The world’s leading firms use architecture to powerfully transmit their identity to customers, employees and users of all kinds. This has been the case for many years. Witness the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island reinterpreting the relationship between academia and corporate America and driving sustainability practices to a new frontier. Or take a virtual tour of Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital and see how the physical environment is designed around healing in a transformative patient-centric model. And countless other projects serving the public realm, like museums, transit centers, and libraries designed to elicit a response from those who experience the space.
More recently the public has gone bananas for Amazon’s jungle-themed presence in Seattle, Apple’s infinite loopiness in Cupertino and Bloomberg’s recently unveiled eco-friendly homage to London’s future and past.
Each of these examples tightly binds the physical structures of a company to its brand and the image it aspires to project. In each of these examples an interdisciplinary effort underpinned the achievement.
And yet in so many firms the marketers, communications team, technologists and recruiters see themselves as passive recipients of workplace design and allow themselves to be sidelined.
It doesn’t have to be so. Nor should it be.
Whatever your priority, workplace design will either have an ameliorating or deleterious effect. Recruiting and retention? Check. Client service? Check. Physical and cyber security? Check.
It’s surprising that physical environment isn’t more often seen as a way to drive these business outcomes. Very few organizations successfully put these efforts into one bucket that leverages the work environment to impact on more than one problem. Sure, that would mean shared budgets, changes in allocation of traditional spending. But this kind of collaboration is sure to enhance your results. And this is especially true with the emergence of design thinking practices focused on the ‘user.’ Those in Real Estate and Design & Construction are increasingly open to collaboration with Marketing and Communications, Technology and Recruiting teams.
1. Marketing and Communications
You’re sending a message whether intentional or not. You’ve spent top dollars making sure your customers and clients understand your value proposition, your story, your promise. Yet your employees who are responsible for bringing that promise to life may not be living in that same reality. The space your employees work in should exude the company mission and values. Your employees will engage further when they have a full understanding of that message and can find creative and innovative ways to bring it to product development and customer relations.
An initial conversation would include a review of the employee communications strategy — some companies’ Internal Communications teams have put one together formally. Some questions to ask:
- What key messages for your organization are tacitly communicated by the design of your space?
- Is digital or physical signage a part of the strategy?
- What physical space projects are in the pipeline?
Case in Point: Sensory Marketing And Branding: The Power Of The Senses
“Until today, the most important variable used by brands to generate recognition and develop an identity in the market is the sense of sight. We can appreciate logos, corporate colors, characters and other graphical tools with which one can identify a specific product. It’s rare a person who does not recognize the Apple logo, the golden arches of McDonald’s, the white wave on the red background of Coca-Cola, etc. The list goes on and on. These elements, so far, are the epicenter of all business strategy in most corporations.”
The pace at which software user interfaces change is exponentially faster than that of the physical environment. And yet, the fast iteration and improvement of the tools we use every day — from apps on our phones to the websites we visit — has set our expectations for all manner of change, including that of our physical environments.
And so physical designers must act like technologists, consumer electronics specialists, and software developers — or at least borrow from their playbooks where possible. Consider how Agile methods like Scrum allow tight iteration loops in software development — what could be borrowed to inform how spaces are designed.
Take small conference rooms, for example. It’s taken too long for the entire shape and orientation of rooms to change following the development of quick, simple, inexpensive screen share options. We need to integrate thinking about how tech and spaces will inform each other. And we need to let technology patterns challenge our design assumptions.
Spoiler alert: we forecast that acoustics will play an even greater role in the future of open space design as the “Alexa” affect/AI for office services expands.
An initial conversation would include observing which technologies are currently in use — especially those that are ‘hacks’ such as informal use of social networks, personal mobile devices and so on by employees and visitors to your building. Some questions to ask:
- Do employees have the ability to use the spaces we’ve designed–how is mobility incorporated into our technology strategy?
- How does our workspace technology measure up to the quality of consumer technological interfaces?
- What repetitive patterns of behavior in our buildings could be automated for the visitor?
Case in Point: High-tech and human-centered: The rise of smart buildings
“We’re already seeing companies adopt technology that enables workplaces to be more efficient; sensors can detect which areas of an office are in use and feed into an app that allows someone to find the nearest empty meeting room. Other apps might adjust temperature in line with the preferences of different workgroups.”
3. Recruiting and retention
People in the recruiting role often also have responsibility for retaining talent by trying to improve worker engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. And yet many say they didn’t think of the workplace as a lever worth pulling.
Our perspective is that by not actively pulling that lever you most definitely are pulling it — just not in the direction you should be. The design of your workplace that a candidate experiences on her first interview sets the tone for the entirety of her experience as a candidate and employee. The message you send on day one with your facility communicates the brand promise and either reinforces and further validates your best intentions or demonstrates a disconnect between who you say you are and who you really are as an organization. We are all cued in to the term employee experience — but the candidate experience could just as well be called the “pre-employee experience” and, so being, it must come together on the workplace to transmit your firm’s style of leadership, culture, career development, and work/life balance.
An initial conversation would include a discussion of the employee value proposition — most companies’ Human Resources teams have put this together formally as an input to recruiting materials.
- Do your facilities greet candidates in a way that is harmonious with the aspirations of your employee value proposition?
- Are your recruiters and hiring managers briefed on the features of your locations?
- Have you asked candidates what they think of your facilities? What was pleasing or irritating?
Case in point: Forbes: 10 Workplace Trends You’ll See In 2017
“Companies focus on improving their candidate and employee experiences. Companies have always created marketing experiences for customers, and prospects, in order to delight them, increase loyalty and grow their revenues. Next year, you will see the walls come down between your HR, marketing and customer service departments in order to develop experiences for both candidates and employees.”
Building a better future (collaboratively)
At the end of the day, collaborating with multiple departments to ensure your facilities do the most for your firm’s communication, technology and recruiting strategies will be hard. The constructs of budget management and measurement pressure everyone to maintain the status quo.
And yet, it’s doable! It all starts with putting personal and departmental ambitions aside and having an honest conversation about what would be best for the performance of the business.
Rachel Casanova is the founder of Balansett, a workplace consulting practice, and brings over 20 years of experience bridging organizational and culture growth and workplace design.
Ethan McCarty is the CEO of Integral Communications Group, a consultancy that enables major brands to engage, inspire and activate employees on behalf of their employers.