What makes a great place to work

June 10, 2010

Co-incidentally, I’ve been looking for office space for LobsterPot Solutions during the same few days that Luke Hayler (@lukehayler) has asked for my thoughts (okay, he ‘tagged’ me) on what makes a great place to work. He lists People and Environment, and I’m inclined to agree, but with a couple of other things too.

I have three children. Two of them (both boys) are in school, but my daughter is only two. For the boys’ schools, we quickly realised that what they need most is a feeling of safety. This same principle applies to people in a marriage, or in a work environment. One of the most basic human requirements (just ask Maslow) is this same  feeling of safety. I don’t mean job security, I mean genuine safety. My kids have seen bullying close-up, both by other kids and by teachers, and I’m sure we can all remember having colleagues who are also bullies. This is lousy though, and we need to be able to trust our employers, colleagues and even clients – all the people who surround us. Clients may not be an obvious inclusion on this list, but again, I’m sure we all remember clients who have made us feel “not so safe”. And so I tell my staff I will always go into bat for them – in the same way that I go into bat for my kids. I don’t liken my staff to children, but I certainly recognise that not every staff member feels that they can stand up to a client who doesn’t do the right thing by them. Being the company owner, I feel part of my responsibility is to provide a safe workplace.

Assuming that this is in place, then by all means, the people are probably the next best aspect. Primarily the colleagues, but also the clients. The enjoyment of a puzzle can be excellent in itself, but if this enjoyment can be shared by interested and enthusiastic colleagues, who will learn from you and help you in return, then the enjoyment can be enhanced significantly. This is also a feature which I hope is encouraged at LobsterPot. As we learn from each other, see new and improved ways of solving problems, we share a journey that wouldn’t be the same with different people. And if there are clients who aren’t a pleasure to work with, then for the sake of my employees, I have no problem with losing them.

But as for the physical location – this is a tougher aspect. LobsterPot currently doesn’t have a permanent office. It suits us to work largely out of client sites, especially as a significant part of what we do is to help clients learn more about the project they’re undertaking. If we get involved, we want to leave the staff there with skills they didn’t have before, and help them strengthen their existing ones. The downside to working this way is that the company can be fairly nomadic, and not have a permanent physical home. I’ve looked at options for LobsterPot today, from ‘virtual office’ scenarios up to an office in a building that has a pool, spa, gym and sauna on the roof. One end of the market provides somewhere to get some work done (but still no real home), while the other end would be overkill.

So I don’t think a physical location is necessarily all that important. Any place of work needs to be at least adequate, but I think it’s mostly comes back to the points I’ve made above. Maybe it comes back to 1 Corinthians 13, paraphrased here as “If I give people a free gym membership, and hold meetings in the sauna, but have no respect for my colleagues, then I am only a clanging cymbal…”

One thing that I should include is a short commute. You need to be able to get back from your workplace to those you love quickly. You might really love your job, but that’s not an excuse to neglect your family. We’ve all (right?) been guilty of staying back in the office to finish stuff off, or spending too long online in the evenings (don’t ask me when I wrote this – I know I’m being hypocritical), but if you have a long commute, then is that really helping your home life? Get home in time to see your kids before they go to bed. Eat with them when you can, read bed-time stories and tuck them in, and sing to them on the potty (but stop this when they become teenagers). Again, something which I try to encourage with my staff.

The things that make a great place to work are the things that make your home a better place to live, which is about how you are when you’re at home. If you can’t sleep because you’re stressed about work, then that’s a problem. If you don’t like your colleagues, you won’t enjoy going to work. It’ll stop you enjoying people so much, making you grumpy, and not a better spouse or parent. And you have to be home to enjoy your kids, otherwise they might grow up without you.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Brad Schulz

    Wait a minute…
    I know for a fact that my wife and I had 1 Corinthians 13 as one of the readings at our wedding, but I don’t remember any reference to "free gym membership".  Is that an excerpt from the King James version, or some new-fangled new-age California translation?
    Seriously, though, even though it’s off the topic of the workplace, and since you briefly mentioned it, it’s REALLY important to eat dinner together as a family EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.  Looking back, I think that was the primary ingredient (along with attending church together EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY) for the closeness that we have in our family (children now aged 14, 17, 21).
    Great post!

  2. David Gardiner

    But don’t forget, it is harder to debug without cymbals 🙂

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