A sensory experience

At a conference recently, a business owner whom I have come to respect and trust greatly over the past year was discussing how the values of your business come through in the energy of your space. Her talk was geared directly to how you want your customers to feel when they are in your physical work space, but I kept thinking about how easily this could be translated to your employees.

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Have you ever noticed how in a fast food or casual dining restaurant the colors are bright and the music is loud? Compare this to most fine dining establishments that have dim lights and soft music. Fast food and casual dining restaurants want to get as many people through their doors as possible. They are decorated with bright colors that encourage speed of action and energy and the music is loud and upbeat for the same reasons. Fine dining restaurants, on the other hand, want their guests to slow down and enjoy a long drawn out meal - savoring each flavor and experience - knowing the longer they stay, the more money they will spend.

Or how about a spa? The soft lights, quiet music, and water fountain decor are not by accident. They encourage us to slow down and let the cares of our lives leave us - to be relaxed and feel pampered. Not the case with most Cross Fit gyms - loud upbeat music encourages us to push ourselves harder and faster than we have before and to keep our energy level as high as we can for the duration of our time in the space.

One of the reasons I love working from home is because I can control my environment. I can set up my office to look, smell, sound and feel exactly the way I want it to - the way that is most conducive to my own focus and productivity. Similarly, when I look for a coworking space or a coffee shop to work in, I look for places that mirror the sensory experience of my home office. I know that if I am comfortable, and experiencing just the right amount of senses, I will be the most productive. It’s also one of the reasons I work outside any chance I get. The sound of a light breeze or birds chirping instantly relaxes me and lifts my spirit.

But what about the majority of our population - who leave every day and go to work in an office someone else is in charge of? We know that one of the ways you run a values-based business is by focusing on the impact of your business on your employees. This extends to the physical space that you run your business out of and the impact it can have on your employees and their happiness (as well as productivity).

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One of the ways owners of brick and mortar businesses can increase the happiness and productivity of their employees is by helping them create a sensory experience that encourages them to be at ease and get work done.

People have been doing this for years in small doses - decorating cubicles and offices with things that bring them comfort and joy or playing their favorite get-stuff-done tunes through their ear buds while they work. The last office job I had, I even brought in a few of my favorite crystals and my vision board allowing me to feel like my office reflected my personality and making me more comfortable there. This was also an office where we were allowed to burn candles and the owner frequently diffused essential oils. Diffusing citrus blends when we were in the middle of a busy season helped people’s moods stay elevated and our energy high.

I think, however, that we, as business owners, can take this a step further. What if employees were given a decorating budget for their office and able to purchase a desk/chair/art/bulletin board/office supply products that are more similar to what they would have in their own home office? There’s some end of that spectrum most of us can afford. Even if you are trying to stay within a certain design aesthetic, there are ways that you can encourage your employees to bring their own sense of style and comfort into their space.

And if you are definitely not up for letting your employees design their own space, you can still consider their sensory experience when designing. For example, using high quality office furniture tells your employees that you value their professionalism and respect them. Or purchasing ergonomic office equipment tells your employees that you value their health and wellness. It even extends to toilet paper, hand soap and coffee! Shopping for these things from companies that make green/natural products can also tell your employees that you value their health and wellness and are committed to it - even when it costs more. Same goes for ordering in lunch and choosing a local fresh option or brewing high quality fair-trade coffee.

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It’s worth mentioning, that in contrast - always buying the least expensive brand of supplies or having hand-me-down office furniture tells your employees something as well. If you are already paying well and they aren’t constantly worried about money, it can tell them that you are committed to that as a priority and will cut corners in other ways to make it happen. However, if they are constantly worried about job security or don’t feel they are being paid what they are worth, this could reinforce those feelings.

As with everything else, it is all about the balance. Most employees would rather make more money than sit on an expensive office chair. Being clear that you’ve chosen a particular chair (or soap) because you believe it will keep them healthy can go a long way to increasing employee satisfaction and retention.

As I’ve discussed before, there is a values system that is coming through in how you operate your business. This is just one of the ways you can be clear that the message that you are putting out there, is truly in alignment with how you want your business to be experienced.

And, once again, the key to success is that you can start small and implement these things over time. As a business owner, the bottom line has to be your focus and we know that employee retention increases the bottom line. Taking your employees sensory experiences into account will definitely increase employee retention when partnered with other values-based policies.

If you are looking for some easy ways to get started, I highly recommend candles from one of my favorite suppliers, AŌ Fragrances and/or this amazing toilet paper!