Copywriter Emily Beech reflects on a week’s exchange in Amsterdam with digital designer Jenny Welsh.
First of all, a bit of background. Last year Jenny and I won a place on the Tribe Global exchange programme, aimed at giving us an insight into another agency. This August we did exactly that, spending a week in Amsterdam at Steam. Being the first of its kind, no one knew quite what to expect. I just wanted to bring back more than an overpriced packet of duty free stroopwafels for the office.
So armed with a few fresh perspectives, it’s been difficult to know which one to write about. Weed, red light windows and canals are no news to anyone. As for other stereotypes, the rumours are true. Everyone’s eyewear is impeccable. The people are impossibly tall. And everyone breezes by on bicycles with complete disregard for basic health and safety measures. The Dutch, it seems, are too cool to crash.
And since a blog about the incredible Edam I sampled (many times) at the Cheese Museum wouldn’t appear the best use of company money, I’ve opted for another striking part of Dutch culture – thoughtfulness.
From the cycle lanes to the library and interactive games at the Airport, everything is so thought through. It’s not about efficiency or economy. It’s about experience. Even the vending machine burgers of Febo are thoughtful, albeit horrifying – helping the swarm of British stag dos swaggering around the centre satisfy their unexplainable munchies in record time.
Nowhere was this more so than Steam. Perhaps amplified further by their business being all about employer branding. Helping companies recruit the right people, evolve their culture and keep staff happy – building their brand from within, not just with advertising.
Firstly at 12.30, they rang a bell for lunch and I was transported back to primary school. To my brief dismay there wasn’t a turkey dinosaur in sight, but the spread of sandwiches, salads and fruit stretching along their communal table soon compensated. It was the same every day, and over the course of the week even more little details became apparent. Like the amount of space and being able to stand or sit at your desk. The balcony and lighting. Even the dangerously moreish biscuits were bought from a charity run deli that employs bakers with severe learning difficulties.
This thoughtfulness went a long way in creating a homely atmosphere. A concept so important to the Dutch they’ve got their own word for it: “gezellig”. A word so intrinsic to their culture it defies translation. A cosy, warmth that feels like home is the best I can do. The drinks we went for on Thursday night were “gezellig”. The snug little pods where people could work. The sound of Sam the Labrador’s feet softly padding across the floor.
It’s a philosophy that makes work a little bit happier. Gives you a boost. It’s not about hosting brainstorms in an office ball pit to look creative. It’s just caring for the everyday stuff. Making sure you’re in the best position possible to thrive. Like an athlete. Managing your day-to-day so when the starting gun goes, you can perform at your best. Essential, when your business is based on having creative on tap.
This trip was a reminder to start putting work environment higher up the pecking order. We all like a tidy desk but let’s go further. Keep heading out the office when we can. Put more stuff on the walls. See more films, visit more museums. Don’t just listen to adland, but sportspeople, inventors, and old age pensioners. Swap country for grime and back again. Make cakes, make plans, make mistakes. Buy a cactus called Collin for your desk.
And overall just make things a little more gezellig.
BJL is a founding member of Tribe Global, a network of independent agencies with bases in Europe, North America, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.