Q: Staff want us to provide a common room and kitchen area. But this costs. What should I do?
A: The office environment is a crucial ingredient in increasing productivity. There is now a lot of research on how a bad office environment can influence staff's wellbeing and therefore their attitude to work.
Nowadays, employers' attitudes to office design and facilities are changing.
There is a realisation that putting cost before employee performance is a false economy and so offices ought to be good places to work.
In the private sector, organisations with money have spent quite a lot of it on some really smart work environments. For example, British Airways has created a large shopping and eating area, which has quickly become a focal point for meetings and get-togethers and helped break down barriers between departments and hierarchies.
Of course, our sector simply does not have the money for anything radical like this. This is particularly a problem when many funders simply refuse to fund the core costs of office accommodation and running costs.
Nevertheless, there is no excuse for us not to think strategically and cleverly about what we can do within our current resources. You don't need to take your office space as given. Indeed, there is quite a lot you can do with a cheap pot of paint, pictures, plants and pots.
Creating and developing communal areas is important. If you are able to have a kitchen or meeting area, this can be beneficial in helping build and develop teams. Staff might have their lunch at the office in a communal area as opposed to going out to eat or bringing back a sandwich and eating it at the desk. It will immediately encourage more interaction between staff who may otherwise not be working together.
In a sector where we provide very few benefits, the least we can do is to ensure that we look to the small things like tea and coffee. If you don't use the cheapest and nastiest tea bag at home, why should you expect your staff to put up with them at work? Do you expect staff to drink water out of the tap or buy their own bottled water?
Why not install a mineral water fountain?
In the sector we can be very inventive and resourceful with sweet nothing.
Let us apply that ingenuity to how we use our offices and what we provide in facilities for our staff. As one HR specialist put it: "If you think staff are your greatest asset, the least you can do is give them a decent cup of tea."