The workplace has evolved exponentially over the past decade, from large, uniform workstations and offices to efficient open plans and auxiliary areas. Technology has advanced from desktop computers and landlines to laptops and mobile apps. Innovation in technology has driven an increase in employees’ productivity and efficiency, and innovation in design has strategically followed.
However, effective and engaging workplace design doesn’t stop with a response to technological and real estate needs. It must go further, supporting the creation and integration of a company’s culture, brand identity, and overall community.
The most integrated cultures are co-created by leaders and teams. They are shared, organic, and capable of evolving. An authentic culture cannot be forced, but can be encouraged and supported. Without direct participation and buy-in from those involved, a company’s culture can end up a “mission statement on business card” or a “tagline on a wall” – noticed upon move-in, but quickly forgotten thereafter.
We have been fortunate to see these principles in action with a number of our key clients. In particular, technology companies are dealing with cultural change on almost a daily basis as a result of rapid growth. For example, one financial technology client has an ever-adapting nature and willingness to learn. Their leadership embodies an approach that has allowed exceptionally talented people of various backgrounds to come together with a unified and understood purpose.
The ethos of any company is the driving force. People connect over shared stories and experiences. Our job as workplace designers is to clearly understand the experiences of each and every client. What are their company’s particular drivers and values? How we can create a space that reflects and enhances those values and support the natural curation of their culture?
BUILDING BRAND AWARENESS
Understanding a client’s brand in the context of external perception and internal practices are two crucial elements to designing a meaningful workplace. Through visioning and programming interviews, we find that office staff often seeks their work environment to “walk the talk.” It has to be authentic and reflect the reasons why they joined the company, and offer opportunities to highlight how their contributions matter.
As a first step, we typically will create overlapping layers of an “experience map” to begin building a workplace design that contributes to the client’s ethos. We map out various use scenarios through points of view, such as anticipating the tour our client may give to a candidate or business partners, an all-hands meeting, or an event for external community engagement. These maps overlap with curated moments where people can connect to individual stories or testimonials that are both inspirational and aspirational.
We recently worked with a technology company whose focus is on physical activity and health, and we incorporated design elements to encourage movement. For example, we designed meeting spaces with treadmills, social and collaboration spaces along popular walking routes, and adaptable spaces with natural light, comfortable temperatures, and views. Since the company offices are spread between buildings within a dense urban location, we leveraged the city as a vital active conduit to tie both the company’s brand and connect staff with their customer base. Allowing workflow through the neighborhood created a first-hand brand awareness that extends beyond the interior office environment.
Technology has allowed the traditional office to transform into a dynamic working environment. The workplace is no longer built on “my” office or “my” desk, but has developed into “our” space: a place for community.Technology has provided flexibility, choice, and options to employees – giving everyone the ability to decide where, how, and when they work. Yet, the reduction of individual workspace has created a need for smaller neighborhoods within the larger community. To help alleviate the possibility of feeling “crowded” it is essential to effectively distribute varied opportunities for different work styles, while providing adequate support and shared spaces.
All of these factors have prescribed that companies establish community guidelines, the rules of engagement for the workplace. These guidelines address issues from etiquette to functionality.
Our Minneapolis office recently relocated and moved to an activity-based “free address” work environment with no assigned seats to untether talent from desks and empower employees with choice. Etiquette guidelines were created to assist in this new environment, including:
As an overall goal, the new workspace recognizes the value of a variety of workstyles: from large group meetings to spontaneous interactions to individual heads-down work. The studio supports this spectrum of work with project rooms, huddle rooms, pin-up spaces, and focus rooms.
Community guidelines present the parameters for employees to respect each other and their work places and to follow the “Platinum Rule”: treat others the way they want to be treated.
BUT REMEMBER: WORKPLACE DESIGN IS NOT A CHECKLIST
It is essential that these three ideas – culture, brand awareness, and community – work together in concert. Workplace design is not a checklist of the latest trends, technology, or philosophy. It is the exploration and clear understanding of all three elements interwoven into the places that people work and the experiences they have, to create highly productive and engaged employees and companies.
Active Designs Lead to Active Lifestyles
Walking into most office spaces you will see employees sitting at desks, heads down with their fingers busily typing away. The only real activity they get may be to the bathroom, to go for their break, or to discuss something with their boss or a coworker. Now take into consideration that more than a third of all Americans suffer from obesity. The CDC estimates that about 112,000 deaths annually are associated with obesity. Adequate physical activity can reduce the risk of health issues associated with it. Changes in the design of the workplace, with just three simple alterations, can ensure that an otherwise sedentary work day can turn into a moderately active one. This paves the way for employees to seek an active life outside of the office as well.
Encourage Movement with Stair-Centric Design
Climbing stairs for just two extra minutes a day can burn enough calories to combat the average annual weight gain of one pound a year for adults in the U.S. In most multilevel offices, stairs are kept out of the central part of the building. Usually, they’re tucked away in barely noticeable nooks in hallways behind glowing emergency exit signs. And unless there’s a fire, those stairs will largely go unused.
Keeping in mind the health of employees and other building occupants, allow your design to centralize the staircase. Make it feel like an essential part of the overall structure. Keep them out in an open and expansive space where they can be accented by light – natural or artificial but preferably natural. It sets the stairs as the core, provided more prominence in comparison to elevators. You can even further decorate and enliven them with artwork and lively colors.
Active Work Stations
Office design has seen a trend towards more open, collaborative, and active environments. Desks and seats are made adjustable, allowing workers to sit or stand to adjust their posture as they need. Fewer printers or other frequented areas located further apart may also encourage movement. This combats the tradition of sitting idly at a desk for hours and getting little to no movement besides going from the front door to the desk.
Environments impact lifestyles and if the workplace is built in such a way that it inspires physical activity, then employees and other building inhabitants will be more active in their personal lives. Investing in the health of employees is investing in the success of a business. Healthier employees are more diligent, engaged, and productive.
Imagine this: You wake up at 8 every weekday to make it to your 9-5 job. It’s certainly not your dream job, but it’s something to keep the bills paid and food on the table. You enter a simple rectangular office filled to the brim with bland gray cubicles and plain white walls with a single company logo plastered on the wall. As you make it to your designated desk, all you hear around you is the click-clack of fingers busily typing away, noisy printers going off, and garbled murmurs of coworkers answering and making calls. You sit at your desk – a 6x6 built-in table with a monitor on top with a comfortable yet not too comfortable chair. It’s the same as everyone else’s. Sure you may have a few more colorful pens, some pictures, a motivational quote or two, and some post-its scattered around to make it feel more inviting – but at its base really there’s nothing but a divider separating your desk from your neighbor’s. You clock out promptly at five, fingers sore and mind numb from a monotonous day, as you make it home through hellish traffic to do it all over again. The American Dream, am I right?
Well, what if I told you that this nightmare doesn’t have to be the life for you as an employer or as an employee? It’s possible and it all comes down to a simple thing – design. Thankfully, cubicles are disappearing in modern-day offices and more and more companies are realizing that design matters. It sets the tone of the work environment and if constructed strategically enough, the office space can support collaboration, customizability, and concentration resulting in efficient day-to-day business.
One size does not fit all and cloning traditional offices is detrimental. Workplaces are seeing a transition from private offices towards more open-space offices to give a feeling of mobility, flexibility, and teamwork. However, research shows that reducing noise and heightening the ability to concentrate leads to an increase in innovation and job performance. So, aim for balance and include private sections for focus.
Offices are no longer about sitting at your desk and working with your head down. It is far more active – it is creating ideas and solving problems with your team. Allow connecting and brainstorming with a design that allows chance encounters to increase familiarity and productive discussion, designs that encourage movement, adjustable tables, and private areas for phone calls or meetings. Ideally, seek out agile workspace solutions. Here are a few simple design trends that are key in modern day businesses and can make a world of a difference:
• HIDE WIRES: Hiding wires from electronics from desks and conference rooms can make a desk and overall office look neater and less cluttered and disorganized.
• BRING IN NATURE: Nature is the newest design trend. Wood panels, concrete flooring, floral patterns, and even living plants along walls are becoming popular. They give off a refreshing and natural feeling
• MULTIPURPOSE WORK AREAS: The newest replacement for cubicles are multipurpose spaces that even include non-assigned seating. They present a more convenient and casual shift.
• LOUNGE AREAS: Create the exact opposite of a traditionally rigid and overbearing workspace. Provide sections of comfortable collaboration with lighter technology to untether the office.
• COLOR SYNCHRONIZATION: Organizing by color will organize thoughts and boost creativity. Several studies confirm that color strengthens happiness, productivity, and ingenuity.
• COMMON TABLE: More interaction and synergy can be encouraged by a community table. Shared tables create a sort of kinship that advocates congenial cooperation.
• VARYING TEXTURES: Using varied materials may seem like it may disrupt a certain “company look” but it actually gives a contemporary, unique, and bold look to give a personalized touch.
• MOVEABLE FURNITURE: Modular furniture allows components to be stacked, mixed, and moved around. Changing the work landscape every so often with altering combinations offers a unique dynamic.
As an employer, it should be your mission to make spaces that support your goals in a unique way. Employees are happier and more proficient in a colorful environment that inspires rather than one that is bland. As a result, designers roles are becoming more and more important as businesses are seeking customizability that will promise success from the present to the future.