Designing the workplace to unleash everybody’s full potential

The onus is increasingly on employers to create environments that generate positive workplace experiences and provide workers with the tools to boost wellbeing, engagement, and performance

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By Jo Sutherland
Issue 11 – Spring 2019 pages 10 – 12
Tags: events • workplace design • productivity

Experience matters

Workplace Week London 2018[i], the brainchild of AWA, took over the capital last October to shine a light on the organisations that are putting much more thought into how they create an excellent workplace experience. More than twenty organisations, including ten debutants, opened their doors to the public for the very first time, including some of the world’s biggest banking, travel, technology, media, creative. and professional services firms.

“Workplace Week was created in 2011 to showcase how business leaders and their facilities, people services, and workplace teams can champion change in order to improve engagement, productivity, wellbeing, and business performance,” says Mawson. “Over the years, the week has explored how organisations are using workplace change as a tool for business transformation by embracing new, modern approaches to work to help people be at their best.”

AWA and Interserve’s most recent report – “Designing and Delivering Effective Workplace Experiences”[ii] – argues that experience is not just about the physical workplace and its ability to satisfy the functional needs of the user. It is about the way each and every interaction within that space has a bearing on that employee. In the war for talent, employers must cater to the demands of their workplace consumers or lose out to the competition.

Following twenty-eight ‘working workplace’ tours conducted as part of Workplace Week, it seems the workplace experience encompasses four key areas: health and wellness, collaboration and connectivity, courageous cultures, and diversity and inclusion.

The workplace consumer

In the early eighties marketers Morris Holbrook and Elizabeth Hirschman conducted a study looking into the experiential aspects of consumption, focusing on how the customer experience impacts purchasing decisions. They discovered that an experience occurs on a number of different levels and happens largely without customers being consciously aware of the interactions that are driving their responses.

A decade later, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, writing in the Harvard Business Review,[iii] hypothesised that customers’ experiences are defined not just by the product or service they are buying but also their internal responses to every interaction they have with that organisation. More recently, Italian researcher Chiara Gentile[ii], channelling Holbrook and Hirschman, proposed that an experience encompasses the rational, the emotional, the sensory, the spiritual, and the physical.

The ‘employee experience’ discourse enveloping the workplace world reiterates the industry-wide belief that one’s surroundings influence one’s behaviour. The dictionary definition of “experience” is “an event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone.”

However, Andrew Mawson, founder of global change management firm Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), having joined forces with Interserve to analyse over 100 scientific studies into the customer experience and its impact on behaviour in order to draw parallels and apply the learning to the workplace arena, argues that it goes much, much deeper than that.

“Workplace management is about designing and delivering multi-faceted, minute-by-minute, multi-sensory experiences that create an emotional response,” says Mawson. “It is about designing workplace experiences in much the same way a retailer would, considering every second to deliver a specific ‘mission’. It encompasses thinking about journeys and destinations, the fusion of space, information, services, and how these reflect organisational personality, support human effectiveness, and are attractive to target employees.”

Highlights from the tours

Seven wins

The Crown Estate’s head office, located on the first and seventh floors of No 1 St. James’s Market, is the first ever WELL platinum-certified building in Europe.[v] Through 102 performance metrics, design strategies, and procedures, the WELL Building Standard (WELL) looks at all components of a building and analyses how these could affect an occupant’s health and comfort. It focuses on seven areas: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.

Crown Estate embraces WELL’s heptagon. The building promotes optimal indoor air quality; the lighting scheme maximises natural light and minimises disruption to the body’s circadian system; there is a safe and clean water supply; the integration of physical components supports an active lifestyle; the design of the space promotes a productive and comfortable environment and optimises cognitive and emotional wellbeing; and, thanks to its partnership with London contact caterer Vacherin, there is an exceptional nourishment programme that encourages healthy eating habits and food culture.

Building bridges

Digital marketing agency Jellyfish has recently expanded to new heights within the UK’s tallest building. With UK offices in Reigate and Brighton, the Jellyfish crew can also choose to work on the 22nd and 28th floor of The Shard (a 95-story supertall skyscraper in London, the tallest building in the UK).

Jellyfish Headquarters (image reprinted with permission from Jellyfish and Workplace Creations)

Jellyfish employees can choose to virtually visit any of the firm’s worldwide offices; all that separates the UK team from their colleagues in South Africa, the United States, and Europe is a touch of one of the many screens that line the space. Unlike many organisations that do their best with second-rate television and audio-conference systems, here the technical and virtual infrastructures are seamless. People can essentially ‘drop in’ when and where they choose, time-zone permitting, to throw around ideas as they enjoy another city’s skyline.

The Jellyfish employee experience is all about coming together and feeling part of a team. The space itself has been designed as a conduit for creative collaboration. Collaboration zones pepper the space, and a sense of transparency underpins the design. This tone feeds into the organisation’s culture as well. The Jellyfish CEO, Rob Pierre, will happily host a meeting in the middle of the workplace, in full view of everyone’s ears and eyes – leading by example to ensure the team of creatives always feels comfortable to do the same.

Digital marketing agency Jellyfish[vi] has recently expanded to new heights within the UK’s tallest building. Although the agency’s HQ is based in Reigate, Surrey, the Jellyfish crew can also choose to work on the 22nd and 28th floor of The Shard (a 95-story supertall skyscraper in London, the tallest building in the UK).

In fact, Jellyfish employees can choose to virtually visit any of the firm’s worldwide offices; all that separates the UK team from their colleagues in South Africa, the United States, and Europe is a touch of one of the many screens that line the space. Unlike many organisations that do their best with second-rate tele- and audio-conference systems, here the technical and virtual infrastructures are seamless. People can essentially ‘drop in’ when and where they choose, timezone permitting, to throw around ideas as they enjoy another city’s skyline.

The Jellyfish employee experience is all about coming together and feeling part of a team. The space itself has been designed as a conduit for creative collaboration. Collaboration zones pepper the space and a sense of transparency underpins the design. This tone feeds into the culture piece, too. Jelly’s CEO will happily host a meeting in the middle of the workplace, in full view of everyone’s ears and eyes, wearing casual attire – leading by example to ensure the team of creatives always feel comfortable to do the same.

Daring to dream

The Transferwise London headquarters[vii] scooped up the silver medal at last year’s London Design Awards, and it was named one of GlassDoor’s ‘Top 10 Coolest Offices’ in 2017. The quirky Shoreditch workspace is located in a former tea factory. With 200 employees from thirty different nationalities working in the office, the design aims to inspire energy, creativity, and collaboration.

Transferwise Headquarters (image reprinted with permission from Transferwise)

In addition to a roof terrace, colourful hammocks, and ping pong tables, there’s a padded sleep cell and a sauna – a nod to the Estonian heritage of the company’s cofounders. These design attributes go some way towards promoting a culture of courage. People feel like they belong to a community and so are empowered to try new things. This culture perhaps explains why Transferwise is one of Europe’s most successful fintech companies.

Be one and belong

Viacom International Media Network UK and Ireland[viii] is home to Channel 5, MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, and fifteen other channels. There are many people at Viacom doing all sorts of jobs – scheduling, transmission, creative, sales, digital, finance, IT, consumer products, social responsibility, and more.

To celebrate the fact that the organisation is made up of all kinds of people from all sorts of backgrounds, the Viacom Talent team champion diversity and inclusion initiatives. Recently, the firm ran a campaign in line with National Inclusion Week. The theme was ‘Be You. Belong’. In the spirit of the week, Viacom UK explored its diversity and togetherness by inspiring conversations, engagement with external thought leaders and events around the building.

Summing up

In a world where attracting, retaining, and getting the most from people is vital to the pursuit of gaining a competitive advantage, the experience that employees have in the workplace is a powerful strategic resource. That experience should be something thoughtfully developed and painstakingly designed to align with the business goals and needs of the organisation, claim AWA and Interserve.

Returning to Gentile’s hypothesis about the components of an experience, the workplace experience must be built on a series of almost-invisible interactions that encompass the rational, the emotional, the sensory, the spiritual, and the physical. Ultimately, workplace experiences must be carefully crafted and managed with the primary aim of creating a workplace that people genuinely love.

About the Author

Jo Sutherland is associate director of Magenta Associates, the award-winning built-environment PR specialists. She is also a freelance writer and writes for architecture and design, workplace, facilities management, and general business titles. As part of the Mix Interiors team, Jo is the editor of Impression, the magazine’s hospitality supplement. In her spare time, Jo volunteers as marketing director for the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) UK Chapter. Having spent most of her career in an agency environment, Jo has been lucky enough to manage a number of high-profile national B2B and B2C communications campaigns for leading brands and celebrities.

email: Jo.Sutherland@magentaassociates.co.uk
LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/josuthers/
Twitter:  @JoSutherlandPR

References

[i] Flanagan, Jeff and Andrew Mawson, Designing and delivering effective workplace experiences: A practical guide. (https://www.advanced-workplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Interserve-Workplace-3-Practical-Guide.pdf – accessed 29 November 2018).

[ii] https://www.workplaceweek.com/uk/london-2018/

[iii] Pine, B. Joseph and Gilmore, James, “Welcome to the Experience Economy,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 1998. (https://hbr.org/1998/07/welcome-to-the-experience-economy – accessed 29 November 2018).

[iv] Gentile, Chiara & Spiller, Nicola & Noci, Giuliano, 2007. “How to Sustain the Customer Experience:: An Overview of Experience Components that Co-create Value With the Customer,” European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 25(5), pages 395-410, October

[v] Knox, Nora: “The WELL Building Standard® is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.” (http://www.wellcertified.com/)

[vi] https://www.jellyfish.co.uk/

[vii] https://transferwise.com/us/

[viii] http://www.vimn.com/press/corporate-information

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