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Aug 24·edited Aug 24

What Does Your Office Smell Like?

Conceptually I agree with pretty much everything JPMC's David Arena said in your piece about office environments. Paying attention to how the environment affects employees is important, and perhaps consequential in the total amount of value they produce in that environment. I even buy into the importance of the office's smell.

I recently worked at General Atomics' headquarters in San Diego. Built in the late 50s, most of the campus buildings have the late 50s architectural vibe which looks "old" but not "architecturally valuable." That could be quite depressing except that the HQ campus is almost pristinely maintained and is absolutely stunning. In this context, the 50s look became another positive marker of uniqueness. I marvelled at my surroundings pretty much every day, and entering my office building with its hint of cleaners and wax in the air symbolized that impeccable dedication to environment.

The problem is that even an obsessive attention to positive environment means little if a company is letting other basics go off the rails. Fretting over aromatherapy when employees are working under obviously terrible management - if anyone actually cared enough to look - is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Don't expect employees to applaud the 15 seconds of comfort afforded by a greeting in the lobby if the remaining 7 hours and 59 minutes are spent dealing with Ivan the Terrible.

Everyone in executive management should be thinking about this. I've worked for some great organizations, and there have been great things about everywhere I've worked. But all of those "greats" also had issues with real, tangible, significant, negative impacts that made any concern for things like "how does it smell" just a bad joke.

What can we do about this? Not long ago a manager dismissed my opinion about something because it was just my "opinion," and no doubt others would see it differently. Fair enough; I actually pay scant attention to colleagues' opinions of others because I've found my experience with those "others" to be drastically different in many cases. Any one person's opinion on one question should be suspect. But there are many people in every office who are thoughtful, intelligent, careful thinkers and commentators who can, collectively, be a powerful source of intelligence on how the enterprise is actually working - or is seriously broken - from the employees' point of view. I have never worked for an organization that even tried to tap this resource. It's no wonder then that every organization I've worked for has been broken in some way that really mattered to revenues and profits......that nobody in management wanted to know about.

So hold the pot-pourri and go find the 1, 2 or 10 things your employees will tell you are far more important, not only to them, but to how your business is performing.

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