Can Workplace Design Enhance Employee Engagement

Does your workspace uplift your spirit and inspire you to do your best work? Congratulations, you are among the fortunate few as 87 percent of employed people worldwide are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work, according to Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace” report. But why businesses should care about having engaged employees? Well, it’s not only about social responsibility. Organizations with a high level of engagement report 21% higher productivity, have lower absenteeism and turnover as well as improved quality of work and health.

So how do companies like Google, Facebook or Red Bull have a more engaged workforce than their competitors? There’s no way to force employee engagement, but there are quite a few options that can encourage its development. A physical environment that perfectly reflects their brand values and purpose plays a crucial part here.

This week we caught up with four A&D industry professionals to hear their thoughts on the importance of engaging work environments and how to create that magical workplace where employees choose to work – not because they have to but because they want to:

Q: Usually, employee engagement means different things for different organizations. How do you define it?

Roy David: An employee will always be engaged if he/she resonates with the company’s core values. It is a process that should come natural if the company knows how to strategically involve its employees in decision making. Also, employee engagement allows the company’s organic growth, an easier employee recruitment and fluent rounds of capital raising. Tamara Romeo:

An engaged employee is one that has a deep understanding of the organization’s vision, mission & values, as well as an understanding of how their role is pivotal to that equation. When an employee feels that they are adding value to the company’s mission, they will almost always be highly engaged.

Niko Milanovic:

For us, an employee is a part of the team that is equally engaged in design from the beginning of the project, but later on, every member of the team focuses on individual parts of what they are the best at. This kind of engagement is possible in the small studios like ours. If needed, we collaborate with other groups and individuals, but we keep our studio small.

John P.Brooks:

From our perspective as architects and designers – collaboration, user engagement and team work are essential in how we design. We think the built environment provides the “back-bone” and supports team efforts. Creating a culture of engagement within an organization is as important. We use a community charrette to create a project specific community engagement in the process of designing a facility. This process includes all of the stakeholders in the possibilities of the project and engages them in the final solution.

Q: In terms of office design, what are the key components in generating employee engagement within the office?

Roy David: It is about the perfect balance between consistency and adaptability. If the office space reflects in its design the company’s core values then the space will generate employee engagement. Tamara Romeo:

In the US market today, millennials are driving a need for choice within the workspace. Instead of ‘owning’ an office or a cubicle, many new office designs are incorporating flexible use of desks, lounges, phone booths and touchdown spaces. This variety of space offers both open collaboration and focused work space. With rising real estate costs, business owners are decreasing their square footage per employee, and offering more creative options for co-working and benching rather than the large private offices of yesterday. Niko Milanovic:

When we design an office space, we try to transfer our notion of flexibility by designing different types of spaces, different ambients and interesting environments with a lot of plants and light. Furniture must also be flexible and accommodating to different scenarios of use. Thats why we have designed the modular desk that fits spaces for collaborative work but can be easily transformed into a meeting space or space for individual work. John P.Brooks:

Our work is informed by the collaborative type spaces that we design for educational environments. These spaces are designed to encourage and promote team based efforts in project based learning. Each of these spaces are uniquely designed around a premise for the space to be engaging and inviting to use.

Q: How has technology affected the way you design office spaces to boost employee engagement?

Roy David:

Technology is a crucial part of the studio’s design process. We think, breath and eat new technological techniques such as BIM, CAM/CAD, Parametric Design and CG new skills. This agenda allows us to provide our clients with high-end solutions for their office spaces and in turn allows our work process to be all about the exploration and rediscovery of our profession constantly.

Tamara Romeo:

Wireless access has allowed mobility of the workforce. Employees are no longer harnessed to a single space for 8 hours a day. With a laptop and cell phone, an office can literally be created anywhere…even at the beach!

Niko Milanovic:

Virtual space and cloud solutions had a great impact on office environment as we were used to it from university days. We have a base, the head office, but most of the time our members are working from home or other places. That flexibility proved to be an advantage in our case because engagement is not limited to one physical space. Employees can choose what environment suits them the most at any given time.

John P.Brooks:

Technology has transformed our design process for collaborative environments. As the types of devices that people bring into the environments have changed – the space requirements and infrastructure needs have shifted.

Q: What are the biggest challenges in designing an engaging office for both introverts and extroverts?

Roy David:

The office space needs to respond actively to its users. From my personal experience, this critical factor is best solved through spaces that are adaptable, both open and closed. In the offices designed till now, I place a great deal of thought on these spaces, especially in trying to create an equilibrium between them. Thus in the office spaces designed by the studio, one can either choose to work at a desk, or go for the open hangout areas.

Tamara Romeo:

Many times decision makers in a company are used to working in private offices and value their personal space. Often, they are not part of the Millennial group, and do not value the same sort of collaborative open work environment. As designers, we help to educate them and offer help with change management, which also helps those with differing privacy needs like introverts & extroverts.

Designing dedicated private spaces are key when creating collaborative spaces, but that doesn’t mean that a private office environment can not be engaging. Strong cultural connection (for example: artwork, inspirational phrases, amenities that speak to a wide variety of tastes, etc) are also very helpful.

Niko Milanovic:

The key thing for us was to design a desk that doesn’t require you to sit frontally opposed to someone but to sit slightly angled instead. Our desk has angled sides and this creates less tension and more casual atmosphere between people that are sitting on the same desk. Other important thing is an acoustic comfort that differs from one person to the other. In large space, there can be different acoustic ambients, but in the small office space one can only find privacy using earphones.

John P.Brooks:

We design spaces that appeal to group and individual work. We use a variety of space sizes, configurations and variations of furniture groupings to anticipate group and individual work.

Q: Are there any interior design attributes that every engaging office space shares?

Roy David: Each office space should be in direct sync to the company’s core values. If this is reflected in the overall design, then the space is perceived accordingly. Thus, the consistency of the interior design with the brand it is designed for is crucial.

Tamara Romeo:

A strong connection to corporate values that makes the employees feel included and part of the team. Employee ‘buy in’ is absolutely necessary.

Niko Milanovic:

Yes, the space needs to be comfortable for someone to be engaging and that can be achieved if employee is oriented towards the room and not facing the wall. I would suggest that space need to have mirrors so employees can have good visual communication in between.

John P.Brooks:

Although there are some design components that carry from one project to the next – we believe that the core attribute that every space needs is a design that addresses the needs, desire, hopes and aspirations of the communities that we serve.

Q: In your opinion, how would you identify which employees are engaged and what are some of the benefits companies are seeing from that?

Roy David:

It is a thing that a skilled employer always notices, everybody is good at something. Creating the goldilocks environment where that can flourish is the biggest challenge.

Niko Milanovic:

Employees are engaged when they are making innovations in the projects and the creative process. Even when innovations are not great, the ones that are less good will eventually sparkle some other great ideas. Teams need brainstorming from time to time, and for that they need slightly different environment than their daily office workstation.

John P.Brooks:

The “work” of the organization expresses engagement. Our work is typically at the beginning of the creation of an environment – and we enjoy seeing how a facility is used after it is completed – in most instances, we are surprised by how the users make the space their own and engage with the facility. Above all else, we believe that spaces should be designed to be flexible and adapt to the changing needs and culture of an organization. The “community” of a workplace or an educational institution will grow into a space and use it in ways that we never expected – but we design for that “process” of growth.

Q: What are your thoughts about the concept of activity based working as a way to create an engaging work environment for different generations?

Roy David:

I think it’s a brilliant idea. Again, adaptability is the repetitive term here. If the space is adaptable then for sure it can harbor any time of end user.

Niko Milanovic:

Activity based working is great concept but I am not sure that every occupation can adopt it successfully.

John P.Brooks:

Activity based working is an interesting concept – we are experimenting with different work space configurations in our design studio to address the needs of people who like to move or stand while working.

Q: Designing for workplace engagement has become a buzz phrase over the course of the last few years. Why an engaging workplace is so important for a modern employee?

Roy David:

When you design a space that is adaptable, flexible and activity based, you immediately take out repetitiveness, thus boost creativity of the employees and ultimately their engagement.

Tamara Romeo:

Engaged workers are far more valuable to the bottom line. They help with attraction & retention of new talent, they are more productive, and they support a happier daily workplace.

Niko Milanovic:

Modern employer wants their employees to be satisfied and happy with their work and their contribution to the company. That is what I see as the sustainable working environment.

John P.Brooks:

An engaging workspace is important for employee wellbeing, staff retention and talent recruitment. But primarily, workplace engagement is at the heart of how our design process works. We subscribe to the ideas of “design thinking” and collective problem solving. This notion of collaboration is essential to our design process, how we work, what we do and the environments that we create.

Your Office Should Always Embody Your Brand

A perfect workspace can’t be defined by simply stating that it needs to have that big slide or a bowling alley. To be successful, you don’t need to be like something else. A secret to that truly engaging office comes from a combination of the physical space you have available, the industry your company belongs to, the fact how well employees understand their tasks and know how their work contributes to the company’s bottom line, and the kind of atmosphere you want to create. If you are able to combine all these elements, you are guaranteed to create a place that supports emotional wellbeing of your employees and allows them to be happy, productive and engaged at what they do.


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