A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my office, listening to the cold November sleet on the roof. Through the miracle of modern day technology, I was conducting a face-to-face interview with one of our client’s employees. This particular organization was located in a state with a much more favorable climate in November. I started out by introducing myself, “Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m sitting in Indiana today!” She immediately said, “Yeah, I was wondering what that big scarf was about.” It was 75 degrees and sunny out there.
This particular client is known as an organization that spares no expense on their facilities. However, that doesn’t mean that the people who work there don’t see areas for improvement. I asked this interviewee:
“If you could change one thing about your current office space, what would it be, and why?”
My interviewee thought for a minute and then came back with that she knew they had a great workout facility with a world-class Crossfit gym, but they really have nowhere to conduct their yoga classes, so when their yoga instructor comes each day to conduct their classes they need to hold them outside… and on occasion it can get a bit chilly. Thus she would like their new office to have an indoor yoga studio. I’ll fully admit at that moment in time, sitting there in my big scarf, I had to dig down deep to be an empathetic and neutral qualitative researcher.
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Over the years, we’ve heard some pretty fun responses to this question
including things like a cotton candy machine and a rooftop pool. And alternatively we at times hear drastically more grounded and far less creative answers to this question. Sometimes people will say things like they wished they had access to Wifi or they really wish they’d clean the carpets once a decade.
No matter how fanciful or basic, we can learn a lot about an organization based on their answers to this question. First, an employee who suggests a cotton candy machine is likely satisfied with how their more basic needs are met–think Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. It’s not even possible to think of a cotton candy machine if you don’t have workplace amenities we might consider more basic, like convenient bathrooms or a break room.
Second, while this cotton-candy-dreaming employee might care deeply about the work they’re doing, that drive might not outweigh the expectations of comfort in the office, and/or the work they’re doing is in such high demand that they’re able to be more choosy about the comfort of the place they work.
In our research, we’ve found what workplace amenities people are willing to do without is affected by a few factors, including the integrity or prestige of the work as well as the talent pool the organization is pulling from. If the talent pool has a lot of options, and the workplace isn’t particularly comfortable or doesn’t offer a lot of amenities, people have to be attracted by the integrity or prestige of the work. If the work itself isn’t viewed as prestigious and the competition for talent is high, a workplace that offers more amenities could be the deciding factor.
You can learn a lot about your organization by asking a few questions about what people might add to their space.
If you get a lot of wild ideas, it’s probable that your baseline office space is comfortable and satisfying most needs. If the responses are pretty vanilla, it might be a warning sign that your space is not keeping pace with the times and hopefully your work is pretty compelling. Here’s to hoping your staff are really wishing for a hot yoga studio!