Change in the design of workplaces is rapid. To help employees perform to the standard that they want, employers need to create experiences and workspaces that make that happen. Smarkets is doing just that. We took a tour of their office to see how their workplace design feeds into their culture.
There are 35 nationalities working inside Smarkets. That immediately gives them access to a diverse set of experiences. Something that is critical for an innovation culture. With 120 employees, that means that they are able to draw upon a vast number of viewpoints. It’s why their mantra of “Bring your whole self to work” is so important to them. “Bringing your whole self means bringing your extended self. I bring my 1-year-old son to work every now and then,” says Celine Crawford, Head of Communications. “Sometimes childcare breaks down, and an employer needs to recognise that.”
This attitude typifies the approach Smarkets has towards building a workplace. It is a community. People work together, eat together, play together. One symbolic sign is the lunch bell. At 1.00pm, the chefs ring the bell. It sounds like school days, and it is. Every employee troops into the kitchen and lines up for lunch. And this regimentation creates a fantastic atmosphere as once a day everyone is eating and chatting together. And when it comes to the washing-up, volunteers step forward. The reward? In return for donning the rubber gloves, the choice of music on the sound system is yours.
Food is free, and employees are trusted not to abuse that. That trust extends to other areas of company policy. There are uncapped holidays; meditation spaces where people can just escape to think; and the role of team leader – Smarkets is organised in a series of hubs – is passed to each team to determine. Teams decide who should lead them, not senior management.
This honesty and transparency is everywhere. Designed by ThirdWay Interiors, the physical space is open, divided by glass walls. Nobody is hiding in an office, but equally teams can get their heads down in these sub-divided offices. The office rooms themselves are owned by nobody. All employees have an adjustable desk on wheels, so that at any time they can wheel it into another office and base themselves there if required. Everything is designed around flexibility, adaptability and democracy. Teams decide when they need to vacate office space and move into new areas.
And this transparency goes beyond the physical design. All salaries are transparent. Any employee can see what a peer earns and any employee can ask for a rise. All salary increases are assessed by peers. If your peers think you are worth it, you get it. As a result, employees don’t ask for ridiculous amounts, as they respect their peers.
That peer-to-peer approach is further explored in learning. Smarkets are seeking to formalise this in a peer-led Academy. Everyone who joins the company has a skill. An employee joining from the BBC may have experience of presentation skills. If so, they get to share that with everyone. Another employee may know something unique about coding – they get to share that too.
All this means that few people work from home. Why would they, when the workplace sounds so interesting? In fact, Smarkets discourage it. They like the everyday community and it works for them. That community creates a culture of genuine care. As well as quiet spaces, there is a meditation space; regular yoga classes and a permanent counselling service. Naturally, pets are allowed.
So, what do people say? “Yes and no,” says Celine. “Engineers are getting used to this style of workplace. A lot of tech companies treat their people like this.” While it’s true that more employers are looking at how they create an adult-to-adult culture to boost performance, Smarkets feels way ahead. This can be put down to its willingness to experiment and do something different – an attitude that often gets lost as firms grow or are acquired.
Right now, the willingness to experiment and keep things fresh is alive. Something Celine’s team puts down to listening: “I think we do sometimes make mistakes. And, you have 100 experts here that are quick to tell you what they think. So, you sit down with them, you listen, and you test things.”
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