In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan discuss how physical space reflects and supports office culture. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- How practically everything inside your office says something about your company
- How this affects your employees and visitors
- What to keep in mind as you prepare to rethink and redesign office
Picture, if you will, the scene: you and a group of other brokers are invited to take a tour of a brokerage’s new headquarters. The shuttle drops you off, and you see that the building is big enough to hold over three hundred employees—this must be a large brokerage. After passing a security gate, you are impressed by the spacious front yard, with its immaculate landscaping, inviting walkways, even a fountain at the center. This seems like a company that values wellness.
Inside the building, the stupor continues. You were expecting the usual horror show of cubicles; producers spread out in lofty, windowed offices, account managers relegated to the dank interior. Nothing like that here. There are windows everywhere. Employees divide their time between large, airy, collaborative workspaces and glass-enclosed private pods, each with its own desk. Is this a brokerage or a Silicon Valley startup?
Your guide leads you out on an atrium—yes, an open-roofed atrium. In a corner are some barbecue grills and a kitchenette. Some employees are hanging out and talking like they might do on a cafe patio, except that they’re at work. This is starting to look like an agents’ paradise. But opinion among your group is mixed.
“Waste of space!” says one broker. “We would never do a thing like this at our agency!” Others murmur in approval or disapproval—but the group is in for another controversy.
A bar! Inside the office building! And not some crappy minibar, either. We’re talking twenty-foot countertop, wine chillers, even beer on tap. Now your group is certifiably incensed. What’s the company saying with this? That they’re okay with employees drinking on the job? Or, that they trust their employees to behave like adults and drink responsibly?
Either way, the group is right about one thing: the bar does say something about the company, as does everything else in the building.
This is not a fictional headquarters. We won’t tell you whom it belongs to, but Steve and Ryan toured a place like this recently, and they tell you all about it in this episode of The Digital Broker. Shockingly, the brokerage that occupies it didn’t inherit it from a previous company; it designed it and built it from scratch. That’s right: an operations team sat inside a room and determined that an atrium, a bar, and a barbecue would all be net positives for the company.
This does not need to be the conclusion you arrive at, but the point isn’t whether you allow employees to grill onsite. Are you taking the time to conceive, design, and implement a work environment that’s conducive to employee comfort and productivity? (4:25) We’re not the first to suggest that this has an impact on your performance, but it bears repeating in the insurance space: company culture is a blend of top-down directives and bottom-up phenomena, and the environment that surrounds your employees on a day-to-day basis is a huge component of that. If your office is dingy, depressing, or disorganized, it will wear on your employees’ psyche and diminish company performance.
This headquarters empowered its employees. Energy, enthusiasm, and cooperation were all so palpable, they recalled a college campus rather than a brokerage. (10:29) Whiteboard walls were the norm inside many rooms, encouraging employees to transfer the content of their minds onto the physical space around them. Training areas resembled lecture halls and doubled as conference rooms. Aided by top-notch technology, presentations could be recorded for reuse and live-streamed to anyone, including remote workers and other people who couldn’t be onsite. A video camera in the back of the room was engineered to follow a device worn by the presenter. We sat in on a teleconference and found that microphones up in the ceiling could capture comments made by anyone in the audience and relay them audibly to the other party. All of this tech was integrated seamlessly in the environment, well outside of anyone’s way.
(13:54) Let’s be real: who wouldn’t want to work in a place like this, if money were no object? The problem is that it is, and the ROI of some of this stuff is hard to measure.
Nor is this a call for overindulgence. Designing a perfect workplace isn’t a matter of buying the most expensive stuff, which can actually backfire. (You don’t want your clients to leave the building thinking, “Oh, so that’s where all our money is going!”)
Much of what Steve and Ryan saw was pretty pricey—but above all, it was functional. Thought had gone into how to make employees’ lives easier. As we’ve noted in our episode about remote work, we’re in a struggle for employees these days. Agencies who take the trouble to craft a hospitable environment are likely to have an edge in attracting employees and keeping them. Letting employees socialize onsite over a steak or a beer might seem superfluous at first until you realize that relationships are key to keeping employees in place.
Irrespective of how they felt about the bar, nobody in the group that day got the feeling that this company was merely showboating. Everybody agreed that the company took its work very seriously. Isn’t that the impression that you want your workplace to impart?
Which impression do you want your workplace to impart? (18:01) Have you taken the time to rethink your office accordingly? You don’t have to tear down the building you’re in and start anew—but are there incremental changes you could begin with? What do your employees have to say about it? Unless you want them all to abscond to this agents’ paradise one day, you better be having that conversation.
And speaking of conversations…
We just created The Digital Broker LinkedIn Group, where you can converse with Steve and Ryan directly. What are some of the best environments you’ve ever worked in—or, if you feel like sharing, some of the worst? Which workplace design features have either impressed you or slowed you down? How would you design your office if you were in charge? Come talk to us about it here—like the microphones in the ceiling, we’re hearing everything you have to say!
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