November 29, 2018

Office Space & Employee Engagement: by Senior Designer Donna McDaniel

Do your employees feel engaged, focused, and connected to their work in the space you provide? The connection between office space and employee engagement is stronger than ever.

The well-known corporate adage “Dress For Success” is based on the belief that what you wear directly affects your mood, behavior, and attitude. Connecting style with a victorious attitude goes beyond personal clothing and can be applied to communal assets like the work environment. The physical environment is another channel for variables that can significantly enhance or detract from the employee experience. The elements of the workplace environment make up visual cues based on textures, color, light, technology, and furnishing. These elements can engage all of the senses and impact mood and behaviors.

Through our past projects, the designers at Formcraft know how the layout and style of your office can and will send a message to employees and guests about the goals, values, and beliefs your firm stands for. If you say you believe in transparency and collaboration, then your office should reflect that with spaces for activities that align with those values. If your goal is to provide excellent customer service, your office should have a space where clients can connect with you and feel comfortable. If you believe diversity should be celebrated, your office should convey to employees and visitors that they matter. If you wish wellness to be a priority, your office can be set up to incorporate lots of movement throughout the day. A well-designed space will inspire and attract people, creating an environment that will make employees excited to come to work and clients eager to work with your firm.

The evolution of the workplace over the past twenty years has seen an increased focus on the design of office space and employee engagement. Earlier office settings offered a limited choice, with cubicles, closed-off offices, and meeting rooms. Assigned cubicles led to strictly regimented days with few opportunities to break the monotony of individual desk work. In this setting, office and cubicle sizes were assigned by title order, which sent a particular message about who in the firm is most valued, and proved to be inflexible for staff changes. Cubicle arrangements were not only socially destructive, but they were also inefficient with space. Large offices were sitting empty and underutilized for large expanses of time.

Open offices were thought to solve the complaints that cubicles hindered innovation and collaboration. The open office strategy was marketed to improve well-being and support social interaction while increasing access to natural light and reducing real estate footprints. Instead of large conference rooms, open offices often have several more minor meeting spots for groups of 2-4 to get out of the open workspace for a more private meeting. Transparency, both operationally and physically, became the goal of open offices. Offices and meeting rooms with glass walls were thought to yield better connectivity between leadership and staff. Technology helped with the consolidation of the open office, as file rooms and large spaces for storage become unnecessary, helping to keep spaces as open as possible. While many employers were enthusiastic about the cost-saving and efficiency of open offices, employees found that distractions increased and personal space was hard to come by.

Activity Based Work (ABW) can be viewed as a revision of the open office that remedies the commonly cited issues with a greater emphasis on focus and private spaces. The strategy for ABW focuses on specific tasks and organizes spaces and tools required to perform those tasks. Technology is highly integrated into the ABW office plan. The ABW model is recommended for offices that prioritize physical and mental wellness. It facilitates movement throughout the day and lets employees control where and how they work.

Becoming more open and collaborative has been challenging for some industries, especially the legal and financial communities. Yet even in these industries, younger professionals are working in new ways, becoming more mobile and working virtually. Private offices are becoming more progressive with set-ups for virtual meetings, more space for visitors, and accommodations for flexible work schedules.

When considering an office renovation, coming up with a workplace strategy can help you identify the best office layout and transition method for your team. Proactive change management strategies are created to help create buy-in and prepare transition plans. These plans map out how to positively transition employees into the new offices highlighting the benefits of the new space to shift focus from negative perceptions. Understanding the needs and expectations of users is essential to any designer, and your office designers are no different.