Best places to work in Nairobi
A door opens on the left side of the reception at the Safaricom Call Centre in Mlolongo and a pregnant woman emerges holding a brown packet filled with medication close to her chest.
She slowly walks towards the reception and soon disappears behind it as another employee walks quickly past her to the closing door.
Behind the door is a long corridor leading to the doctor’s room, laboratory, a pharmacy, sleeping area for infants, kids feeding room, baby’s kitchen, mothers’ room and a crèche stretching to the playing ground outside.
This is the set-up of Safaricom Contact Centre - a building commissioned in 2009 to house the expanding call centre.
The woman holding a the bag of medication is an employee of Safaricom and she had just visited the doctor for a check-up in their in-house clinic.
Upstairs just above the reception, is a group of young men in the games room playing pool while others are seated at the canteen adjacent to the pool area having a meal as some browse the net at the cyber yet it is hardly lunch hour.
But then, do not mistake them for unruly employees, they are taking a break from work to have fun and in 15 minutes, they will be back at work for the next three hours.
Depending on their plans for the day, they may opt to pass by the gym downstairs in the evening and lock themselves up in the steam room, sauna or workout before taking a company ride home.
There is also a library and a banking room for those who may need the services before going home.
Welcome to the new age work environment in corporate Kenya. Unlike the old stuck up offices partitioned with plywood, today’s office space has undergone a transformation both in the interiors, building design and the way employees go about their duties.
Companies are investing hugely in the wellbeing of their employees which human resource (HR) services personnel say that it has not only boosted their spirits, but also seen a high turnover in employee retention.
“The ambience of the environment where your employees work is very important because then you get return on investment.
"You might not look at it from a tangible perspective where you say how much money is coming in, but we look at how they deliver service to customers, dedication, loyalty and retention figures, how many customers stay with you.
"You will get well-adjusted employees who are not rude to your customers because the environment fosters that kind of healthy state of mind so that in your delivery process they are motivated sufficiently to be able to deliver to that client.
"People will stay with you because you have motivated them sufficiently and created an enabling environment for them to work,” said Goldemier Opiyo, call centre manager at Safaricom.
Jeniffer Padayatchy, area head of talent and organisational development at British American Tobacco (BAT) is another manager who admits that an enhanced work environment leads to good employee retention.
“Our employee turnover is in the range of three to four per cent. Even those who leave do so because of retirement or promotion." said Ms Padayatchy.
According to Ms Padayatchy, BAT has also enhanced its work station because of the number of young workers they have.
“We realised young people find working in Industrial Area unattractive and so we decided to have the kind of work environment that would get them interested in us.
BAT has a top-of-the-range restaurant for employees that operates 24 hours a day, a resource centre with a multimedia section, a mother’s room (for mothers to express the milk), staff clinic open to dependants, a gym, in-house travel agent, coffee stations and a pub.
However, modern work stations are not only limited to Safaricom and BAT.
Craft Silicon Limited, a software making company, Standard Chartered Bank, Coca-Cola Kenya office, iHub and Google are other companies that have adopted the trend.
Craft Silicon opened the doors to its new building (Craft Silicon Campus) in 2009, equipped with a furnished guest house for internal use, a swimming pool, table tennis and pool table set inside the office, an ATM machine, equipped gym, a coffee bar named after the company (Silibar), a football and basketball pitch and a life size chessboard.
At the roof terrace, is an extensive eating area with parasols and chairs off the kitchen. The balcony lends the view of Waiyaki Way from the front and Kianda School area at the back.
Every Friday evening, the company organises a barbeque and Karaoke at Silibar for employees to unwind and mingle. No doubt, the environment inspires creativity and innovation among employees.
As for Standard Chartered Bank, the green building on Waiyaki Way that cost Sh3.3 billion to set up was built with three objectives in mind.
“In putting up this building, the bank looked to achieve a number of objectives. First, to have a head office that was reflective of our image and to make a statement as a leading brand in East Africa. Secondly, to provide our staff with a pleasant and conducive working environment where they could increase collaboration and creativity. We also sought to have a building that was environmentally friendly,” said Annie-Kigira Kinuthia, head of corporate affairs.
The building has meeting suites, cafeteria and conference suits.
“The collection of artwork is a visual expression of the company’s diverse culture and a representation of our key markets of Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” explained Mrs Kinuthia.
Google is another company that has raised the bar for corporates wishing to enhance their work environment.
With facilities such as gym, kitchens offering countless cuisines in 85 cafes worldwide, massage rooms and reading rooms, the company has a touch of fun in everything.
“We set out to build the healthiest and happiest workforce on the planet, and help them and their families stay healthy. We take a holistic approach, looking at the physical, emotional and financial health needs of our Googlers.
"Our onsite perks and food were designed to take care of your health and wellness. We’re very into preventative care this includes onsite wellness centres and gyms. We see the impact of this in the low costs of healthcare to the company,” said Google.
Like BAT, Google has no dress code. An aspect Ms Padayatchy says has made things efficient and appeals to young generation of workers given the average age of most employees at BAT is 35.
Suits and ties are reserved for special meetings whereas ordinary days pass with staff dressed jeans.
“Google makes big bets; we’re high-risk and high-reward, which makes working here an amazing. Google work culture is centred around promoting collaboration and the exchange of ideas. We believe our culture continues to support our innovative spirit,” said Google.
“We joke whenever one of us is in a suit teasing them if they are from a job interview,” says Ms Padayatchy humorously explaining the culture at BAT.
Recently the company converted one of the offices to a lounge for informal feedback and interaction sessions in formal work environment which has picked up well.
Technology is another thing they have not left out. These companies have set up screens almost everywhere for communication.
It is not unusual to find on screen at BAT, a photo of an employee who is celebrating their birthday or a box of cake at the tea stations.