Afraid of the Office? Top 3 Keys To Make Your Association a Kick-ass Place to Work According to History

Caution: No turtles were harmed in the making of this blog.

Correction error: In the podcast, I suggest the East India Company first moved into their office in Britain in the 19th Century, when it was in fact the 18th Century. The article has been updated with the correct century.

We’ve all heard tales from friends and family of these luscious workspaces with ping-pong tables, Friday beers and unlimited PTO. But today, many people think of a great workplace as not even one specific place at all, with many employers opting for a permanent remote work setup after a trial proved prosperous during the pandemic. After all, if it’s not broke, why fix it? And if it’s not broke and it boosts employee morale and productivity, why not make it company policy?

Today, we’re going to talk about the three major categories your association — and really any business — can optimize to make a kick-ass workplace. Now, my boss would give me a stern talking to if I wrote this whole post with the single point of employee satisfaction, so rest assured these tips will encourage a boost in productivity and revenue.


1. Corporate Culture

This category covers the look, feel and operation of your association. How do people interact with each other? Is that interaction encouraged to be a free and open dialogue, or are employees' voices knowingly drawn to a hush as leadership walks past? Do you have a culture club that organizes team-building activities and social events? Are folks busy enjoying their work, or working to look busy?


2. Work-life balance

The age-old battle between how much you should be working and how much you should be living. This will look different at different workplaces and positions in each workplace’s hierarchy. Some members of leadership see their elevated status as a privilege and spend every waking hour worrying about work, while others see it as a laurel to rest on as they practice their short game in their corner office before taking off early. But what’s the right balance that gets stuff done, keeps your employees happy and your members engaged? 


3. Product

Depending on your product category, this could be your most important contributor to having a kick-ass workplace. For brevity, we’re going to bucket all the output of your association into this category, so your product includes things like your membership benefits, courses and events, but also your communications like your member emails and social media. If your product kicks ass, you have a great chance of attracting people who want to kick ass.


But first, a brief history of “the office” as a concept.

The idea of an office, or a physical place in which a person sits down to work, isn’t new. What are now towering skyscrapers of steel and glass started as modest, quiet rooms in monasteries and churches. In these rooms, people would sit and write with a feather quill and parchment, usually to produce copies of religious texts or write letters. University of Technology Research Fellow, Augustin Chevez and Senior Lecturer, DJ Huppatz note one early example of the office in classical art: Botticelli’s “Saint Augustine in His Study,” painted all the way back in 1480.

Early business magnates like the Rothschilds and the Barings lived and worked out of their giant manors. By the late 17th Century, lawyers, doctors and government employees were toiling in offices built all across Europe. But the earliest example of the office as we know it today, a building full of rooms with desks and chairs where people chat, drink coffee and sometimes even work, seems to have been built, like most things, out of necessity. 

In the mid-18th Century, the East India Company needed a physical space to store their piles and piles of ledgers, forms and other important artifacts that managed their transactions all over the world. They moved into one of the earliest examples of purpose-built office space in Britain and in doing so, “They created the bureaucracy to process information and make decisions about things that were taking place thousands of miles away," according to Swansea University's Huw Bowen. 

Then just before the turn of the century, the railroad became a thing, and everything changed. Local businesses became national. Magnates across the country saw practically unlimited profit in a new business landscape 2,800 miles wide and made haste like they were chugging rocket fuel. When they did, shop clerks who were once able to calculate their quarterly shipments, do their weekly inventory and tally their daily sales on a few pieces of paper or in their head, were now scrambling to keep track in a truly United States of America. More ledgers, more documents, more copies, more clerks, more bookkeepers, more offices.

When it came to company culture in previous centuries, your outlook as an employee was generally rough. You were typically in the office for 12 hours a day, 6 days per week, with little room for impact or creativity – most people were human emails or photocopiers. 


retro photo of office workers on typewriters


Benefits were slim, with accounts of some employees having their Christmas bonuses cut – and if a Christmas bonus sounds like a luxury to you, just know that it was actually a common practice for employers to dole out amounts to every employee equal to roughly ten percent of their annual wage. One disgruntled employee even diarized his distaste for the East India Company when it did away with the “yearly turtle feast.” Upward mobility was nearly nonexistent unless the person above you died, which wasn’t all that uncommon with the rate of stress, depression and even suicides, such as one employee leaping out of a company window. 

Fast forward to the last ten years, and our whole environment has changed, as well as our outlook. We abolished the six-day work week and established unions, corporate culture and equal rights – kind of. We’ve had surges of job shortages, then labor shortages and the rise of #hustleculture — a capitalist phenomenon perpetuating the myth that you could be just like Elon if you worked hard enough.

Then a global pandemic hit and everything changed again.

Restaurants, retail outlets and yes, offices around the world closed their doors as we entered lockdown. Millions of people were laid off or furloughed, while millions more were sent off with their laptops and their monitors to work from home. Just as the railroad brought monumental change to business in the 1800s, so too did remote work in 2020. 

Most people who could do their jobs from home say they never worked remotely before the pandemic. Now, 71 percent are working from home all, or most, of the time and more than half want to keep it that way.

Like leadership expert Jamie Notter says, when the pandemic hit and we allowed our employees to work from anywhere they wanted, we put an enormous amount of power in their hands. As our world recovers and opens back up for business, most people aren’t just going to give that power back. 

Now of course it’s true, there will always be people who like getting up, putting on a uniform and traveling to a physical space where they can be part of a work community. But for many of us, working from home saves a life changing amount of time and money, from packing meals – or eating out – to two hours spent on the freeway every day. It really comes down to the individual and the workspace, and for policy makers and people leaders, this should be the most exciting time in your career. Great destabilization always results in great change, and you have the power in your hands to decide what that change looks like.


woman in yellow jacket laughing at man in black shirt


Right now, you decide the future of work for not just your employees, but for the future of our country. 

You decide…

How to make your association a kick-ass workplace

The three following buckets are not in any particular order, but it’s important to note that they all come after the most important factor of any job as stated by employees. If you believe in stuff like reports, surveys and studies, the number one factor in recruiting and retaining quality employees is pay. 

There’s no getting around it, it’s always been the biggest selling point and the ultimate dealbreaker. You’ll see incredible benefits in recruiting high-quality talent through being transparent with your wage – especially on things like job postings and in interviews, working to keep your salaries competitive, and keeping up with evidence-based cost-of-living raises as a baseline on which to tack merit-based raises.

As companies, we can talk about loyalty and passion all we want, but if your employee can’t pay their bills and sees a job posting for half the work and twice the pay with your competitor, it’s an easy decision. Many companies today are taking on the mindset of paying as little as possible for as much as possible, but we see time and time again that this leads to higher rates of attrition, crazy burnout and lower-quality products. Plus, it’s always more expensive to hire a new employee than to offer a 30% raise that keeps a proven trustee.


1. Corporate Culture

From instilling employees with a sense of purpose and motivation to drive performance outcomes, productivity and ultimately, revenue, to just having a pleasant day-to-day experience, corporate culture is so critically important and this is a relatively easy and inexpensive channel to make minor tweaks for huge results.

One of the biggest ways to establish a healthy company culture is just demonstrating care from the top down. Research from shows that when a leader takes steps to actively mentor their employees, the majority of employees in turn feel like part of a larger purpose, feel a stronger connection with their organization and more than double their motivation.

This connection between leadership and employees is proving to be especially important among the next generation of workers, too. 82% of Gen Zs say it’s important their leader not only help them set performance goals, but care about their lives.

In the same article, they also mention a steadfast attention to employees “above and beyond” actions, and responding to them with swift thank yous. Bringing in baked goods, setting up a company brunch or just making Friday a half-day are all great, tangible, no-strings-attached ways of creating an environment of comfort, wonder and inspiration.

Key takeaway: Encourage, engage, inspire. Set up your workplace in such a way that you’d want your kids to work there, from their first job to their retirement party. Give your leadership team and your employees opportunities to connect – and be sure to steer clear of making them spend their personal time when doing so. 


man standing in front of a mural that reads "productivity"

2. Work-life balance

I’m going to defer to leadership expert, Jamie Notter, who has a terrific Forbes article on this subject. To boil it down, he presents two options: go back to the old, structured, nine to five factory-line style work schedule with commutes and lunchroom chatter and all that good stuff. If you choose this option, you need to communicate your rationale to your employees. You need to explain to them why it makes the most sense for their work and how that gives you the best chance at achieving your business objectives. 

You may have seen a dip in productivity during the work-from-home era, complete with employee complaints of isolation and deteriorating mental health. Again, while the idea of an office is now largely being denounced as outdated, it’s important to remember that there are tons of jobs that require bodies in a given location, and there are a ton of people who thrive on that structure and routine. Realize that you need to make the choice that works best for your company but go in aware that you may risk losing talent if they realize that another mode of work that you're not willing to support works better for them. So it's best to open a dialogue with valued employees regardless of your decision.

Another option is to discover what works best for your employees and your business through a data-driven approach and offer as much flexibility as possible. It’s not about allowing a free-for-all for your employees, it’s about considering individual needs and working styles. Let people know they’re free to come in, or they’re free to stay home. Allow your leadership team to set up in-person meetings for critical events or discussions as needed, and measure the outcomes. Discover how your employees work their best and use that data to inform your policy moving forward.

Key takeaway: Gather data from your KPIs and feedback from your employees. Discuss options with your leadership team, and then come to a decision that keeps your employees happy – read: engaged – while optimizing your business outcomes.

3. Product

Don’t sell soap, sell hope.

Your product is what you deliver to your customer. In order for your employees to feel that ever-important sense of purpose, to work hard and chase that fulfillment, to become inspired, that product needs to be something that’s impacting your customers lives in a meaningful way. 

In short, you need to have a product people can get behind, in order for people to want to get behind it. 

If you’re concerned that this doesn’t apply to you, that maybe your product isn’t perfect or different enough or developed enough to warrant cheerleaders and a swing jazz band, then good news! No product is perfect. From iPhones, to associations, to industrial cleaning supplies, everyone is still working on their offering – and like some genius once said, if you’re not innovating, you’re dying.

So what this means in practical next steps for your association, is this is as much a matter of perception as it is a matter of product quality and support. 

Warning: I’m about to lick boots, but I promise it’s genuine. No one is paying me extra to include this. 

At WorkerBee.TV, we just finished celebrating our 15th anniversary. Fifteen years! That’s longer than most startups and fifteen years longer than my last marriage! I kid. But the truth is, we haven’t had 15 successful years of developing objective-smashing videos for an incredible and ever-expanding roster of kick-ass clients all because we make the best videos, no. Yes, our videos kick ass, but there’s big-budget studios out there where you can pay millions to have Nolan-esque productions complete with explosions and car chases to promote your business. Sure, they won’t know the first thing about your needs as an association, (but we kind of stand alone in that category, so you can’t blame them).

We’ve had fifteen successful years, first and foremost, because our president in chief Dan Stevens believes in a mission:

"To make it simple, beneficial and profitable for our clients to continually inform, educate and inspire their community – anywhere, anytime and on any device."

He believes so deeply and so truly, in the value of that mission that he’s dedicated most of the waking moments of his life to helping it come true for people. I’ve seen it first hand, the look on clients' faces when they get the first viewing of the video they’ve been waiting for. When we show them their new platform hosting all their incredible content. When their non-dues revenue skyrockets. 

In Dan’s own words, our “how” changes every year. We’re always growing, bringing in new people who are drawn toward the magnetic field of our team’s enthusiasm and communal passion. It feels like every other month now, I’m waving hello to a new hire who quickly picks up and puts out the effort and refined talent in our products. 

We’ve gone from a six-person crew above a blinds store to a 50+ employee international business. We have custom-made honeycomb-shaped lighting in our warehouse-sized office. We have a giant map in our office kitchen with little pins in all the different places we’ve done shoots, and when that board got put up and all of us stood around and popped our pins in all the wonderful places we've been, the look on Dan’s face was the look of a proud father watching his children grow up and be successful – which Dan also has.


blue and white world map with yellow pins in it


But without all that, we’d still have our mission and our people. People who encourage, who mentor, who take big chances that could fail massively but feel okay, because they know we’re around to help them get back up. They may come and go, but when you work a job that makes an impact, you’ll always leave a mark.

Alright, alright, I’m disgusting myself, but you get the point.

If you have a president, or a leadership team that’s so passionate about your product and what it does for people, you’re setting up a workplace with a mission. If you can get people invested in your idea, then they’ll carry that into their work all the way through to your external communications – which means your customers will see it too. And if there’s one thing people like to support, it’s what they believe in.

Key takeaway: Believe in what you’re doing and in time, other people will too.

Now you know how to make your association into a kick-ass workplace

So remember, first and foremost, pay your talent a living wage. Once you’ve negotiated that, you don’t need three months PTO, trips to Disneyland and an Xbox in the break room. All you need is a meaningful mission, the wisdom to listen to the people helping you accomplish it, and the followthrough to act on their feedback. And if you ever find yourself searching for direction along the way, well, a great man once said... 

Rule #1: Go with your heart.

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