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Creating a Great Working Environment – Podcast w/Tara McCormack

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Creating a great working environment
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The following is a transcript from the latest Podcast episode from Virgin Media Business which together with Tara McCormack look at home business’ can go about creating a great working environment and the many reasons for doing so.

Virgin Media: [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to the complete Small Business Show. The complete small business show will deliver short bursts of knowledge designed to help SME owners navigate some aspects of business life that might not be their area of expertise. 

Virgin Media Business Services reach tens of thousands of small and medium sized firms all over Ireland and we’re quite keen to provide a little extra help over and above just providing broadband, landline, mobile and TV services. This podcast series is aimed at doing exactly that. 

Series One of the complete small business show is five short episodes that will focus on some of the more important aspects of human resources for SMEs. 

In each episode, we’ll hear from HR consultant Tara McCormack on some of the key HR-related topics. 

Tara has worked with a number of big companies and is currently a consultant to a wide variety of clients. She offers sound business solutions to sometimes complex HR issues. 

Tara McCormack holds a BA in public administration from the University of Limerick and a master’s degree in HR strategy from DCU. 

In episode three, we heard Tara talk about how to retain good staff. Her three key takeaways were: 

  1. Have a system that acknowledges staff achievements. 
  2. Provide training and development opportunities for staff and…
  3. Try as much as possible to promote from within your company. 

In this episode, Episode four, we’re going to talk to Tara about how to create a great working environment.

Tara: [00:01:35] The Open plan has come to dominate office design over the last 100 years. It’s estimated about 70% of workplaces now use an open space layout for their workers with fewer walls and obstructions. 

Open plan offices generally have more natural light, are more conducive to collaboration and feel like a less rigid working environment. Silicon Valley companies have taken things a step further with comfortable breakout areas that contain beanbags staffed restaurants stocked with delicious, nutritious food and drink that are free all day long. And Microsoft has taken it a step further by building two treehouses for workers to use as meeting rooms at their Washington HQ. 

The opposite of the open plan, of course, is the cellular or cubicle format. And while lots of people are in favour of open plan, some studies have shown that cellular or cubicle-style offices can lead to less distraction reduction in noise and less likelihood of passing an illness that may result in an absence. 

Regardless of the physical space or what your floor plan looks like, it’s the culture within your workplace that’s even more important than the layout. It only takes one disagreeable personality to upset the balance in your office. 

In this episode, Tara will outline some guidelines on how to create a good culture in your workplace. So, Tara, Google has often held up as a great example of the modern office. How does the working environment impact staff performance?

Tara: [00:03:05] It does impact staff performance. And what you really want is for it to impact staff performance in a positive way. So, what we’re really talking about here is the culture of the company and how things are done. In most places, you can tell what the culture is like pretty much very, very early on. So, what companies want to do is to ensure that they have a positive working environment and that anything that’s negative is nipped in the bud. And that’s really, really important. 

What sometimes happens is a negative culture develops because, you know, there hasn’t been a good management system, or the leaders haven’t led by example. And what you often find then is there’s a toxic culture develops and there’s a lot of complaints and there’s poor morale. So, what I would suggest is to have some sort of system in place to ensure that the working environment is positive. What we’re talking about here is, you know, that there’s a mechanism whereby people can speak to somebody if there’s a problem that you know, that you lead by example and that things are nipped in the bud. 

So, they’re the core things people are spoken to in a respectful way, that people are sure what their tasks are and that there are consequences for poor behaviour. Sometimes if there are no consequences for poor behaviour or rudeness or disrespectful attitudes of staff towards each other and it goes unchecked, that that contributes to a poor working environment, and you will get complaints from other staff. 

So, it’s really important for the manager to lead by example to ensure that they behave as they want others to behave, speak to people in a respectful way and make sure that people know what exactly their job role is, how they fit into the team, and that there is a system whereby if there is any sort of issue or complaint, that there’s an open environment and that you can give your feedback.

Virgin Media: [00:04:57] Okay. So, how does a great working environment benefit the business then?

Tara: [00:05:01] It benefits the business because essentially, you know, any company is a bunch of people who work together. And, you know, you need to ensure that you have the right systems in place to ensure that they do their job properly and they get along with each other from a professional point of view. 

So, having a good working environment is really, really essential. I would have done some work on the positive working environment preventing sexual harassment, harassment and bullying some time ago. And what we ended up doing is, you know, talking to companies about putting a staff charter in place. So, not going down the lines of this behaviour is unacceptable. But asking the people working in various different companies what behaviour is acceptable and what do you expect when you come to work every day? So, you could do something like that with your team, which is a really, really simple exercise and getting everyone’s feedback in terms of what they expect from their colleagues, what they expect from the working environment, what they expect from the boss and having some sort of a staff charter and, you know, displaying it nicely in a frame somewhere. 

And it’s really about just being respectful towards one another. So, rather than saying these behaviours are unacceptable and we don’t allow bullying, harassment or sexual harassment, which we’ll speak about that when we talk about the employment law, it’s a really good idea to have some sort of a staff charter and have everyone feed into it in terms of what they expect in the workplace, workplaces, who do that, find it really, really beneficial because they’ve all contributed to it. So, it’s not coming from the top to say this is what we’ll do. It’s really a collaboration of ideas as to what’s expected on a day-to-day basis from people in the workplace. And it can be a useful exercise.

Virgin Media: [00:06:40] And do the staff feel more empowered then because they feel like they’ve contributed to this charter?

Tara: [00:06:45] Absolutely. Absolutely. And you will find you’ll get feedback that you never expected. So, you know, you know, I’ve sort of been the person who’s facilitated these sorts of sessions before and you will hear things like, you know, some of it may sound silly to you and me, but, you know, when the kitchen is used and there are certain smells and we really don’t like this, you know. So, stuff does come up. It can be funny, it can be, you know, basic stuff. But what it does, is that it just clears the air. 

Everybody has this set of expectations of what they expect on a day-to-day basis in the workplace. And they’ve all fed into it. And, you know, it’s good. It’s good. I suppose the real concept here is to figure out what people expect and what people, you know, how they want to be treated rather than assuming that everybody knows how people want to be treated. We may think it’s common sense. It isn’t for everybody. So, it’s a nice idea to get people together to maybe have a little session for a couple of hours to get all their ideas together and then base your sort of workplace charter around that.

Virgin Media: [00:07:48] Brilliant. So, are there three key things that an SME needs to do to create a great working environment or culture within the workplace?

Tara: [00:07:55] Okay, So, what? The first thing is to make sure that you don’t have any behaviour that goes unchecked. Okay. So, that you don’t have somebody in the office that’s creating a negative working environment that’s disrespectful towards other people, that behaves poorly, that doesn’t do their work, you know, the bunch of other things that don’t go unchecked, that you deal with problems that come up in a day-to-day basis and the problems are addressed and that they’re addressed in a fair way, in a consistent way. 

And we’ll speak about that as well to ensure that you have a culture whereby feedback can be given, that you invite feedback from your staff members and, you know, ultimately you want a culture to ensure that people feel that they’re valued, that then leads to them being more motivated and productive and that you have a nice, positive and great working environment. 

The other thing that you could do is, you know, we spoke about the staff charter, but just to reference that, you know, you are you do comply with the legislation that’s there in terms of, you know, not allowing bullying or harassment. But really, if you lead by example and if you have procedures in place to deal with any behaviour, that’s not acceptable. You know, you should be covering everything.

Virgin Media: [00:09:04] Brilliant. Tara, thanks a million. Thank you. So, there you have it. Lots of great information for SMEs on how to create a good company culture. For more information on how Virgin Media can support your business broadband needs visit our website today.

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Emenike Emmanuel is a multiple award-winning blogger, CEO of Entrepreneur Business Blog, Chief Evangelist of Ebusinessroom Ventures, and the Lead Coach of an online community of over 12,000 business owners called, The Excellent Entrepreneurs' Network. He’s here to help you start, manage and grow a profitable and sustainable business using digital marketing strategies. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn & Pinterest with this handle, @emenikeng. Telegram group - t.me/yourfirst1000 | Email: [email protected]

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