In my line of work, I visit a lot of offices – small companies, large ones, fancy banks, tiny estate agencies, regulators, police, the occasional casino. And as I was sitting in a very grand foyer last week, leafing through the newspaper selection and admiring the curly-wurly sticks arranged artfully in a vase slightly taller than I was, I ruminated on the philosophy behind it all. What does an impressive entrance to your offices say? We’re doing really well? We value your visit? We’ve got money to burn? We’re scared of looking less important than that lot next door? As a frequent visitor, what I actually value most on arrival is not curly-wurly sticks but a friendly greeting, a comfy seat, and a loo where I can “freshen up” so that my meeting doesn’t have to start with me saying “Hello-lovely-to-meet-you-please-can-I-just-pop-to-the-ladies-as-it-was-a-long-and-joggly-tube-journey-thank-you”.
What is even more interesting is to compare the public grandeur with the behind-the-scenes reality. Too often the marble foyer and sparkling public meeting rooms are the front for a warren of tired, low-ceilinged cubicles where the staff have to work every day. I know that I often wish for the unrealistically ideal, but it seems to me that happy staff are more important than wowed visitors. I know of one place of work where the staff refer to themselves as “pit ponies”, so dark and cramped are their offices. (Unless they mean that they all have gleaming long hair and sturdy legs, but I think not.) It’s a bit like saving the best china for visitors: why not get it out every day and let everyone enjoy it and feel uplifted by its beauty?