contact each other… if you emailed the chairman the chairman would respond.”

4. Knock down internal office walls

Opening up email streams is one thing, but some firms are literally knocking down internal office walls so that leaders can sit amongst their teams. An open plan approach prevents senior staff from becoming isolated and allows for unfettered collaboration and communication.

5. Host mixed social events

When Brent Smart was CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi New York he hosted monthly "family dinners”. He selected twenty employees from across the company – from different departments, age-ranges, and levels of seniority – and sat them round the table for dinner before taking them for drinks and karaoke. The result was a casual, open, honest bonding session where staff got to know each other more personally; and debate, opinions, and passion were nurtured.

6. Offer flexibility

Allowing employees to work from home, or offering unlimited annual holiday, can actually help with productivity. In many cases, staff will work longer hours because they appreciate the culture and gift of flexibility. Operations director at Mott MacDonald, Ian Galbraith, says it doesn’t mean a mass exodus from the office either, because people will still crave face-to-face time with their team. At Mott MacDonald “they can work from home, they can work from a Starbucks, but actually people are still preferring, at least a couple of times a week, to be together.”

7. Do away with job titles

Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organisations, explains how a job title, or “a neat little box within a whole pyramid of boxes,” can make employees feel “literally boxed in” and prevent them from bringing their whole self to the office. “If we only show up with a small percentage of who we are, then we only show up with a small percentage of our passion, our energy, our creativity”, Laloux says. Some organisations are shifting the focus away from official job roles in order to release employee potential.

8. Create visible career pathways

In many large companies, where there are flat structures, it’s hard for employees to see how they can progress within the organisation. This doesn’t promote motivated or happy staff. It’s important that each person, from the bottom up, can see a clear route to promotion and has access to the training they need in order to advance.

Going green and introducing live plants in the office promotes better air quality, has psychological benefits and is even thought to reduce sick days!

9. Introduce mindfulness sessions

Social enterprise Here helps staff prepare for a busy day with mindfulness sessions. Chief executive Zoe Nicholson explains that it’s about creating an environment where staff “are cared for so they can do the caring.” The company also starts meetings with a minute of silence so attendees can collect their thoughts and get the most out of the get-together.

10. Appoint empathetic managers

EQ – emotional intelligence – is just as important as IQ in managers, says Professor Sir Cary Cooper. He says, “we need better-trained, more emotionally intelligent” people in our management roles. He believes the key to creating a “wellbeing culture so people feel valued, trusted” and “motivated” is to appoint individuals who are “not just technically competent” but also “good people managers.”

11. Create a desirable office space

A nice workspace motivates and encourages productivity. Key components are comfortable, ergonomic furniture; ample natural light, which is proven to help mood and prevent headaches; and uncluttered surfaces, which helps to reduce stress. Going green and introducing live plants promotes better air quality, has psychological benefits and is even thought to reduce sick days! Choose easy-care indoor plants like peace lilies, ferns, and palms.

12. Build in a break-out space

Even the smallest of workspaces can incorporate a break-out space where employees can have time away from their desk. If you don’t have room for beanbags and table tennis, place some comfy chairs near a window and have a wall-mounted reading rack. A change of environment can spark new ways of thinking, creativity and collaboration.

13. Bring your dog to work days

Within some companies, employees can bring their dog to work with them once a month, every other Friday, or more frequently. An animal in the office can turn it into a home away from home and every pooch will need walking, which gets staff outside at lunchtime and away from their screens. Check for allergies before implementing!