Joint managing director and co-founder of award-winning design and workplace consultancy, Office Principles, Cyril Parsons looks at how today’s offices have to work that much harder to draw their end-users in…
The office as a work location has changed significantly in the last fifteen years or so. We’ve entered an age where many office workers don’t need to be present in order to fulfil their duties. In fact, a growing number of employees don’t need to go into the office at all – as long as we have access to wi-fi and a laptop, we’re good to go.
To maintain its existence as a primary hub, the office must, therefore, deliver an experience that is preferable to us basing ourselves at home or at a third location. In short, it has to work very hard to engage us, enticing us into the workspace and giving us good reason to be present; providing an ‘experience’ that can’t be got from any other location.
We have moved on from measuring the value of office space against total occupancy costs, and the utilisation of spaces, and are now considering employee fulfilment and happiness levels, along with health and wellbeing, as the measure of what makes for the best office environment.
The big corporates have adopted this ideology for some time, evidenced in their desire to create space that caters for every want and whim. These spaces often include super comfortable receptions, canteens resembling hipster cafes, gyms and workout rooms, quiet zones, rooms for prayer and reflection, roof gardens, fun areas, with table tennis and other games, and an assortment of bars and coffee points. Some large office hubs also have hairdressers, laundry facilities and retail outlets on site.
This people-centric concept provides for all anticipated needs while rethinking the environment to tempt workers to be a part of it and to want to stay and be present in the space.
People like to be around people. It’s a basic need that can be nurtured by creating dynamic collective areas to encourage people to linger; generating situations and opportunities where workers will naturally come together to interact and share ideas.
Clever space planning is necessary to set this harmonious, social scene. The fundamental aim should be to create a unique, shared environment that enables people to belong – and encourages them to want to belong.
Following the brand
To fully deliver on the experience and harness a sense of belonging, aspects of the office design must be in keeping with the company’s brand. Given that, you have to have a set of core values that you are confident in; an ethos to build the whole experience around.
Big brands have been in on the idea of creating an experience for some time.
Airbnb is the perfect case in point. It’s mission is to create a world where you can belong anywhere – and that’s true of the office, as much as it’s true of any of the homes on its site.
For example, Airbnb’s San Francisco office contains a selection of vibrant rooms that have been carefully built to reflect some of the stand out homes from around the world that the site has featured. As a consequence, when employees enter the offices, they’re immediately immersed in the Airbnb identity.
Other instantly identifiable brands have always been about the experience. From Disney and Coca Cola to Cadburys, context has always been recognized by these names and is consistently apparent. However, in the office environment, the consideration of experience extends beyond the customer and the paying guest and is all about the employee.
A softer side
The importance of the concept of office experience is underscored by the prediction that the offices of the future will likely be populated by people who demonstrate a softer skillset – those who excel at man management, communication and social skills – along with candidates who have very specific areas of expertise.
We are, arguably, then designing offices for a type; the groups most likely to appreciate and to savor the communal experience of their surrounds.
Certainly, the freestyle approach which is on trend now, where employees move from space to space, indulging in activity-based working and landing where the mood takes them, has already been proven to spur better connectivity and collaboration, improving the social aspect of the environment – which is, in itself, a great experience enhancer.
If we fully give ourselves over to becoming a people-led workforce, operating from offices fueled, primarily, by the quality of experience offered to employees, we have to make sure this squares with what best serves our commercial interest.
The challenge is to marry the corporate requirement with the employee requirement.
Individuals want flexibility, inspiration and the opportunity to be creative; they want the space to be autonomous and to come together as a team. Corporates want increased productivity and an environment that will reflect well on the brand and positively influence recruitment activity.
All of these elements have to be addressed.
The desired outcome is that, by creating the experience and meeting the individual need, the corporate expectation should automatically be surpassed.