What does your workplace design say about your business?

Good workplace design will tell visitors that this a creative space, a place of power or this is a business that cares about people

What does your office design say to clients and other visitors? Does your workplace design communicate the positive purpose and energy of your business, or does it damage your brand?

When she walked out of the lift in her client’s building and saw, on the wall, an intercom with a scribbled instruction note stuck next to it, Sonia Simpfendorfer knew she had her work cut out.

The creative director of design studio Nexus Designs had been called in to advise on office layout after the client’s business had been rocked by controversy. A change to the space, the client felt, would assist with a change in organisational culture. They were right.

“When I first arrived, I had to use this intercom to call the person I was supposed to meet so they would eventually come out and let me through the forbidding doors,” Simpfendorfer recalls. “That was one of many things we changed!”

Anyone who walks into any office will gain an immediate understanding of how that business is doing, Simpfendorfer says. They will sense an energy level and get an idea of what the business does, or where its values lie. If they’re unable to develop that sense as soon as they walk in, their impression likely won’t be good.

“Once I entered my client’s reception area, all I could see was a blank wall that told me nothing about who they were or what kind of work they did. It gave no clues, and it was awful,” she says.

“Even though I knew I was there for a meeting, it never felt as if I was welcome or valued.”

An office entrance area must give a clue about what lies beyond, Simpfendorfer says. It should be a teaser that tells visitors that this is a creative space, a place of power, this is a business that cares about people, or this is a young, cutting-edge brand.

A space that is too small or badly designed can damage the brand. A space that is too large and opulent might leave clients with a bad taste around why your business is charging such high fees.

Instilling a sense of purpose in your office design

Thought must go into every part of the space, from the size, to the flooring materials to what is on the walls, and from the signage to how the place smells and sounds. A corporate law firm’s reception area should be very different to that of a photography studio, but both should be equally well planned for market success.

Simpfendorfer says great leaders of any business will have instilled a sense of purpose and mission in their staff. It is that purpose that is most important to communicate to those entering for the first time.

In the reception area of the McDonald’s Australia head office, for instance, there are numerous references to the company’s support for seriously ill children and their families via the Ronald McDonald House Charities. There are posters, brochures, photographs and more.

Similarly, sitting proudly on the reception desk at Metcash is a plaque from the McGrath Foundation, one of the organisation’s charities.

“Metcash has made sure the company’s social heart is recognised by everybody that walks in,” says Sascha Chandler, partner at PwC and national head of the organisation’s Transformation Assurance business.

As his business specialisation suggests, Chandler helps organisations work their way successfully through complex change. The office space, he says, is an important part of that process.

“An office entrance area must give a clue about what lies beyond. It should be a teaser that tells visitors that this is a creative space, a place of power, this is a business that cares about people, or this is a young, cutting-edge brand.” Sonia Simpfendorfer, Nexus Designs

“Communicating a brand’s purpose clearly and regularly is vital,” he says.

“Here at PwC, for instance, at the beginning of every meeting we celebrate something that somebody in the business has done that aligns with the firm’s values. It creates a tone of ‘Yes, we can’ before the meeting even begins.”

Chandler says communicating a similar message in a building entrance has that same effect.

In the end, as with everything in business, success comes down to great people. Visitors will “take a read” from the way staff are interacting, from their posture as they sit at their desks or walk the hallways, and from the welcome the visitor receives upon arriving.

“There’s nothing worse than an unattended reception desk with an automatic sign-in,” Chandler says, “and there’s nothing better than a good, human-to-human experience as you enter. When you’re made to feel at home the second you arrive, it’s just so valuable. It makes you comfortable and it makes you feel as if you want to do business with that organisation because they care about you.”

The design solution Simpfendorfer developed for her aforementioned client was also based around people. She created a warm entrance behind glass walls, allowing eye contact with visitors from the moment they exited the lift. Similar solutions continued throughout the office space, including transparent walls around the CEO’s office. This solution, literally and figuratively, created greater transparency and accountability within the business.

“When design expresses the company’s philosophy, it can influence powerful change,” she says. “Good businesses proudly say, ‘This is who we are and this is what we do’. Nothing needs to be hidden because they’re proud of what they do, and why they do it.”

Read next: Find the right office space for your business


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September 2019
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