Working environment, does it really matter?
Like most business owners, I am very cautious when it comes to expenditure. For the most part Helastel plays a critical role in the lives of our clients and our staff, so our finance director is rather draconian over cost control. For instance, last month in order to buy a new colour laser printer Shaun was asked to put forward a business case… So when it comes to buying plants, pictures, nice chairs and larger computer screens the same question is asked by Paul (our FD), “what is the business case here?”
I decided to take this question a little more seriously and look at the evolution of Helastel over the last ten years and try to draw some tangible conclusions.
In our business, working environment expenditure relates to the following:
1. Office space
In the last 10 years we have gone through 5 offices, from 200 Sq ft office with 2 people slightly out of town, to 20 people in Queens Square with around 1,500 sq feet (centre of Bristol) and a 3 floor building on triangle (not the centre anymore but excellent transport connections and one of the best spots in town).
Real tangible trend I have seen:
- It is harder to recruit ANYONE if you have poor transport connections. Good transport connections does not mean “we have a regular bus”, but a number of bus routes meaning people can get to you easily. Travel time and cost makes a difference.
- b. Car parking doesn’t matter in service industries. Bristol is the cycling capital of Europe and staff love cycling to work. Clients are fairly used to parking in the nearby NCP and it has never caused us any recruitment issues or damage to the brand.
- c. Amount of space you have is not critical and you must always balance up lease terms. Staff really don’t mind working in a tight-ish office as long as you offer activities outside the office. We have been a rapidly growing business and have always found long term (3 years+) leases practically impossible to honour without major changes. Office space is “a buyer’s market” and even the biggest providers will go for 12 month exit clauses if you negotiate right.
- d. Service space vs leased space. If you have 5+ staff, then don’t do serviced space if you can help it. It looks “Mickey Mouse”, no matter how white labelled it is. There are some exceptions where service space companies make an effort, but generally it is not good for staff morale or brand. It just doesn’t feel like “your space” and you cannot really make it home.
2. Office environment
What matters is that your team members are proud of where they work and they don’t mind bringing their friends and family there. Work becomes a large part of our lives and you have to be proud of what you do and that includes the place of your work. Trust me, when we moved in our new offices the morale change was incredible. I wasn’t sure if Paul had offered a pay increase to everybody without my knowledge!
Simple things like pictures, plants and tiny logos on doors actually make a difference and create a sense of ownership.
3. Equipment, in our case hardware and software
For those of you who aren’t bean counters like me, I can tell that “you are what you eat” and if you work by computers most of your day-to-day working experience is your computer. A lot of frustrations at work come from computers, when they are slow, do not work, etc.
If you would like more stats, this is the commercial model we applied: A developer waits for a poor performance workstation to do whatever it has to do around 10 minutes per day. We have 20 developers, the net loss is:
0.17 hr x 220 business days x 20 developers = 748 production hours are lost per year.
That’s a lost opportunity cost of 56,100 GBP. Seriously, just buy some good computers and get an IT support company. We buy in bulk from Dell and get Computer Geeks to manage the workstations. No headache at all now and I don’t get the aggravation from staff about how their Windows for the 3rd time turned into a “blue screen of death”.
You might not be in the software industry like us, but trust me if your staff regularly use their PC and email, just get good kit, good Internet connection and a decent IT support company.
Finally, there is always a cold trade-off between expenditure and investment into team working environment. We have found that if you make a “half-hearted” attempt it doesn’t work. You either do it properly, or just get by with small serviced space until your profits permit you to do it properly.