Illustration: Ashley Siebels
An office that is simultaneously relaxed and productive? How does that work?
In the corporate world, we’ve long been conditioned to believe that a good work ethic is synonymous with a gritty, grinding style of professionalism, where the optimal results spring from long hours of hard work and discipline.
But recently, experience has told us otherwise, as startups embrace mantras like “work smarter, not harder,” as a way of re-engineering productivity.
A company like Google, which gives employees gourmet food, endless entertainment and over-the-top perks, is arguably successful because of these policies, not despite them. The model goes a long way in explaining why so many startups have embraced more holistic work cultures, designed to nourish employees to their fullest potential rather than simply demanding more from them.
Here are five methods I have found work well at our company, a web and mobile search tool for commercial office space, to promote business growth through a positive, relaxed work culture.
1. Establish an open-door policy
This flexible policy invites employees to interact, ask questions and challenge their managers — in a good way. When team members feel comfortable with one another as well as with their superiors, communication is faster, good ideas are less likely to be left on the table, and alternately, red flags are less likely to escape detection.
And “open-door” policies are not relegated to more open, transparent work cultures. Successful companies with more traditional organizational structures and cultures employ them successfully as well.
2. Keep everyone full
Free coffee is always nice, but a fridge full of snacks is even better. About 67 percent of employees who receive free food at work are very happy with their jobs. In addition to the cost benefit for employees, food around the office helps people stay energized and gives them less incentive to eat a heavy lunch that will put them to sleep later on in the afternoon.
The same study found that this perk is more important to millennials than to other age group, yet only 16 percent of employees claim they get free snacks at work. That’s easy to fix.
3. Encourage creativity
Give your employees an interactive canvas, collectively. For us, the canvas is a giant blackboard on the wall where anyone on the team can draw with chalk, write inspiring messages, place Post-it notes and more.
While Slack often serves a similar purpose for us, we find the act of physically writing or drawing to be creatively liberating. Since many of us spend so much time behind our screens, it can act as a much-needed distraction, especially an artistic one that will stimulate the mind with new ideas.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to add a bit of culture to the office by way of paintings or music, as long as it’s not provocative.
4. Get out of the office
Even though the office is a professional workplace, your teammates can benefit from getting to know each other on a personal level as well.
Engage your team through periodic happy hours and dinners to show that the relationships you build go well beyond the confines of office walls. You can even try out team-building outings like sporting events, hikes, company-wide retreats and other events.
These outings can promote bonding between team members, reduce employee stress and give employees the chance to get to know one another outside of the office. When your colleague is also your friend, it’s that much easier to support them professionally.
5. Choose the right layout
Our recent survey of 75 New York startups revealed that 94 percent of founders believe office space plays a role in attracting talent. Rightfully so, considering most of us spend a significant part of our days (and sadly, our lives) in the office.
For your team to be comfortable and productive, choosing an airy space with plenty of natural light can be surprisingly effective. It’s one reason open floor plans are all the rage these days. This type of layout tends to be more visually appealing, friendly, and ultimately yields more fluid, collaborative work.
In order for this type of layout to work without creating too many distractions, you’ll need to dedicate a few isolated quiet spaces (or breakout rooms) for meetings, calls or just heads-down work.
You don’t have to choose productivity over employee well-being and happiness. Instead, you can create an environment that melds perfectly with your mission and team while keeping things efficient and positive.
In time, you will find an optimal balance between your team’s enjoyment of the workplace and their productivity. You need both for your company to reach its true potential.
This article originally appeared on BusinessCollective.
Aron Susman is the co-founder and CFO of TheSquareFoot.