Home Sweet Home

Jan 30, 2006

Yesterday was one of those perfect days. It was so nice that I almost felt guilty about it. I really should have been at my office getting ready for the next semester or working on the accounting for my wife’s new art studio or writing this article. But, instead, I had a nice leisurely breakfast, took a walk with my wife through the neighborhood and park, and played with my Chevy-powered MGTD car-toy out in the garage. Then I did some staining in our guest house and had a nice dinner at home with my wife and daughters. It was good to be home! That got me thinking. I have been in literally thousands of A/E/P firms over the years and very few felt homey to me. The few that did are companies with high morale and productivity and super-low turnover. What if A/E/P and environmental consulting firms tried to make their workplaces feel more like “home” to their employees? What kind of effect would that have on the business? When I talk about making the workplace feel more like home, let me make one thing clear. I am not suggesting we fill our storage spaces with old bicycles and unused croquet sets, or our conference rooms with horrible Danish Pecan dining room sets from the ‘70s like many of our workers probably have in their homes. But, I will suggest that replicating the following five elements of home in our workplaces could make our people want to be there more and feel better when they are, increasing productivity and profitability, and reducing that dreaded turnover rate. Here they are: Home is where you can eat the food you like best. The implications for the workplace are that having food there that your employees want is a cheap way to keep them happy. I have long known that giving your people what they want to eat is a huge benefit. Fill the fridges with healthy (and some not-so-healthy) snack foods. Buy the donuts and bagels every morning. There are even companies in other industries that employ chefs and give their employees a fantastic free lunch every day. And make sure you have adequate refrigerator space and microwave ovens for those who do want to bring their own food to work. Food helps people feel like home. Home is where you control the temperature. I’ve worked in companies where we designed our own buildings and HVAC systems and they never worked properly. One building I worked in— the Cook Building in downtown Fort Worth, a converted truck garage— was 10,000 square feet and had ONE thermostat! We would turn the temperature down and then count the number of seconds it took before the people down the hall came and turned it back up! It was awful in there— almost like punishment. Temperature is a small thing, but very important to your people. My last house in the Boston area had eight zones for the heating system. Everyone was always comfortable there. You need good HVAC, many thermostats (that work), and systems that do what they are supposed to IF you want your people to feel at home in the office. Home is where you can be surrounded by the things you like. That means, to me, that if you shove your people into smaller and smaller workspaces, and have too many rules about picture and knick-knack placement, it won’t be possible for many of your workers to have what they want there with them. They won’t feel at home. Home is where you are in control of your schedule. You can almost always put off washing the car if need be so you can work on that new deck project, or do the laundry and not make dinner if you feel like it. Now I know that’s never going to be fully possible in this business, but the implications to me are that you need to ASK people if they can make a certain deadline or attend a particular meeting versus simply telling them. The more control individuals have over their day, the more at home they are going to feel. Home is where you are loved and accepted. I saved the most important aspect of home for last. Being around people you know care for you, who accept you, who are non-judgmental, and who forgive your many sins and idiosyncrasies— this is what makes home what it is. The more you, as an individual manager, can do to create this type of caring environment, the more “at home” your people are going to be there, and the harder it would be for them to ever give that up. Originally published 1/30/2006

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