Creating a better workplace experience.
Be honest about your company’s culture when re-designing your workplace says Krishna Money, Director of design agency Platform.
“Can we have a table tennis table…? A slide between floors…? Some beanbags….?”
The short answer is usually “No”, or rather we mostly wouldn’t recommend any of the above.
Not everyone is Google, and if you’ve seen the see-saws, extra high stools and hay bales featured in the mockumentary W1A, you’ll know to be wary of turning your workplace into a parody of… well Google actually.
We all know that people work in different ways. Some like to collaborate and some prefer their own space, some find noise easy, some need total silence, but as well as understanding your people’s physical needs you should also be aware of your company culture and how it can influence a successful workplace design.
At Platform, we work with a range of corporate organisations, that on the surface can appear very similar. And it’s easy to think that the requirements for their workplace environments are similar too. They often make this assumption themselves and aspire to spaces they have seen working for companies that are culturally very, very different from their own.
When embarking on the journey of creating a new workplace, the conversation between design and culture should become as two-way as possible. An existing company culture should inform the design, but research also suggests that design can reinforce, influence or even help to change it.
Is company culture just a buzzword?
It’s certainly a bit of a buzzword at the moment, but the importance of company culture shouldn’t be underestimated. Culture is defined and shaped by the people and purpose(s) of the business and there are many theories out there that interpret and categorise it, but one thing to understand is that culture will make a difference to your business.
According to management consultants, Deloittes, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.” This is supported by research by Bain & Co (2015) that found that team members who find meaning and inspiration from their company’s purpose and values are one and half times more productive than when simply engaged and 2.25 times more productive than when simply satisfied at work.
So, culture influences behaviour which in turn influences financial performance. The more well matched the environment, the better the atmosphere, the happier the people, the more engaged the workforce.
Dr Michael O'Neill of Haworth's Global Workplace Research department says,
"While a company can attain temporary competitive advantage through product or service innovation, the advantage is ultimately short lived. Competitors can copy ideas and enter the marketplace. Culture is the only sustainable advantage because unlike a product or service innovation, it cannot be duplicated."
So how do we make sure that company culture is properly considered when embarking on a workplace design?
1. Avoid single point self-diagnosis.
Clients can have some fun identifying their personality, but self-diagnosis is a risky business and will depend on where you are viewing the company from. The CEO will likely have a different opinion to the receptionist. We’d encourage getting as rounded a view as possible from all departments throughout the business in ways that minimise disruption to people’s day jobs.
2. Mind the gap and walk the walk.
We ask our clients to be honest about how well the purpose and values their organisation expresses outwardly matches the behaviours and management styles employed internally. We’ll look at how your existing physical workplace supports your values and where it makes them difficult to achieve. For example, a very common value such as ‘Teamwork’ must be supported by facilities that allow teams to form easily and work effectively together. It sounds obvious but is often not considered properly. If ‘Sustainability’ is a key value, then thought should be given to everything from the packaging used in the canteen to adequate provision of bike racks. Lack of consistency will be spotted a mile off, and unless your values are just wallpaper your workplace must support those values.
3. Live the dream.
We like to spend some time working in our clients’ buildings and talking to employees on an informal basis. A mixture of observation, anecdotal evidence, actual departmental structures and aspirations helps to give us a reasonably objective overview of what makes a place tick. We usually get some revealing feedback!
4. Take it off-site.
We undertake workshops with selected teams to establish where they and the business want to be.
This is best done off premises where the task can be focused on –we have actually built a special place for our clients to do just this with our Co:Lab©- a workshop/breakout space that includes a suite of facilitation tools.
5. People don’t like change.
Recognise that cultures evolve over time, become familiar and comfortable, and messing with them is rarely popular. Have a carefully considered internal communications plan for your designs that actively seeks opinions and addresses concerns. Change based on genuine consultation and popular demand is always the best way. Remember to give something back as well. If you’re going to increase desk density then provide some really relaxed break out areas where people can work more quietly when they need to.
For companies who really care about their employees’ experience and levels of satisfaction, being able to articulate and communicate their culture is a crucial part of any design brief. It’s up to companies like us to help you identify it and then use the design tools at our disposal to create a physical space to support it.