Workplace Design for Strong Culture

Blog Series: Workplace Strategy and Facility Management

Part 1: Workplace Strategy For Facility Managers

Part 2: Workplace Design for Strong Culture

Part 3: Workplace Strategy: The 3-30-300 Rule 

Part 4: Workplace Technology: Putting Strategy into Practice

Businesses are changing and adopting new strategies to remain relevant and competitive, and Facility Management has a significant role to play in this new landscape. At the heart of these strategies are people and culture.  In this second part of our four part series on workplace strategy and facility management, we look at how facility management can impact workplace culture.

For firms looking to become more efficient, innovative and attract top talent, building and defending a strong culture is mandatory. In some cases, organizational culture may require a change. Facility Managers have a significant role to play in creating workspaces that support the culture required for thriving businesses.

The Workplace Impacts Culture

How does your workplace design impact culture

Workspace design expert Jeremy Myerson notes the importance of workspace design in shaping corporate culture.

“You’re coming to work in a physical location that frames the vision and values of the company, design’s role in this is to help companies either reinforce good cultures or change bad ones”.

Workplace functionality and design send overt as well as subtle cues for what is possible or encouraged in an office. For example, as organizations look to foster creativity, they are adopting open workplaces that allow for a free-flow of ideas. Similarly, meeting spaces that encourage collision and interaction between employees are used to foster collaboration.

Because of the workplace’s potential to affect company culture, company culture needs to be seriously considered when designing a workplace. The design of a workplace can be used as a tool to reinforce existing culture, or shift and change an entire workplace culture.  Furniture giant Haworth’s research ranked company culture as the number one factor to be considered in workspace design.

When tasked with looking at office furniture or space re-configurations, Facility Managers must now consider the broader strategic implications and ask: How can workplace design support company culture?

To effectively do this, you will need to understand your existing company culture, as well as the desired future company culture. Engaging your C-suite executives in conversations will help you determine the best approach to augment your intended workplace to fit or support a desired company culture.

Design for Culture

Haworth created the Organizational Culture Model to look at 4 types of cultures and workplace designs that nurture them. These aren’t steadfast rules but the model serves as a good starting point for considering the relationship between workplace design and culture.

We take a brief look at the 4 cultures below. For a detailed discussion, view Haworth’s white paper: “How to Create a Successful Organizational Culture: Build It—Literally

  1. Collaborative Cultures focus on long term individual development and team building.  Design supports this through lower levels of individual spaces and flexible layouts.
  1. Create Cultures distinguish themselves with experimentation and celebrating individuality. They require informal group spaces with highly flexible environments and organic layouts.
  1. Control Cultures, conversely, focus on internal procedures to create stability and hierarchical control. Good designs use structured layouts and individual spaces.
  1. Compete Cultures are results focused, emphasizing speed to beat the competition. A balanced design in best in terms of individual to group spaces. Adopt a middle ground in terms of enclosure and structure.

Understanding the nuances of each of these basics of culture and design allows you to leverage them to your advantage. Keep in mind that these are not exclusive – you can have spaces for an internal team that collaborates, and other spaces for teams that control.

In addition, there are 2 other important aspects that you should consider when assessing how you can support and shape organizational culture. These are particularly important when having conversations with the C-suite.

Additional Workplace Design Considerations

When aligning the goals of your organization with your workspace design to shape culture, consider the following:

Innovation Needs

For organizations building or retooling culture around innovation and creativity, your space can send a huge message. If you’re incorporating the latest technology such as sensors and smart office features, consider implementing it not only in client facing areas but employee workstations as well.

Take for example Cisco Systems Canada. Making an aggressive push into the Internet of Things, they built an Innovation Centre at their new Toronto HQ. In addition to the Innovation Centre (1 of 9 globally), which focuses on client industries such as hospitals, Cisco uses their entire space to promote a culture of innovation.  This allows Cisco to use the actual workspace itself to highlight their services and solutions to clients.

Cisco’s VP of Industry Transformation, Rick Huijbregts, notes the benefit of incorporating innovative technology in their workspaces:

“There is no better sales tool for us… We can bring our customers in and show how video enables us and changes the way we work, how mobility is changing how we work, how adding analytics to our Wi-Fi is giving us data about utilization of our space”

Implementing top of the line features in client-facing boardrooms only makes sense sometimes, because of cost. But providing your employees with the latest technology sends a message that your organization truly wants to be cutting edge. This strengthens and creates a culture of innovation. Budget will be a concern on this one, but where possible, consider outfitting the whole office with tech vs limited spaces.

Flexibility Needs

workspace design and mobility

Does your organization demand a lot out of their employees at various hours? One way that firms are trying to make up for increased workloads and hours is by providing greater flexibility. This applies in terms of both where and when employees work. For true flexibility to be feasible, effective workplace design is required.

As a Facility Manager, this may take the form of different spaces and/or flexible spaces within your office. Flexible schedules and spaces also support trends like hot-desking and open offices. Desks utilization can be increased with people working different hours throughout the day, and in different spaces.

Re-thinking the workplace for flexibility

In designing a workforce to meet your company’s culture, you may get the most value from rethinking the notion of what a workplace can and should be. After all, PwC notes that the new workforce has a desire to see a marked departure from the management styles and corporate cultures of previous times.

While Millennials note work-life balance as a top concern, this looks different than you would expect in practice. In reality what we see is a desire for flexibility that actually blurs the lines between work and home life. Technology has already done this because of the added flexibility that smart phones and laptops provide. It’s easy to answer an email or send a Slack message anywhere and anytime from your phone. Employees work remotely from anywhere in the world.

As a result we are seeing employees use their homes as offices. From the other side we are now also seeing a gradual transition of offices offering more home-like amenities. This may be more apparent at technology companies where beers are available on tap, lunches are provided and catered and employees can visit on-site gyms. While these may seem like fun, frivolous amenities, they help further blur the line of work and home. This in turn encourages employees to work whenever, wherever. Strengthening a culture of flexibility is crucial for organizations that require extended hours from their employees.

Culture at a Crucial Time

Employee turnover is a growing concern – 2/3 of millennial employees plan to leave their current organization by 2020. Top talent is in high demand and a company culture is a real selling point in attracting and retaining employees.

Employee turnover costs are one thing, but losing a top programmer because they went to an organization with a better culture, can have longer lasting impacts. Dezeen Magazine points out that companies with low employee engagement suffer from a 32 per cent decrease in operating income. Further, in their research on the subject Haworth notes that, “At the heart of employee motivation resides company culture”.

Overseeing not only the workplace, but shaping its’ culture is of increasing importance for human-centric organizations. Facility Managers, who interact with both employees and workplace design have the ability to shape employee behaviour through their environment.

Facility Managers can also present unique solutions to the human issues and business decisions faced by company executives. These are challenging, but excellent opportunities for Facility Managers to define the importance of their roles. Doing so not only allows you to create a conversation at the executive level, it progresses the role of Facility Management within organizations.

2017-02-07T17:39:51+00:00
Kyle is the Head of Community at ChargeSpot. He is the editor of WORKSPACES and works with the Architecture and Design Community to share the latest in workplace design.