Positivity at work
‘I don’t care how happy my staff is, I just want them to get the job done…’
Until recently, positivity (or happiness) at work was commonly seen as an ‘airy-fairy’ concept which had little to do with delivering results. It was seen as nice to have, but a low priority in the context of ‘commercial reality’. Even worse, many managers saw conflict between staff happiness and delivering results.
Fortunately, these perceptions are changing as the benefits are becoming common knowledge.
The benefits of happiness on work performance is a well-researched subject. Happiness is a biological process which makes the brain function better, contributing to increased intelligence, creativity, optimism, energy levels, tolerance and resilience.
A large body of research shows that in a positive state people are more productive, produce more sales, work with fewer errors, perform better as leaders, and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burnt out. Practically every business outcome improves.
In 2012, the Harvard Business Review dedicated an entire issue to the topic of happiness at work. These are just a few of the statistics, based on the analysis of 225 academic studies:
- happy employees, on average, have 31% higher productivity;
- their sales are 37% higher; and
- their creativity is three times higher.
Well-designed workplaces can make people more positive, and help organisations capitalise on the benefits. Case studies consistently show that investments into happiness pay back multiple times.
How to create a positive environment
Here are some design strategies for promoting positivity at work:
- Create an aesthetic and harmonious space – for example, use natural materials and patterns, maximise daylight, engage multiple senses
- Ensure that the character of the space resonates with users’ personal values and identity
- Express positive messages – for example, display items associated with past achievements or future rewards
- Support trusting relationships – for example, create space for casual conversations and social activities
- Promote a sense of social equality – for example, provide access to the most favoured areas of the workplace for everyone
- Provide space for activities that boost wellbeing and happiness, such as meditation and exercise
- Create opportunities for fun, playing and humour
- Involve people in the design process, and allow them to make (some) decisions that matter to them
An excellent example: Hub Melbourne
Hub Melbourne is Melbourne’s first dedicated coworking space, part of the world’s first global network of coworking organisations ‘The HUB’. It is located in the iconic Donkey Wheel House, a 120 year old building of historical significance.
Hub Melbourne was launched in early 2011 to bring together a diverse community that drives innovation though collaboration. The founders’ goal was to create an environment which provides the best resources for its [independent] members to tackle wicked problems and excel in business.
Within less than a year after its opening, the space needed to be redesigned and extended due to the rapid expansion of membership. Since then a second extension has just been completed.
Brad Krauskopf, CEO and founder of Hub Melbourne explained: ‘We don’t look at the place as a cost centre; we think of is as a value generator. At the Hub we’re trying to capitalise connections across sectors, disciplines and generations, and a tool that we use in order to create those connections is this space.’
The space needed to be welcoming to a wide range of sectors, including people from banks, universities, government bodies, community organisations, as well as small businesses and freelancers (most of whom are working there by choice). It also needed to be authentic and to foster trust between people.
All this needed to be achieved in a very intense environment used by hundreds of members, more or less round the clock. The fact that the building is heritage listed so no walls could be built, and that the budget was very small, further added to the challenges.
These challenges, which couldn’t have been solved by conventional design methods, called for unique solutions, and led to an exceptionally positive, engaging work environment.
The design was the collaborative effort of the community, expert advisors and architects (from Hassell).
The space is airy and light-filled, with plenty of indoor plants, playful decoration, meaningful messages, and a mix of office, domestic style and outdoor furniture (all easy to move around). The kitchen is a main centrepiece; members go there for considered conversations and forming relationships, not only to get a coffee. The library and the ‘vault’ provide space for quiet activities and yoga sessions.
When you enter the space, even for the first time, you immediately feel a certain buzz, the energy of a productive, collaborative hub. The space has a distinct character, resonating with the community it attracts, because everything there has been designed to support people’s connection with each other and to remind them of their shared values and purpose.
It’s an expansive environment, expressing the message that ‘things are possible here’. As Brad says: ‘The whiteboards are big whiteboards, and they are everywhere. The roof is like 30 foot high and there’s a tree painted here. There’s an outdoor area over there that’s indoor. We made statements, that this is what’s possible when you’re in a heritage listed building, where you “can’t do anything.”’
Results, and the future of the Hub
At the Hub, you often hear stories about connections which created business for somebody or solved a big challenge. The founders see this as an excellent measure of success.
Since the first extension, the Hub Melbourne membership has significantly diversified; they have started to attract people from a wider range of industries and business types. Today, entrepreneurs, academics, non-profit organisation and corporate employees are happily working side-by-side, or rather, in collaboration.
The Hub is now expanding to other cities in Australia, learning from the experiences of creating Hub Melbourne. Brad has a grand vision for the Hub in Australia: ‘At the moment we are building a trusting community with more talent under the one roof than any organisation could ever hope to employ. In the future we will actually act as a collaborative agency, but without the hierarchy and bureaucracy of traditional structures. This will hopefully make us incredibly agile, and incredibly resourced to tackle wicked problems and awesome opportunities.’
Image source: Hub Melbourne