The Best Workplace Amenities Are the Ones Your Employees Don’t Even Notice

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Michelle Henry
Michelle Henry
Michelle Henry is the VP of Product at Robin, a workplace experience software company based in Boston. With over nine years of experience in product management, Michelle is a driving force in the world of tech and has an uncanny ability to cut through the noise to find the true customer pain points and corresponding solutions. At Robin, she is laser-focused and deeply detailed in her research, having spoken with hundreds of clients about the workplace issues that arise day to day. Her work is integral to helping workplace leaders enable people to do their best work.

It’s all about investing in resources that remove friction from the day and support workplace employee experience.

Remember that one time you dropped your rocky road on the sidewalk? There’s a reason you recall that moment better than any other ice cream outing from your youth.

A quirk of the human psyche, we’re hardwired to remember bad memories more vividly than the good. With positive and negative experiences being processed in different hemispheres of the brain, we’re built to dwell on the frustrations and resent the moments we feel we’ve been wronged.

Extrapolate that to the workplace and it’s no surprise there are news articles on blog posts on Facebook rants about how terrible offices can be – open or not. 

open office workplace experience
At the surface level, the average office doesn’t look so bad. So then why are so many people complaining? Credit: Shutterstock

Shoddy video calls, a desk in a natural foot-traffic lane, no private space to collect your thoughts, stolen conference rooms, and so on. Bad experiences like these aggregate over time and employees are left with a pervasive bad taste in their mouth for their own place of work. Of course, this leads to a decrease in morale and productivity, which no employer wants to see. 

So what can companies do? 

It’s all about investing in resources that remove friction from employees’ day. In other words, the best workplace amenities are the ones your employees hardly even notice – and ideally won’t remember.  

Employees won’t remember when they were able to easily screencast but they will lay awake at night ruminating about that one time they spent half their presentation fiddling with devices just to speed through their content before leaving the room feeling disheartened.

Too often, companies fall prey to jumping on flashy, fun, and fabulous amenities when in reality, it’s all the cumbersome friction points throughout an employee’s day that have the biggest impact on Glassdoor reviews. 

Common pitfalls organizations fall into when investing in workplace amenities:

The one and done: 

Definition: Resources that have an immediate draw but lose their luster over time. 

Ex: New snacks, a gaming area, in-office exercise area 

Caveat: These spaces could be the right kind of amenities for a specific office but it’s all about knowing what that workforce would actually want and use without making assumptions. 

Caveat: Some amenities become one and done amenities without the right change management. People often need encouragement and guidelines before naturally gravitating to a new resource. 

Flash without function: 

Definition: An amenity purchased mostly because it’s cool for the sake of being cool and not because it serves a dual purpose or is an important reflection of company culture, branding, or vision. 

Ex: Screen-lined walls in a lobby with flashy images instead of a custom commissioned piece of art relating back to company values.

Ex: Slick new lounge furniture even though all the sales team wants are sit-stand desks to hit a power stance during calls and relax when they’re off the phone.

microsoft nerd center lobby entrance
The Microsoft Nerd Center opted for bright, welcoming walls at the entrance to their lobby instead of loading up on tech. Credit: Microsoft NERD Center via OfficeSnapshots
The copy cat technique: 

Definition: Doing what “top” companies are doing even though they have a completely different mission. Commonly referred to as “Googlization”, copy cats often model their own workspace after beautiful offices found on Instagram feeds. The best workplaces are the best because they’re unique to the people within them.

Ex: The slide a CEO saw at another office or the coffee machine a friend brags about having at their coworking space. 

What is workplace experience anyway? 

If flashy, fun, fabulous amenities aren’t the answer to actually boost employee engagement, recruitment, or retention, then what are? 

To get to the root of this question, it’s important to think about a popular term in the workplace industry right now: workplace experience.

A pretty elusive term, workplace experience is hard to define but easy to feel. In fact, there are a lot of different interpretations out there about what workplace experience really means. 

Definitions including: 

“Every business outcome—from productivity and efficiency to talent retention, innovation, and growth—starts with your employees. A new approach combining technology, operations, culture and employee experience in a holistic way is now needed to fill out the overall experience picture.”

– Accenture

“Providing a great workplace experience means optimizing the variety and character of spaces that people can choose from during the day, and empowering them to make choices that optimize their individual performance.”

– Gallup 

“Workplace experience is a proactive and human-centered approach to office design, technology, and culture to help everyone understand, use, and advance their workplace. Said another way, a positive workplace experience means every employee can step into their workplace and feel like it was made just for them.“ 

– Robin

Evidently, workplace experience is a combination of a lot of factors ultimately boiling down to how well a workplace supports its employees’ ability to do their best work every day. 

workplace experience
For most workplaces, a winding staircase wouldn’t be a top priority investment. If maintaining a central identity between floors was an issue, however, this connecting staircase could be a FUNctional addition. Credit: Methods London office via OfficeSnapshots

Thinking back to friction – and more importantly, how to avoid it – the best workplace amenities, resources, tools, policies, etc. are those that bring people and the workspace around them together as harmoniously as possible. In other words, functional amenities are an essential part of creating an awesome workplace experience. 

When considering whether or not to invest in a certain workplace resource, a good rule of thumb would be thinking back to the natural pain points employees face during the day. There’s nothing wrong with fun amenities, but as far as priority goes, it’s more important to think FUNctionally first. 

Amenities organizations should invest in to improve workplace experience:

These amenities likely won’t rouse a crowd or get you a feature on OfficeSnapshots, but they will make your office easier to use. Remember, the amenities that add the most value tend to get noticed the least but unconsciously promote effectiveness the most. 

Focus on connecting employees with one another 

People need to be able to connect with their coworkers as well as external colleagues. A huge priority for any office would be to make sure the WiFi is solid and standardized and intuitive technology installed in all meeting rooms and at all workstations (think video conferencing software or docking stations). Syncing up with a colleague should be as easy as a few clicks or taps at any time during the day. 

Remove anxiety around social situations 

Offices are filled with different types of personalities. Make sure everyone can opt-in or out of social situations with natural spots to chat like lounge areas and more private zones like libraries or quiet cars. On a micro-level, removable dividers can act as a way to adjust privacy at an individual workstation. 

Youtube Headquarters
People can use common spaces to make themselves available for social interactions like in Youtube’s San Bruno Headquarters. Credit: Youtube Headquarters via OfficeSnapshots
Offer real-time workplace information 

Office maps, schedules, and signage should be updated to reflect what’s actually happening. Employees shouldn’t need to wonder what conference rooms are open or where they can sit for an hour. They should be able to peek at a map and know where to go to get their work done immediately and at any time during the day. 

Allow for customization

Feeling like you have to get your work done in a certain way can be frustrating. Uniform cubicles or bench desks don’t account for the different ways people like to work. Offer flexible seating, different work-type environments, and flexible schedule or remote work policies. 

Make it easy to get around 

Getting around the office shouldn’t feel like locating a lost child at a theme park. Make it easy to get in the office with apps to badge in or out of the facility with the tap of a phone, and incorporate physical wayfinding cues around the office that make for super easy navigation. 

Of course, this isn’t an all-encompassing list by any means and what would make for a smooth sailing workplace experience in one office wouldn’t necessarily do the same in another. The impetus is on the workplace team at each organization to figure out what amenities or resources would make their unique workplace tick. They should cross-reference a few sources to see how employees get their work done, and how they could be getting it done even better. Regularly survey employees, conduct observational studies, and try out tools to measure how people actually utilize the spaces and resources available to them. 

Remember, the best amenity probably isn’t the shiniest new toy. When it comes to the workplace, instant gratification should never be the determining factor for whether or not the workplace team invests in something new. Focus on making that smile last, with the resources employees need to get their jobs done and get them done well.

And for heaven’s sake, at least have good WiFi. 

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