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For better or worse, the design, appearance, and functionality of your workspace communicates a lot about your company culture. Proper alignment between workspace design and company culture can be inspiring, motivating, and promote the values of an organization.

What do you see when you look around your workplace right now? Are people inspired? Effective work place design starts with first identifying the core values and goals of your business before formulating the physical design elements and aesthetics of your space. While a specific piece of furniture may look great, it’s important to consider whether or not it will actually serve the needs of your team members. In thinking about how to approach workspace design, it is often prudent to future-proof your space. Look at the current reality of your company and think about the design. Be sure to contemplate how your design will achieve your company’s core values and culture, now and for the long-term. Do you need your employees to be competitive and independently efficient? If so, the cubicle culture might be for you. If not, you may want to consider additional options.

You might be asking yourself, so why does this even matter? Company culture is extremely important for an organization’s success. According to a recent study by top consulting firm Deloitte, 94 percent of executives and 88 percent of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success. Workplace culture affects employee happiness, engagement, and productivity; and ultimately, bottom line profitability.

Photo courtesy of ELA Advertising

Core Values and Design Implications

If collaboration and problem-solving are core values of your company, an open floor plan may not be the best approach. Open floor plans are are a great idea in theory, but often end up sounding more like a library versus the collaboration and comfort found in offering private office spaces. Solutions like common gathering areas may be a welcome addition and change of scenery for employees both in private offices and in open floor plan environments. Thinking about how spaces encourage creativity and spontaneity, the style of working should inspire the style and design of furniture and overall office flow.

Another strategy that can help support company culture is to prominently display your core values throughout the workspace. There are many ways your organization’s core value statements can be integrated into the workspace design – from low cost vinyl lettering to attention grabbing neon signs. The key is to provide visual reinforcement of your values and what drives your business in an aesthetically pleasing and cohesive manner.

If creativity and inventiveness are major drivers of your business, your architect and designer may want to consider incorporating biophilic design elements into workspace design. Recent studies have suggested that spending time in nature can lead to enhanced creative thinking and even improvements in problem-solving abilities. While outdoor workspaces may not be practical or even possible for some businesses, integrating natural elements such as a living wall, live plants, unfinished woods, and natural tones can be cost effective options for inspiring creativity and inventiveness.

Photo courtesy of Chapman Taylor

The Spirit of Your Workspace

Another critical aspect in the design of your workspace is to understand how your culture is going to be reflected in the spirit of your space. Is the spirit of your space lively and inviting? Stark and modern? Artistic and expressive? The spaces and walls in your workplace are an extension of this spirit because your business process affects your workflow process and space – start there. Once you’ve identified the values, goals, and the spirit of your company, you can then get into the design. It’s critical to understand how your employees will utilize the space and what design elements are truly necessary. This is one of the reasons it is imperative to consult an expert – an interior designer, landscape architect, or other design professional – based on what you’re looking to accomplish. The expert can weigh in on how you can achieve what you’re looking to create in your physical design based upon the spirit and values of your business.

Practical Design Considerations

In addition to core values, practical considerations such as understanding how your employees work, whether that’s onsite, remote, or partially remote – will dictate how mobile your staff needs to be and what systems, such as messaging, teleconferencing, or other key technology considerations you need to ensure are in place both at your physical locations and offsite.

If most of your employees are onsite for example, they will likely want a place to hang out and relax. This can be achieved by creating an outdoor space that’s not just designed to work in, but simply to relax and step away from their desks for a time. Perhaps your office is larger and can be loud. Providing alternative seating options away from individual desks or creating a quiet room or respite area, such as a meditation room, is one possible solution. It’s no longer good enough to simply have a modern desk and chair. Again, design can’t just be done for design sake; it must be inspired by a process which is inspired by the vision and business goals.

Photo courtesy of Turnstone

Employee engagement, concentration, and focus are often practical considerations when designing a workspace. Imagine sitting in an open office workspace – ringing phones and noisy conversations surround you, making it impossible to remember what you were just working on. Offices can be incredibly distracting environments, dramatically impacting employee concentration and focus, and in turn, employee productivity. In a study conducted by the University of California, Irvine, researchers measured the effects of interruptions on mental acuity. Researchers found that the average office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to bounce back to the original task after an interruption. To reduce the occurrence and impact of distractions, it is critical to consider office acoustics in your workspace design. Office layout, construction materials, and furnishings all greatly affect the acoustics of a space.

Another thing to is consider is that work is far more complex and varied than it was in recent years for the average employee. Despite this reality, a majority of office workspaces remain static. Employees are assigned an office or cubicle, and that is where the vast majority of the employee’s work is completed. To support company culture and equip modern workers with the resources needed to succeed, you may consider incorporating activity-based work settings into your workspace design.

Office Acoustics. Photo courtesy of Urban Office

For example, at ELA Advertising, work is displayed on tall boards that lean against the wall; this isn’t done merely because it looks cool. It’s a purposeful consideration so that employees have no choice but to look at the creative work on the boards while innovating their work product; the agency team can’t just send someone a link, email or PDF. The spirit and the physical nature of the boards forces the creative drivers to stand up, circulate and talk with the team, go back and forth to the board, and, ultimately, collaborate. Not only does this help creative flow, but it also helps with health and well-being. Team members have to get up and physically move around the office space – which leads to standing next to other team members while immersing themselves in their projects, away from the monotony of their individual computer screens.

To enhance collaboration, creativity, and inventiveness, these purpose-built spaces should be designed for specific activities and accessible to all. The variety of activity-based work settings that can be incorporated into workspace design are numerous. However, their inclusion in your workspaces should be guided by your organization’s culture and values, and can include informal meeting spaces, formal meeting rooms, and project rooms.

Aesthetics…do they even matter?

While most of this article has focused on functional considerations, effective workspace design must also take aesthetics into consideration. Adidas’ Japan headquarters is a great example of brand expression through workspace design. The modern design includes crisp whites and blacks, along with splashes of vibrant color that seem reminiscent of a classic Adidas tracksuit. The workspace design includes artwork and design elements throughout the space that pay homage to the Adidas brand and help to reinforce the mission and legacy of the company. The use of space and contrast between work and play is evident, which is intended to inspire while simultaneously making employees and visitors feel at home.

Adidas Japan Headquarters – Photos courtesy of Adidas

Another great example of designing for culture is lifestyle brand Volcom’s headquarters in Costa Mesa, California. The space takes on a hand-crafted, almost bohemian aesthetic incorporating utilitarian materials, used in an extraordinary way. Raw wood, fiberglass, metal and fabric define and reinforce the Volcom image while employee and commissioned artwork decorate the hallways. Communal skateboards line the walls so employees can zip from office to office on Volcom’s concrete floors.

Volcom Headquarters in Costa Mesa, California – Image courtesy of Volcom

The Holistic Environment

Most importantly, it’s essential to look at the people who work for you in a holistic, human way. While employees’ primary function day in and day out is to work, they also need to rest. Take breaks – be inspired. Reboot and recharge. Get some air. Start by asking your employees what inspires them and what would make coming to work an even better experience for them. These values rise above the functionality and design elements of your space and will help to shape your design direction.

Think about creating a holistic environment that champions the goals, values, and spirit of not only your company, but also of your team.

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