What makes a workplace great? 

Regardless of industry, region or size, there are a few constants executives can implement so their employees don’t dread getting up and going to work – whether they work remotely or in person. 

In November, founder of The Catalyst of Growth and YPO Mena Regional Learning Officer, Christine Assouad moderated a virtual panel with three members of YPO whose retail companies consistently rank as Great Workplaces in the Middle East. The discussion covered why it even matters to be named a “best place to work”, why they think their companies earn a spot on the list, and what the future of work looks like from their perspectives. Here‘s their advice. 

Treat your employees how you would like to be treated.

Like many executives, the early days of the COVID shutdowns had Thomas Lundgren scared, and unsure of his next steps. Founder & Creator at THE One, (Total Home Experience) a chain of affordable, modern and contemporary classic home décor stores across eight countries in the Middle East, he shares that the first thing he did was to put himself in his employee’s shoes. 

What would he want a company to do for him in this situation? “I’d want to hear that they were going to take care of me,” he says. So that was his first task, to make sure his workforce knew that they were all in this together. 

For him, it comes down to respect. As an executive you’ll have people from all walks of life working for you, and you want them to feel like they are a part of a larger whole, he says. It’s good business and it’s how you earn motivation. “If you don’t respect your employees, they will not respect you, and they will not respect the customers,” he adds. 

Understand what motivates your workforce. 

Being a “Best Place to Work” doesn’t mean you constantly shower your employees with small perks such as unlimited coffee or free lunches (neither of which Lundgren provides, he shares) like some buzzy Silicon Valley tech companies do. “There is a lot of crap out there that doesn’t make people more motivated,” he says. 

Instead, executives need to pay attention to what employees are saying they value, which these days is often a better work/life balance, and for Lundgren, work/life balance isn’t so much about the time spent working, it’s quality not quantity. 

“You need to keep your people interested, you need to keep your people informed, keep them involved and inspired,” he says.  

Patrick Chalhoub agrees. He is theCEO ofChalhoub Group, a privately held luxury goods retailer and distributor and the largest retail operator in the Middle East, overseeing 700+ retail stores in multiple countries. He adds that its important to constantly review your company’s benefits and policies such as maternity leave, to ensure they are in line with what the current workforce is interested in. 

“View employees as stakeholders; you need to capture their voice, hear about what they do and make sure to create the best possible experience for the group based on that feedback,” says Chalhoub. “It’s about talent acquisition and retention … though we are not a welfare company, we are here for a purpose, to give value. If we want to delight and inspire our customers, we have to start with our employees. Because if we make them happy, they will make our customer happy.”

Communication is key. 

“You cannot communicate enough,” says Hazem Midani, President of Sara Group, a third generation multi family business and the Middle East’s leading distributor of luxury bathroom products, high quality tiles, superior hospitality equipment, beautifully designed tableware, gift items and home accessories.

This especially rings true if you have a remote workforce, and/or if your workforce is spread across multiple geographic locations. 

But it is still possible to infuse your company culture throughout your locations. 

“I’m sure that hybrid work will become the norm, and this flexibility is important, but we need to safeguard the DNA, the culture and the human connection which is so important even if we move to a more hybrid way. 

Chalhoub advises CEOs to make sure all platforms are ready and contribute to positive virtual experiences like town halls and dashboards, so metrics across the organization are measured the same and everyone can view them at a glance. 

For Lundgren, good communication applies to your company’s policies and systems. Employees should know how they can get promoted, how to map a path to new opportunities, and he suggests an open door policy so that employees feel comfortable asking questions of anyone in the organization. 

Be a mindful leader.

Workplace culture must be upheld from the very top, so senior leaders need to walk the talk, says all three executives. Though they each brought some nuance to the question of what leaders can do to cultivate a better work environment.

Midani says it’s vital for employees to feel like they are trusted. “If our colleagues feel that we are micromanaging them or telling them exactly what to do in their job we lose the fire we lose we lose their inspiration we lose their creativity.”

For Lundgren, “There is nothing more powerful than being authentic. Authenticity is the hardest thing you can do, and you can’t pretend; you are either authentic or you’re not.”

Chalhoub adds that leaders need to reexamine how they see their own work. 

“Encourage company leaders to reverse the pyramid and really see their role not as a privilege but as a responsibility, not only to guide their teams, but to support them and serve them and show empathy.”