Could this be Britain’s best boss?
THERE is a giant helter slide, a tree house, a mini golf course, giant swings, a pool table, foosball and even a large yoga area. While it might sound like a leisure complex, this is an office in Southampton, perhaps unsurprisingly designed by its employees. In fact, when their boss was away they were asked whether they wanted windbreaks or a pub. That was a no-brainer for the young IT specialists who keep the bar stocked with spirits and beers.
Outside there’s a huge terrace with a barbecue overlooking Town Quay marina for staff to enjoy the sea views. And if the staff are feeling thirsty or peckish, there’s a top-of-the-range coffee machine and even a fully stocked freezer with ice cream. It’s no surprise that employees of Peer 1 Hosting are so happy, they even arrange to meet there at the weekends. But for managing director, Dominic Monkhouse, who regularly uses the pitch and putt while making conference calls, the happiness of his staff is a priority for a successful business.
He laughs: “It was a catastrophe earlier in the summer. Someone left the freezer door open overnight and all the ice cream melted. “I got a text from Becky saying ‘we’ve got a critical issue with the ice cream, can I have your credit card?’ “One of the rules is if it makes this a better place to work for everybody, not just you and it costs less than £100, then just do it and put it on expenses! There are no questions asked so people just do stuff.” Dominic said people can do whatever they like and use the facilities at any time. He believes the empowerment makes them more committed to work. “I’d rather be let down than to not trust. When people tell me they are going to do a good job, I believe them,” he says. He’s interrupted by a bark and two white terriers scurry around an employee’s desk near their large pet bed. But pets at work are welcome. Dominic brings his Labrador, Monty, to work who regularly roams the 17,000sq ft office.
While many people may wonder if any work gets done at the firm, Dominic believes empowering staff and creating a happy environment is the secret to success – and actually boosts productivity. “Happiness is absolutely fundamental. I can’t envisage getting great customer service from people who don’t enjoy doing what they are doing. If you are happy, you take a sense of pride rather than it just being a job.”
Dominic, billed as the happy entrepreneur, regularly speaks at business events to share how his philosophy has improved the results of a number of organisations.
“There are some companies more extreme than us. There’s W.L Gore for example, they don’t have job descriptions and everybody knows everybody else’s salary. The team decide how you allocate pay rises.
“At Netflix you don’t have to book holiday – it’s effectively unlimited holiday. Of course nobody takes unlimited holiday because once there are no constraints people are more careful.
“I find it really odd when I go around organisations and it’s like ‘sshhh’ I think ‘why’s it so quiet in here?’‘Why does no one seem to be enjoying themselves?’Some of these organisations are like ‘please Miss can I go to the toilet’, it’s strange.”
Among his pet hates are things not working in an office, directors’parking and separate offices for management. But his biggest hate is undoubtedly miserable people. “I can’t bear it,” he says. “Of course there are times when stuff bothers people more than it does on another day. You fall out with the wife, trip over the dog, something happens at work, you haven’t got as much money as you thought you were going to have, your mum’s not well, your dad’s been diagnosed with something nasty, you’ve fallen out with your best friend.”
However for Dominic he feels it is his duty to lift people’s spirits.
“Sometimes people get caught in it and you’ve just got to help them out. Having a game of golf, having a nice swing, going down the slide, having someone go past and say ‘do you fancy an ice cream?’, they are experiences that fill your bucket throughout the day and they do make a difference. But there are more simple ways to lift people’s spirits. You can say thank you, you can write them a note, you can have a conversation with them, you can send them out to dinner with their wife, but sometimes it is just a conversation. That goes a long way.
“You’ve got to make sure that people never feel they are just a cog in the wheel or their contribution isn’t valued so people continue to be engaged and positive.
“A happy team will achieve the best results for the business.”