Written by Marina Michael and Jill Traylor
It’s been said “Do what you love. Love what you do.” Do you love where you do it?
At Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, we believe that place matters: that an environment represents the priorities of the people who occupy it. When it comes to workplace design, we look beyond the basic requirements. Instead, we look for design strategies that embody our client’s mission, values and create a culture of success. Quite simply, we know that innovative design solutions have a significant impact upon our clients’ financial bottom line.
Recently, for Lamar Advertising and Hornbeck Offshore Services, we achieved just that. Companies that invest in their employees’ well-being improve their satisfaction, commitment and engagement while reducing presenteeism, absenteeism and turnover. At its core, our workplace strategies are informed by some basic tenets: People like variety; they need places to congregate, casual interaction fosters teamwork and creativity; natural light is a good thing; a little visual excitement can’t hurt. Here are some strategies we suggest for improving the workplace through design:
Address different work styles by creating multiple spaces for work.
A variety of office environments is the demand of the 21st century. Employees move flexibly among tasks, requiring a spectrum of work space sizes with diverse goals. From heads-down work to three-person huddles to group conferences, each has its own design parameters. While at one time a trend toward work-from-home flexibility took many employees out of the office, some companies have begun to see the workplace as the site for collaboration. Yahoo! told employees in 2013, “We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”[i]
One of Hornbeck Offshore's main goals was to facilitate workflow and communication by designing layout for the way they needed and wanted to work. They included spaces for informal meetings, training, open conference rooms, turned the storage needed for files into worktops for casual interaction and added a new lunchroom.
In the design of your office space, don’t underestimate the value of your lunchroom. A 2015 study found that firefighter departments that lunched together also performed better as a team on the job.[ii] That same logic may have directed Google to invest in micro-kitchens throughout its campus, years before this study took place. While the Google 15 (sibling of the Freshman 15) became a concern for Google to address, there is a growing body of research about how food display design can incentivize healthy choices.[iii]
Incorporate technology and consider its impacts on workplace communication and interaction.
Building envelopes for a place of work may be unchanged for 40 years or more, so it’s critical to make them flexible for technological advancements that rapidly impact business. By keeping office environments ready for change, your company will maximize the design’s viability for years to come. Consider adaptations such as access to electrical outlets while keeping them out of sight, or installation of blinds for projected displays. Additionally, consider the portability of work from space to space. How might that change the physical organization of furniture or the creation of privacy between workers?
Make the design healthy by integrating opportunities for movement, incorporating nature, and maximizing air quality.
Encouraging movement in a workplace can go hand in hand with developing a variety of workspaces. Be they standing meeting tables or an appealing staircase, design tactics that get your staff moving can also improve their thinking and focus. Check out a recent study that found greater levels of brain activity of students following a 20-minute walk in nature, than for students who spent the same time sitting quietly.[iv]
A 2015 Harvard University study “CogFX” found a significant correlation between air quality improvements and worker productivity with performance increases of 101%. Reference our previous blog post to learn more about the study and how we looked further into its meaning in real world offices. Providing adequate ventilation makes high air quality possible, but choosing healthy materials not only impacts air quality and health, but has the additional advantage of visually representing the company’s signature name or brand.
Reinforce your company’s vision throughout the workplace.
A typical full-time employee spends 40 hours a week working, although a recent Gallup poll places that number closer to 50. [viii] The space that is occupied during the largest portion of the days and weeks can help to serve as a visual reminder of the purpose that brings your staff together. As the Harvard Business Review succinctly phrased, “Purpose and values—not the widgets made—are at the core of an organization’s identity, and they can guide people in their efforts to find new widgets that serve society”.[ix]
One case study from our portfolio that personifies this idea is the Lamar Advertising Headquarters. Roadside imagery and billboard artifacts were utilized throughout the design to express the long and storied history of the company. They were incorporated in ways both direct and subtle, and range from the earliest billboard advertisements (hand painted canvas and hand painted metal panels) to more recent, technological examples (rotating tri-fold elements and digital billboards).
For Lamar Advertising, throughout the space these design elements reinforced the creative nature and identity of the company while providing a tangible reminder of its shared history. Consider what values you hope to share as you work daily towards a common goal.
As you advance your workplace design, be resourceful!
Work with local researchers to learn from the latest findings. Collaborate with your employees to find out what works for them. And use your architect to develop those ideas into tangible design solutions.
Further research from Eskew+Dumez+Ripple:
Here are several related articles we’ve found useful:
Harvard Business Review: Workspaces That Move People
New York Times: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team
Perkins Eastman: The Effect of Individualized Work Settings on Productivity and Well-Being
US General Services Administration: Workplace Matters
Cannon Design: The Three Dimensions of Improving Well-being through Workplace Design
Gensler On Work: Employee Engagement: A Core Business Strategy
[ii] Kevin M. Kniffin, Brian Wansink, Carol M. Devine & Jeffery Sobal, “Eating Together at the Firehouse: How Workplace Commensality Relates to the Performance of Firefighters,” Human Performance (2015): 281-306. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520070086048.
[iv] DM Castelli, et al. Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance. San Diego, CA: Active Living Research; 2015, www.activelivingresearch.org
[v] Boubekri M, Cheung IN, Reid KJ, Wang CH, Zee PC. Impact of windows and daylight exposure on overall health and sleep quality of office workers: a case-control pilot study. J Clin Sleep Med 2014;10(6):603-611.
[vi] Lisa Heschong,"Windows and Offces: A Study of Offce Worker Performance and the Indoor Environment," Daylight and Productivity, 2003, accessed September 21, 2015.
[vii] DM Castelli, et al. Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance. San Diego, CA: Active Living Research; 2015, www.activelivingresearch.org