The physical manifestation of company culture in workplace design is a critical part of the 3Es of employee engagement: efficiency, effectiveness, and expression.
Would you bring an important new client to your workplace to “meet the office”, or is the buzzing cafe down the block your preferred VIP rendezvous spot? Would you invite your best friend or parents to see where you work, or prefer to spare them the detail?
The answers to these questions speak volumes about the current state of our workplaces — and the opportunities they offer. The days of the beige cubicle may be long gone, yet only some companies are succeeding in designing the office in a way that reflects an inspiring corporate culture.
Your office, your culture
Modern workplace design has soared when it comes to creating space that is both efficient and effective. But something has been missing: soul. Work design is not simply how we move within a space, but also how that space in turn moves us.
Perception of how and where we work is evolving rapidly. Fueled by a marketplace that feeds increasingly on advancing technology and business agility, many organizations have been turning their focus toward the role of place in employee productivity and engagement, investing in a workplace strategy that is more collaborative and engaging than ever.
Work design is not simply how we move within a space, but also how that space in turn moves us.
Forward-looking companies are exploring a new theme in physical design: the use of space as a lever for expressing organizational culture and values, to in turn rally employees around business performance. Fully Engaged, a new white paper by JLL, explores the intricacies of an engaging workplace strategy, and how cultural expression has emerged as the critical missing piece in what we’ve dubbed the 3Es in workplace engagement: efficiency, effectiveness, and expression.
The high cost of low engagement
Fundamentally, corporate leaders have only one resource with limitless potential: their workforce. And yet, workplace strategy that focuses solely on short-term cost efficiency can significantly restrict this potential.
As a nation, we are actively losing money to uninspired workers. According to Gallup’s most recent State of the Workplace study, the U.S. loses a staggering $450-$550 billion to active disengagement. Despite the focus that many industries and experts have placed on the workplace in recent years, disengagement remains on the rise — as evidenced by the same study, which found that 70 to 80 percent of employees are either “not engaged” or “not fully engaged” in their work.
The impact of this rampant disengagement is varied and reaches all aspects of business, from lackluster client relations and diminished motivation to collaborate to higher rates of absenteeism. Especially uninspiring settings, aka “toxic workplaces”, may also be linked to higher rates of harassment, according to one provocative Journal of Corporate Real Estate study of the negative interface between the physical and social environments.
Conversely, a mounting body of evidence confirms that a workplace that champions engagement through such avenues as health and well-being is one that also boosts productivity. Many so-called “crimes against productivity” can be averted by providing a flexible, comfortable work environment.
A return to productivity
Beyond merely avoiding crimes, toxins, and general disengagement, an engaging workplace is a critical tool in reconnecting and revitalizing the employee experience — and ultimately driving business performance. Companies that are deemed “great places to work” consistently outperform major stock indices by 300 percent and enjoy roughly half the turnover experienced by the competition, according to Great Place to Work Institute research.
No wonder employee engagement has become a top focus for senior executives, according to a Harvard Business Review study. Employees who are engaged at work are more likely to go the extra mile, consistently and intentionally. They are more likely to feel a connection to business goals, and to tie their own personal success to that of the organization.
Simply put, a strong emotional connection to a job makes people more interested in doing it well. They become more motivated to collaborate, to innovate and, ultimately, to contribute to work that will advance the business. There is also a direct link between employee engagement and customer or client satisfaction.
A few other benefits of an engaged workforce include:
Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace study found that organizations with greater employee engagement compared to their competition were almost 150 percent more profitable than competitors with more actively disengaged workers.
Lower attrition rates
Productivity drains like absenteeism or employee turnover are less of an issue in an engaging workplace. Thwarting turnover alone represents more savings than may meet the eye, because of the value of potentially lost knowledge. For example, a Knoll study calculated the cost savings of avoiding each employee replacement at roughly $250,000.
Better recruitment tools
A 2014 Hassell study indicated that the combination of strong organizational culture and facilities actually outweighs salary and benefits when it comes to accepting a job offer. Moreover, a 2015 Chandler MacLeod study found that nearly three quarters of candidates would consider a slightly lower salaried position in a company that their friends have communicated is a great place to work.
These findings explain why the C-suite is hungry for new initiatives that will spur engagement. As a result, a whopping 82 percent of corporate real estate teams aim to launch new programs to “improve the quality of the workplace”, according to a 2015 survey by JLL.
So, let’s define new.
Immersing employees in culture, atmosphere, and brand engagement
The link between a positive, flexible work environment and engagement has been well documented. But less familiar terrain lies in connecting physical space to organizational values. What does your work environment say about your culture? How does that perception of the workplace affect productivity and employee satisfaction?
Though organizational culture may be hard to define with words, elements of design can tell a far richer story. When an inspiring company culture is woven into the very fabric of work design, employees can comfortably interact with brand image and values, triggering greater financial and performance results than is possible in a more generic, impersonal environment.
To supercharge the employee experience of work, we must look beyond how the workplace looks or functions, to study something much more difficult to quantify: What does each person feel about the organization when they first walk through the door? Do they instantly connect with the brand? Do they sense an atmosphere of innovation and collaboration, or one of mundane workaday resignation?
The link between a positive, flexible work environment and engagement has been well documented. But less familiar terrain lies in connecting physical space to organizational values.
Probing such questions to inform cultural expression across the workplace is invaluable in terms of teamwork and overall corporate direction, and can power performance on an individual, team, and organizational level. According to Corporate Culture and Performance, which tracked more than 200 organizations, organizations that actively developed their corporate culture enjoyed 516 percent greater revenue and 755 percent higher income over the course of the seven year analysis.
For example, a health insurer wanted to “walk the walk” by celebrating its culture of health in its new corporate headquarters (see photo at top of page). This included creating a “spine” — a central atrium made up of stairs and ramps that allow employees to move freely and naturally between the building’s 26 different types of work settings, from private heads-down areas and collaboration zones, to WiFi-powered balconies.
Early feedback shows success in using culture-driven workplace design to engage employees: 70 percent say they feel healthier here, 79 percent report working more collaboratively now, and 69 percent say they are more productive.
Most notable to our discussion, however, is that 71 percent say they feel more connected to organizational purpose in the new building.
Improved brand perception from the inside, out
Emphasizing the greatest, most distinctive attributes of a company’s culture can help create a more desirable workplace and boost employee buy-in to organizational goals — and that’s not all. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace survey found that, of 3,000 workers, a mere 41 percent say they know what their company stands for and how it differs from their competitors.
Deliberate, culturally expressive design can reverse such results by elevating awareness within the office walls first, inspiring each employee to become an informed brand ambassador. A strong internal representation of culture spurs stronger external brand perception organically, as employees more confidently convey its value to other parties—in every client or investor meeting, simple email exchange or elevator chat.
Customer and client satisfaction is improved in this way, too. An Insync survey found that engaged employees focus more on filling customer needs than their disengaged counterparts, which in turn drives customer loyalty and better word of mouth.
Signs of a culturally expressive workplace
It’s a well-known (if not well-documented) fact: Even the most pleasant-looking workspace can feel bland or generic.
To create a workplace that exudes a company’s distinctive culture, first determine which configurations and expressions will best communicate its attributes to the employee, client and investor alike. Then, for optimal effect, marry those elements with other trademarks of a great workplace.
For example, we know that biophilia reduces stress and increases workplace productivity. In layman’s terms: green plants help clear minds.
What’s even better is when that greenery can also tie to culture somehow, whether literally, as in the case of a green logo, or philosophically, as may be the case with a sustainability-focused organization.
We also know that responsive, flexible workspace options are a key to driving employee engagement. Even better is when the layout and furnishings are aligned with culture, such as providing solo and group spaces for an organization whose mantra is to promote both independent and collaborative pursuits.
From “My Space” to “Our Space”
Consider the case of a multinational consulting firm that wanted to create a more activity-based work environment, one that would enhance culture as well as allow for growth.
The strategy for change called for shifting the organizational mindset from “my space” to “our space,” and that meant shifting the cultural expression more intensively than simply reconfiguring furniture or décor.
The resulting transformation, informed by JLL workplace strategy and designed by HBO+EMTB, captivates all five senses across the company’s office space — beginning with the eye-catching letters that remind every employee and visitor of the company’s bold, creative values.
Other sensory highlights include the varying textures used on surfaces and upholstery to create “touch” intrigue; a mix of spaces to fulfill “hear” desires (think open-use space for when buzz is desired, and private, heads-down space for when it’s not); a social pantry stocked to “taste” so well that now most meetings are held here, as opposed to previous days when employees preferred to gather in outside restaurants or cafes.
The new office’s flow also reflects the organization’s culture of connectivity, with senior leadership having sworn off their once-private office space to become more connected with the rest of the staff. In fact, the company’s bold, creative and connected culture is reflected in the layout itself, with flexible workspaces giving employees free rein over how, when and where they do their work.
Now, with greater freedom to move around the office — as well as more desire to be there in the first place — employees can engage even more deeply with the organization’s bold, creative vision for itself.
What does your workplace say about your culture?
Whether you are able to take on full transformation, or more targeted strategy — such as setting up “intrapreneurial” labs to experiment with different work functions — the only single rule to cultural expression is to open your ears, eyes, and mind as you begin to articulate it.
Efficiency and effectiveness are vital to today’s collaborative, innovative and, yes, functional workplaces. But they are best when fortified with the third E: the expression of brand culture. When interior space actively broadcasts company culture, employees become happier, more engaged, and more inspired to stay in and do great work.
As employees become stronger advocates of brand vision and attributes, their communications and interactions with clients, investors, and potential recruits will prompt better understanding of the company’s values outside the office, too. This ripple effect can filter across the marketplace, and ultimately help an organization earn distinction from the competition.
A good workspace plugs into culture. A great one amplifies it.