Chiswick, in West London, is well known for its sleepy nature and celebrity residents, but it is also home to Chiswick Park, a major office development designed by Richard Rogers. The site, which is home to many leading world companies such as Disney and CBS News, is unique in the fact that it was designed, from the outset, with employee engagement in mind. The glistening lake that sits at the site’s core was constructed first and the rest of the park has sprung up around it. The park places the employee at the centre of its mission, workers are not even referred to as such, instead they are termed ‘guests’.
To accompany the glistening glass verges and the growing community of wildlife (a heron has just made its home on the lake) is the Enjoy-Work programme. The programme sees a calendar of events rolled out for employees on the site, all constructed around the notion that a happy worker makes a productive worker. Activities range from a zip wire strung from one office window to another, or volleyball on the site’s extensive piazza, to pop-up petting zoos. On bonfire night there are fireworks. On ‘Blue Monday’ employees were met at the gate by people dressed as fruit handing out apples and oranges. There are even language classes available so employees can broaden their skills after work. In short, everyday is a new adventure at Chiswick Park. HRreview sat down with the Chiswick Park Enjoy Work’s CEO Graham White and Head of Brand Gareth Bain.
The park is fifteen years old and was built at a time when employee engagement was not necessarily a prime consideration and yet it’s front row centre in the design. How did this come about?
The design does feel quite American and it was intended as a kind of North American style operation and the vision was to allow people to enjoy work and to give them the space to do that. The drive was that we believe that people will work better if you engage with employees, if they are in a nice environment that allows them to have some fun.
Did Enjoy-Work grow with the site?
It was always planned to have a team that would organise activities and engage the tenants, so it wasn’t an afterthought at all.
Was this an original idea when it was conceived?
Yes, it was original and there certainly aren’t many sites like it in the UK or in the world. There are, of course companies like Google that have similar features. The idea is simple, if you actively engage with people then they will actively engage back with you, if they are enjoying what they are doing they are in turn likely to be more productive.
Do all the companies on the site have their own HR departments and then you work with them?
Yes, we have what we call a HR Forum on site, where we engage with different companies and their HR teams. This is partly to show them what we are doing, but it is also to get them to interact as well, as lots of companies tend to work in silos, they do their thing and they do their thing within their own organisation, but there aren’t that many that share what they do with other people. But here all the companies are close neighbours.
Do the companies on site have to pay to be involved?
As part of their service charge they do, yes. But we agree a budget with them every year and its our task to work within that budget. We can’t just say that something will be a fantastic event and disregard the cost. We have to work within a budget.
There is a trend nationally, at the moment, of people not staying in jobs for very long. Is there evidence of people staying longer because of the engagement programmes you run?
Chiswick Park runs its own jobs website, which interacts between the companies on the site. We will have people who, if they have to leave a company, will look around for another job on this site because they want to stay and enjoy all the facilities.They do not necessarily stay loyal to the same companies, but they do stay loyal to the site. The HR departments here tell us that our work helps them to recruit and retain staff. In a way we are helping the HR teams here to do their jobs. We set the scene, we make some of their tasks easier, so that they can focus on other things. Our surveys tell us that 90 percent of employees here think that Enjoy-Work improves their working lives.
Do all the employees of a company get involved? Is there enough to cater to everyone’s interests?
Each year we continually change the programme. We take note of what people say through social media. Not so long ago there were complaints that there were not enough cycle spaces available and in response to that we created more. So there are lots of things that we will listen to and then we try to make amends.
Do people use their lunchtimes to carry out these activities?
Yes, some will use their lunch hours, some are early mornings, some will be more flexible and say that they need oi nip out at a particular time to do a certain session. We try to put our main activities on the plaza outside. Our role is to facilitate. Last year we ran a beach week, for example, and had sand imported and turned the plaza into beach.
What are your backgrounds? Have you always worked in the engagement area?
Gareth Bain: I spent seven years working at Cape Town International Airport in South Africa. The airport there is an entirely different space to Heathrow as you can only fly out of one airport in Cape Town. So there was a captive market that was not being engaged with. The way we benchmarked our ethos was to say if you can get a passenger to enjoy the experience, they will stay there for longer. They will arrive earlier, perhaps have a burger, a breakfast, they might stay later, grab a coffee. So my job was about creating an experience. With that came the engagement of staff. We needed to make the airport customer focused. The staff had to be the ambassadors for our ideas. Staff should be a business’ number one priority, because if you treat your staff well, they will in turn treat your customers well. One of the sayings I use quite regularly is from Walt Disney, ‘do what you do well, so that people want to come back, tell their friends and experience it again’. That is what we are trying to do here.
Graham White: I come from a leisure and hospitality background. I spent many years working with Center Parcs, where we were providing hospitality and entertainment programmes for thousands of guests a week on a rolling basis. The sites were in relatively remote locations too, so you had to make sure that staff were retained. So it was a split role.
Just to finish off, what activities do you have planned for this year?
Well, the beach will be back for two weeks this year. We are looking to provide a zip wire that will run the length of the park. We also want an international theme running through our activities this year, because we do have a lot of international companies on the site. We’ll also do things that work in line with some of the big events of the year, the Queen’s 90th birthday, for example, or the summer Olympic Games. So, there is quite a lot that we will be able to piggy-back on to in order to create an exciting year of events.