A sense of place is actually a fairly common phrase used in geography, landscape design and interior design. It refers to the idea of creating something special and unique where people feel that they belong, perhaps to something greater than themselves. I think of really well planned parks where the design really took into consideration the people who would visit them – meeting places, comfortable spaces to sit, greenery and gardens, convenient walking paths, options for activities and other necessary concepts to create a feeling for visitors that they belong there.
Let’s apply this concept to the workplace. Creating a sense of place for your team does not have to be expensive. It can be but it does not have to be. There are so many ways to make employees feel like they are part of something when they’re at work, like they have a sense of belonging. They should feel meaning when they go to work every day. There is a lot that can play into a sense of place. You don’t have to have all of them to be successful but as many as you can incorporate into your workplace will be beneficial.
Efficiency in this sense is not about how fast you can get a task done. It’s about what makes sense for people at work. Are your workspaces designed so that employees can get to and from their offices with ease? Are they able to move within your organization in a manner that makes sense and does not require a lot of thought? For example, I think of an office space where on one level, there’s a food court in the middle and meetings spaces surrounding it. Then, on the second level, offices surround a community area with games and a patio out to a Zen garden. The two floors are open to each other and you can get to any single point easily and everything is placed logically. It’s easy to grab a bite to eat or a coffee right before or after a meeting when people usually need one of the two. It’s easy to take a break from office work by just stepping outside your door to play a game with a coworker or take a walk in a relaxing atmosphere, the garden.
Workplaces often lack life, green life that is. Studies show that plants, flowers and vegetation can increase energy and focus and lead to a longer life. Purchase plants for your employees’ offices and build a garden together. There are so many benefits to a community garden:
- It falls into our category of adding life into the workplace so it can increase productivity by helping your employees focus more.
- It gives people something meaningful to do when they just need a break.
- It builds on teamwork and can really bring people together for a common cause.
- It is a great perk for employees to be able to take home food from the garden.
- It encourages employees to cook for each other and share their recipes.
- It allows for great conversation in a much safer and comfortable environment, rather than at the water cooler.
People don’t like feeling stuck and if you’re trying to create a sense of belonging, you don’t want them to feel stuck. Build options into your workplace
- for where people do their work – offices, open spaces, think pods, couches, etc.
- for where people have their meetings – conference rooms, lunch meetings paces, cafes and fun rooms (exercise balls, stress balls, basketball hoops).
- for where people can take a break – gardens, food courts, coffee shops, game rooms or quite rooms.
- for where people can collaborate – training rooms, rooms with smartboards, computer labs and project rooms.
So, it’s great to have work spaces that make sense. What about the human side? Create a sense of place for employees by creating a culture of connectedness. Don’t just build a team; build a community. A community is a group of peers who trust each other, have found commonality despite their differences and feel a bond. They not only work well together but they do everything well together. A great recent example of this is the Chicago Cubs team. Whether you’re a fan or not, you can’t deny the sense of place that Joe Maddon has created for his team. They laugh together, play together, work together, win together and lose together. You never hear the players blame each other for losses or take all the credit for wins. If you watch them in the dugout during games, they are genuinely having fun at work. They’re never as serious as the other team. They goof around with their fans and with each other. They have become something larger, greater and better than themselves.
Celebration is not just about throwing a party after a big accomplishment or telling people good job after they complete a project. Celebration is constant, genuine and 360-degrees. If celebration is truly a part of your culture, you sometimes celebrate for no particular reason. Don’t just do payday treats and birthday parties. Those are expected and can feel forced or disingenuous. Some things you can do include surprising your team with treats on totally random days, dropping off little anonymous gifts on their desks before or after they are at work and throwing a thank you party out of nowhere (not when anything important is going on). I’ve done these things for my team and it has paid off ten-fold as they now celebrate constantly. They have fun and do great work. It’s hard to believe sometimes that it’s possible to have both but when you do, it is quite amazing!
Give people meaning, not just in the work that they do everyday but at work in general. If people don’t know why they go to work everyday or why they do what they do, you’ve lost the battle. Don’t be confused though. Meaning and purpose looks very different than reason. A good reason to go to work is to get paid. A good purpose for going to work is to serve your team and better the lives of your customers, patients or clients. To really have purpose, your team has to believe in everything: their work, their team, the values of the organization, the people they serve, the physical space they work in, the technology they work with, the product and service they are delivering and the leadership they have and that they give.
Remember these six pillars of creating a sense of place as you look to make positive changes to your teams, organizations and cultures. From my sense of place to yours!
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