THE DESIGN CONSULTANT: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

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THE DESIGN CONSULTANT: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Take the time to evaluate your workplace, align it to the overall business plan and empower it to maximize your most critical asset: the employee.

By Samantha Sannella
Cushman and Wakefield

We have seen a significant change in the nature of work. This has been highly influenced by advances in technology and increased need for mobility, generational and population shifts, diversity and inclusiveness. Cities and buildings are changing in parallel to work and work patterns. Land is becoming scarce and buildings more valuable. To stay competitive, organizations must leverage every opportunity – which includes people, place and technology.

As someone who has been practicing in the design field for over 25 years, one of my favourite pieces of advice is, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” While it applies to a multitude of experiences, such as the use of sound effects in PowerPoint, it also applies to trendy workplace decisions, such as the removal of all walls, un-assigning workstations and the provision of beer kegs in work lounges.

Many organizations are scrambling to create workplaces to attract and retain new generations. The workplace is a significant contributor to employee attraction and retention, productivity and loyalty. These are crucial to an organization’s success.

While competition for talent is driving CEOs and real estate leaders to redesign, relocate and reinvent, it should be a collective goal to view the workplace as an extension of compensation – and just as practical. Rather than focusing on trendy solutions that may be short-lived, take the time to evaluate the workplace, align it to the overall business plan and empower it to maximize your most critical asset: the employee.

This can be accomplished in several ways. First, by leveraging the workplace to drive employee engagement, spaces help define the culture. There are clear benefits to having a strong unified culture and the workplace is an example of visually persistent culture. Ultimately, the workplace is a constant reminder of our values, brand and identity.

While there are many influences on corporate culture, two main drivers at present are the millennial generation and technology.

Millennials are driving the workplace changes. They have high expectations and desire a strong corporate image. Tech companies made the entrepreneurial, incubating culture of their workplaces desirable and have spread trends such as “scrum style” work areas, meditation rooms, ping pong areas and lounges like wildfire throughout offices worldwide.

This demand for cool workplaces has increased greatly in the last decade — but what constitutes cool is not so easily defined. It is decidedly dependent on the vision of the company and requires careful analysis of the brand.

Collaborative work environments are at the core of the modern office. Organizations that are collaborative are also more innovative. Brainstorming brings forward the best ideas and strengthens interpersonal relationships between employees, which makes organizations stronger and more robust. Collaboration between departments provides for more transparency and often results in a more efficient use of resources. While digital collaboration is critical, nothing beats face-to-face collaboration fostered by a wide variety of work settings.

Beyond meeting rooms, employees benefit from lounges, coffee bars, decompression areas and places that foster physical activity. Essentially, learning and sharing occurs best when it can be nurtured in different ways: visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary. Good workspace design accommodates all seven.

A great workplace provides a combination of spaces that foster productivity and accommodates both focused work and collaborative work. Modern work environments should not default to monotonous seas of hoteling, benching or touchdown workstations to maximize capacity and save real estate dollars. Careful thought and planning should go into developing future goals and aspirations.

Aligning the business objectives to the workplace plan to drive innovation, productivity and employee health and happiness should be the first exercise in any workplace redesign. By balancing a variety of space types and projecting the appropriate image with visual cues, workplace design becomes an active part in making an organization successful. When designing for productivity, we must evaluate activity-based work settings, public/private zoning, territoriality, mobility and the continuum of work habits.

Cushman & Wakefield’s Experience per Square Foot (XSF) survey measures employees’ current work experience in their office space and identifies the biggest levers for optimizing the employee experience. XSF analysis consistently has found that ensuring minimal distractions in the workplace is the top driver of employees’ ability to focus on their work. Other common drivers include availability and access to data and information, privacy, and having the types of space needed for various tasks.

Three of these four top levers point to the need to approach densification efforts with a focus on employees’ day-to-day effectiveness and not just on cost savings. This requires a variety of space types throughout the office to support individual and group work.

It is important to note that people are territorial by nature. Objects, spaces, relationships and behavioural roles are areas in which people claim ownership. Territory can help to create social belonging and establish a sense of psychological and physical comfort. How does this affect life at the office and the creation of workspaces? The key to a successful and respectful workplace is balance.

While specific success KPIs may vary, facilities managers, designers, architects and real estate professionals are keenly aware of how environments affect occupants. There is increased scrutiny to determine and measure how the workplace can affect productivity, health, sociability, efficiency and responsiveness to change. At Cushman and Wakefield, we have entitled this balanced approach the The Holistic Workplace.

Each of these categories offers a distinct way of setting goals and measuring successes. It is an established process that allows us to ask the right questions and predict the outcomes.

For example, when designing for productivity, we must evaluate activity-based work settings, public/private zoning, territoriality, mobility and the continuum of work habits. In establishing a healthy workplace, a thorough analysis of individual and group needs must be performed while integrating sustainable, ergonomic, biophilic and wellness-focused initiatives. A social workplace must promote learning and collaboration while making spaces inspirational and aspirational. Efficient workspaces are streamlined and optimized to align to business objectives, occupancy scenarios and utilization strategies. Responsive workspace design recognizes that organizations are living and constantly changing so the work environment should be able to adapt to suit new needs. By future proofing — a.k.a. designing with an eye on the future — as much as possible, we can provide flexibility, save valuable dollars and provide a great workplace that serves as a catalyst for organizational and business success.

Samantha Sannella is managing director, strategic consulting for Cushman and Wakefield.