Comfortable surroundings Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2010

Creating a workplace full of light and fun can increase the energy and productivity of your employees and create a work force that is healthier, happier, more creative and more willing to contribute to your business, says Charlotte Baker, the CEO of Digital Hands.

“The space should be designed with the human in mind,” says Baker. “It should be designed to stimulate the mind and support the body. Giving people the space they need inspires them and makes them feel valued.”

Smart Business spoke with Baker about how to create a workspace that inspires healthy, happy employees who are better able to contribute to your business.

What are some things that you’ve done to create a happier, healthier workplace?

We wanted to design a workspace that encourages collaboration; for example, we lowered the divider walls in our call center. This makes employees feel connected, but still offers them a sense of privacy. We’ve also put a sound suppression system in the ceiling and dedicated more space per person so employees don’t feel like they are in a maze; instead, they feel like they are part of the team.

We made sure that every person has a view of the outside. That shouldn’t be reserved for a select few. The sunlight is economical because you can turn down lighting, but it’s also stimulating for employees because they’re not fighting florescent lighting when looking at their screens all day.

And to help employees relax from a stressful job, we’ve created areas where they can go to re-energize. We have a cafĂ© with a Starbucks machine where people can log on to the Internet, sit around on their breaks and enjoy the environment, which includes wood and good color to create a relaxing atmosphere. There are also large, comfortable chairs that they can relax in or take a power nap.

We also have a Wii lounge where people can go play to relieve stress and decompress.

Our employees are like sponges; they take on the negative emotions of clients and turn them around into a good experience. But when you absorb all that negative energy, it’s important to have a place to go and recharge.

What are some things you did to improve the ergonomics of the office and the comfort of your employees?

We upgraded the florescent lighting to make it less impactful and reduce eyestrain. We also make back massagers available to relieve tension.

In addition, we didn’t just bring in chairs. We brought in six different chairs, let people try them out and vote on which worked best for their comfort, giving them a say in the feel of their work home.

Another way to promote a healthy lifestyle is to encourage people to get up and talk to each other face to face. Having glass walls in the workspace allows people to see each other throughout the day, which is good for team building.

When people feel good about their surroundings, they feel good about themselves. Work is where people spend the majority of their lives, and it’s important that the ergonomics are conducive to supporting the body.

What would you say to CEOs who might say they can’t afford such an environment in the office, or fear that their employees may take advantage?

How can you afford not to do it? You can raise employees’ spirits and raise awareness about what you stand for by having some healthy alternatives. It’s just good business sense and, financially, it doesn’t have to cost much more than designing an office the traditional way. It just takes more thought. You are demonstrating that you care, that you want office space that is conducive to health and good ideas. And if employees take advantage of that, that’s a good thing, because that would say they want to get into health, they want to be innovative and provide ingenuity to the company.

When someone says, ‘That puts too much fun in the equation,’ well, what does that hurt? Who says work can’t be fun?

I’m constantly amazed at the achievement of my team, and I think the environment is a big part of that.

How can another business leader create this same kind of healthy workplace?

Start by getting your employees involved and find out what type of space would be riveting, exciting and stimulating to them. Second, look at other innovative spaces to get ideas. You can find what you like and don’t like, then take ideas from many different office spaces.

It’s OK to rely on experts, but you have to know what you stand for, look at other spaces to see what you like. Always include your employees, because they are the reason you would be investing in a healthy and welcoming workplace.

You can’t design the space with the idea of showing it off to the outside world. It has to be reflective of who you are as a company and what your culture is. You have to design it for the humans who work there eight, 10, 12 hours a day.

Charlotte Baker is CEO of Digital Hands. Reach her at charlotte@digitalhands.com or (877) 229-8020. Digital Hands is Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance’s 2009 Business Excellence Awards Winner in the Emerging Business Category.