Creating a workplace that attracts and retains talent

In the war for talent, companies need to be more creative in the way they attract and retain the best people. Mindful that pay and perks alone are no longer enough some businesses have applied their creativity, quite literally, to the workspace itself, with some excellent results.

Hiring the most talented dental professionals in Europe was a primary objective for cosmetic dental practice Smileworks and a major part of its talent acquisition strategy involved creating an inspirational workspace.

The original idea for Smileworks emerged on a Virgin Atlantic flight to Miami in 2013 when barrister Ed Challinor got chatting to dentist MJ Rowland-Warmann, now his fiancée, about everything that was wrong with private dentistry. "We likened dentistry to transatlantic flying," says Challinor. "Both are things you sometimes have to do and can either be a complete nightmare or an absolute delight, depending on who you choose to fly with."

Their vision was for a dental practice where people looked forward to their treatments and raved about their experiences to their friends, and so the concept of Smileworks was born. In a nod to the auspicious Virgin Atlantic flight, the practice is airline themed. The front of house staff are the 'cabin crew' sitting at the reception 'jet desk', a painstakingly restored airbrake from a Tornado Fighter Jet.

Challinor says: "The practice needs to create a good feeling, which makes patients feel better about treatment, and also allows us to pick from the A-player candidates; the top 10 per cent of talent available at a given salary level. We hired our implantologist with a video advert showcasing the practice served up on Facebook to every English-speaking implant dentist in Europe. Our unique workspace has helped propel us to becoming Liverpool’s most popular dental practice - we are approaching our target of 20 per cent year-on-year growth - but it’s also the systems, culture and care that the workspace represents that really helps us get the top 10 per cent."

The Leeds-based headquarters of American-style smokehouse restaurant chain Red’s True Barbecue, dubbed The Shed, is arguably the closest a company can get to a workspace that truly reflects its brand values, which in Red’s case include fun, engaging, energetic and determined. The 12,500 sq. ft. transformed warehouse, kitted out with a demonstration kitchen, tiki bar, brewery, and a raft of indoor sports and games, is a vibrant representation of them all.

Marketing director James Newman says: "This is our head office, but it is a lot more than that. It is the perfect place for training our team members in food and drink, we host all our internal events here, from award events and book launches, to the latest release from the brewery, and it’s a great party space. While we haven’t actively promoted it as an incentive for recruitment candidates, when we invite them for interview and walk into The Shed for the first time, we get a jaw dropping response.

"With fun as a core value it’s very important that is translated throughout the business. When your people congregate around a shared set of values you will get the best out of them. And if your head office can be that perfect representation of your brand values it makes a far bigger impact on your team members and employees who can come here and experience them for real, than anything you try to communicate to them on a piece of paper."

Staff at digital betting platform Smarkets must occasionally pinch themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming. From their pristine workspace overlooking St Katharine Docks, London’s only marina, three chefs prepare freshly cooked meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all completely free. At lunchtime every day a bell is rung and the team gathers to eat together before playing table football, enjoying an ice cream on the balcony, or taking a stroll around the docks. They also get to set their own salary, and have unlimited holiday.

However, being selected to join the team and enjoy this idyllic place of work is no walk in the park, as press officer Pascal Lemesre explains. He says: "The process of getting hired at Smarkets is quite a long one - we only want the very best talent - but everyone at the company takes part in interviewing, so as a candidate you get to meet the team. Once you're here, you can shape your own destiny because there are no managers. All of these things enable us to attract the top engineers who also interview at much bigger companies. We also enjoy a very low staff turnover."

However, as Nick Whiteley, managing director of flexible working solutions provider hfx points out, while state-of-the-art coffee and smoothie machines, pool tables, and games consoles are, at first glance, attractive perks that make life more comfortable at work, they are merely frills.

He says: "Creating a positive experience relies upon employing the right blend of people that are motivated, happy and as a result, productive. It’s important to foster a culture where employee contribution is valued ‘in the family’, where innovation and ideas are welcomed and considered. A positive work culture supports security and that breeds loyalty."

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