Workspaces are a business tool, and your office building can help companies reflect their business values through functional design elements.
Space. Transparency. Collaboration. What does your office layout say about your company, and is this message clear to your employees? How your workplace is structured could be a vital key in your business strategy.
“Smart companies understand that workspaces are a business tool. An office environment reflects and reinforces a business’s core values, through the placement of different teams and functions and design elements that reflect culture, brand, and values.” - HBR
Designing, equipping and furnishing your workspace is a major capital investment, but its effect on productivity, employee satisfaction, engagement, talent recruitment and brand impact can add up to a higher cost if not adequately addressed.
Owning the space you operate your business from gives you the added advantage of myriad ways to design and plan your space, but it needs to be approached in a strategic way. “Imitating the latest fads start-ups are adopting won’t necessarily get you the results your company desires; asking the right questions — and, above all, listening to employees’ answers — will,” say experts Peter Bacevice, Liz Burow and Mat Triebner of global architecture firm HLW International.
Related: How digitalisation affects the real estate sector
You can’t solely rely on increased visual appeal to boost productivity and profit. When used wisely, real estate is a strategic device and can help your business attract, nurture and retain talent, says Marie Puybarauda, Global Head of Research for JLL Corporate Solutions.
Why workplace design should form part of the business strategy
The evolution of the employee means when their expectations for better workspaces change, your office should be prepared to keep up – this has a direct impact on how well your business will do in the long-run.
“Spaces dedicated to collaboration and teamwork have the strongest impact on productivity,” says Puyabarauda.
Employees’ work expectations are changing, and this means your workspace should broaden its range of innovative spaces to meet these expectations and attract and retain talent. Flexible workspaces, room for expansion and a destination work environment are just some of the aspects great talent is looking for before accepting an offer to work at a company. JLL’s Human Experience Global Report also found that experiences help individuals and companies align and advance their ambitions.
Innovative workspaces also cater to employees’ demand for tech-enabled, flexible workplaces. Creating such environments drives engagement and boosts the quality of life at work. Global technology company Cisco’s offices are quite technologically advanced, explains Jacob Morgan, keynote speaker, author, and futurist.
“While Cisco maintains a mostly open-plan, they are working on capabilities that allow any employee to show up to a desk or conference room and have that space adapt to them,” he says. “In other words, the temperature, lighting, and even the employee's contacts and work information are magically beamed to whatever location they are working from.”
New ways of working are impacting the way in which employees interact with each other and their environment.
Here are some aspects to consider when mapping out your workplace design:
1. The impact of a physical space
Home-working and spending time at partner or client sites are the main alternative workplaces for employees, JLL found during its research. Meanwhile, single or shared enclosed offices are the most common workplace designs across the countries surveyed. There is less frequency of open-plan offices and spaces that promote hot-desking.
However, an increased inclination to embrace agile working has been found with 40% of space globally allocated to workstations in an open-plan layout.
The research pinpointed a relationship between workspace density and employee effectiveness, which could explain why some countries (including Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa and the Netherlands) are emerging as leaders in agile and flexible working, increasing communal space in an open-plan layout in their workspaces.
2. The new ways of working
Workspaces have gone from high-admin spaces to innovation labs, as demonstrated by the likes of global corporation Coca-Cola. “While employees may feel empowered to choose between a range of premises, they tend to opt for mobile working just a few days a month, with the greatest percentage of respondents saying they work remotely up to five days a month,” says Puyabarauda.
Companies should consider offering alternative workspaces to combat this, she says. “Our research shows that employees feel they can work more effectively when they have the possibility to work from alternative workspaces or third places outside the company.”
HBR helped Adobe and Yodle understand what was required of their workspace to engage and inspire their workforce by implementing:
Adobe’s destination work environment
The design of Adobe’s Midtown New York office was based on adapting to an online visual format. HBR’s methodology aligned with how the Adobe team engaged their end users: Through imagery and analytics.
Keeping in mind its position in a sector that’s rapidly growing and in constant competition for talent, Adobe’s future focus heavily featured investment into their workspace. The company’s challenges included: Employees opting to work from home instead of the office, an increase in virtual collaboration between those that did come into the office and the layout encouraged staff from newly-acquired divisions to work alongside one another, strengthening legacy culture and causing conflict
Adobe asked HBR to help them figure out what employees specifically needed to support their daily work. This led to the creation of a ‘destination’ work environment, and transparent and purposeful spaces with plug-and-play technology so that information could be more easily shared among team members.
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Yodle in creating space to accommodate growth
Yodle aimed to preserve the energy of a start-up with sufficient space to accommodate future growth. Employees were packed into awkward corners, teams were separated with no central places to meet, and executives stayed secluded in private offices. The decreased functionality of the space was a cultural constraint to the company’s evolution from start-up to mature business.
HBR initiated a rapid visioning exercise using the seven attributes to define and differentiate the various work modes for each of their teams. They found that the developer teams needed a quiet space to complete quick turnaround projects, so the final design incorporated a ‘quiet car’ – a semi-enclosed area in a corner of the floor where they could work without disruption.
The company needed a central gathering area so a large feature stair, wide enough to provide stadium seating for larger gatherings, was incorporated into the final design.
“The challenges that Adobe and Yodle faced are common, and illustrate how projects can begin with a statement like, ‘we need more collaborative space’ and conclude with a much deeper story about how people work the way they do, and why.” – HBR.
How to craft an effective workplace programme
According to JLL’s Su Lim, Head of Workplace Strategy, Asia Pacific, these considerations are vital when establishing or improving upon a sound workplace strategy:
Assess your business
Determine if your programme aligns with the central business strategy and CRE objectives, then craft a business case that demonstrates the alignment.
Evaluate your company culture
Understand your employees using surveys and focus groups and establish how change will affect your company culture by setting programme standards that can be customised.
Consider the risk
Partner with groups like HR and IT to understand and manage the risks associated with implementing your plan.
Develop a change management strategy
Proactively manage change by shaping the vision and building awareness around your programme, then create toolkits, communication plans and implementation plans.
Establish a metrics dashboard
Develop a scorecard that tracks progress against goals that align with the business case, then share these results with key stakeholders.