For over 30 years, my grandmother owned and operated The Red Stallion, a very successful tavern outside of Philadelphia, where I grew up. On a recent trip back to the east coast (I currently live in Seattle), I got to talking with the driver who scooped me from the airport. After chatting for a while, I learned he lived closed to my grandmother’s tavern; it was too big of a coincidence not to mention it.
“The Stallion,” I said. “Have you heard of it?”
He laughed. “Unbelievable. Who hasn’t? I spent my twenty-first birthday there.”
I asked him whether this particular birthday had been a success—he gave the best possible response: a huge grin.
Aside from acting as a coming-of-age locale, The Stallion was home to a plethora of regulars with nicknames like “NoNeck,” “Bear,” and “BeeBop.” It was where most of my extended family met their spouses. It was where we gathered when anything significant, good or bad, happened among family and friends. The beer was cold, and the food was good, eliciting solid business from the lunch rush well into the late hours of the night. The Stallion had something for everyone, and it was a place where anyone could feel a sense of belonging.
Years after she sold the Stallion, my grandmother passed away. When the news got out, patrons (who had become friends) showed up and wrapped around the funeral home to pay their respects. People traded stories and talked about how special she was because she made them feel like part of a community.
The Stallion built a brand around setting the bar (pun intended) for greatness by finding the right moments to exceed customer expectations.
Every business has an opportunity to create memorable moments for customers. Yet, the broader world of workplace strategy focuses almost exclusively on efficiency, effectiveness, and (much to my dismay, the catch-all concept of) productivity (CBRE’s own Spencer Levy has also written on the validity of current productivity metrics). 1 These concepts are conversation-worthy—and will be the focus of my next post—in part because they are both measurable and tied to a common perception surrounding the “purpose” of work.
The ability to work efficiently, however, is only part of an optimal workplace equation. In fact, Fred Reichheld of Bain and Company, one of the creators of the widely used employee satisfaction Net Promoter System™, argues the spirit of the NPS actually measures “’NLE,’ for “Net Lives Enriched.” 2
“Of all the lives you touch, how many are enriched, how many diminished?” Reichheld asks. “By focusing on that question each day, you can make the world a better place—especially if you measure, test and learn. When employees know they regularly make their customers’ lives better, they bring energy, enthusiasm and creativity to work, spurring further innovation and learning.”
Essentially, it isn’t just about being efficient with one’s time. Enriching employees’ lives is an investment that clearly yields positive returns. Without discounting efficiency altogether, what if we prioritized workplace delight?
You may be thinking: “Really? Delight? Is that a realistic priority?”
As surprising as it may seem coming from a commercial real estate company, 3 the Host team obsesses over enriching lives and creating delight for people who work in the buildings we manage. We consider the daily journey of our customers and map both their current and best experiences in the workplace. We ask specific questions, like:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- What do you need?
- What do you want?
- What gets in your way?
From there, we consider ways to save time and remove obstacles for our customers, in addition to exploring ways to craft opportunities that create community, joy, and workplace engagement.
Engaging people through positive emotional connections to the workplace creates beneficial business outcomes by making an office the destination to do great work. It’s estimated that companies with engaged employees outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share, and those employees are 87 percent less likely to leave. However, 53 percent of employees are not engaged and “do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.”4 To drive customer loyalty, Amy Li of Zendesk argues, “Companies might do better to factor delight into their basic promise and value proposition” rather than seeing it as something exceptional. Investing in turnkey solutions that prioritize the delivery of employee expectations to boost engagement and bottom lines is an organizational differentiator, so why don’t more companies make this choice?
“Yes, I instinctively get this concept,” you may be thinking, “but I don’t know how.”
Host, CBRE’s Experience Services and Digital business, exists to serve this need; our partners understand that a great experience doesn’t “just happen” and that there is a need to deliberately activate the culture of a workplace. Harvard professors found that, over a ten-year period, the average revenue at companies that proactively manage culture is 516 percent higher than those who don’t. 5 In their book, The Power of Moments, Stanford professors (and brothers) Chip and Dan Heath argue, “The ‘occasional remarkable’ moment shouldn’t be left to chance. They should be planned for, invested in. And if we fail to do that, look at what we’re left with: mostly forgettable.” 6
To be clear, prioritizing moments of joy and delight doesn’t mean that employees are always happy at work, or that happiness is the goal of a great workplace. In fact, Gensler estimates that 43 percent of employees say, instead, the “best” workplaces “promote team building and collaboration.” 7 Collaboration in the workplace is challenging, however, when 86 percent of employees don’t know what their colleagues are working on. 8
As the heart of the workplace, Host Experience teams proactively connect with employees to learn about their worlds, to broker introductions to others, and to create ongoing rituals that inspire collaboration and foster organizational teams. “Name-knowing” is a core aspect of Host—imagine walking into your workplace to be greeted, by name, by someone who knows who you are, what you do, and what you need. Research shows that hearing one’s own name causes a unique activation of the brain, giving scientific credence to the engaging nature of name-knowing! 9 These customized interactions are also grounded in hospitality best practices; the world’s best concierges and restaurateurs understand the delightful nature of personalization.
If the benefits are so well-known, why isn’t this interaction typical in the place we spend the most time: at work? It’s essential that we change the baseline. That’s why the Host baseline isn’t focused on any single event. Rather, it prioritizes the creation of a connected environment that sparks joy—something employees will remember fondly.
I will always remember, for example, a recent experience visiting CBRE’s San Francisco office. I had taken an early morning flight, been on back-to-back calls in transit and upon arrival, and was hitting an afternoon slump. Knowing that I was out of my element and that my workflow was never-ending, a Host tracked me down as I was walking between meetings; he held a bowl of peanut butter pretzels.
“I know you’re always booked, and I remembered how much you like these,” he said. “I thought you might need an afternoon snack to get you through the rest of your day.”
I did, and I’ll never forget how his simple anticipatory gesture made me feel welcomed, cared for, and enabled to do my best work.
What you might be thinking: “That’s great for you, but what does this mean for my organization?”
In the amenities race, one-upmanship can seem like the name of the game, which can be especially daunting as companies try to outdo themselves. Trying to replicate a specific amenity because a competitor offers it is likely to be a wasted investment that leads to a cultural mismatch. With that in mind, how can we re-imagine the mundane and elevate the baseline day-to-day? Research shows that across industries, employees who feel emotionally connected to and accepted by their workplace are more satisfied with, committed to, and accountable for their work.10 This emotional connection is fostered through regular and ongoing positive interactions at work, “A warm smile, a kind note, a sympathetic ear—day after day, month after month,” and these small moments build a big community effort that pays off.
Around the globe, our Hosts find opportunities to make an impact each day. While it might be common to celebrate birthdays, Hosts also celebrate work anniversaries and encourage individuals to share their favorite colleague memories and professional (and personal) successes. While occupancy data might normally show a dip in attendance on Fridays, Hosts hold regular end-of-week happy hours, often featuring special mixologists and tastings. Still others host community rituals that align with the makeup of teams. For example, one team that works with an Asia-centric business coordinates a weekly teatime, while a group aligned with Europe shows all European League football games.
Introducing employees based on shared preferences or affinities doesn’t have to cost a thing. Yet this kind of casual and low-stakes association building can seriously enhance the way employees feel about their work. For nine out of ten people, a great experience at work is related to feeling inspired throughout the work week.11 The benefits of a delightful experience are clear, universal, and accessible.
Although they would have likely enjoyed free breakfast or weekly massages, I’d guess that for people like NoNeck, Bear, and BeeBop, the luster of those luxuries would fade away well before the glow of making important connections did.