Why does company culture dictate office aesthetics?

Organisational culture trumps everything when it comes to workplace design. Way before the creative, conceptual stage comes a whole lot of research to understand exactly what a client does and how they do it.

This includes critical conversations with leadership and employees to understand the values of the business and what really makes them tick.

Spending time with a company’s people in their existing space provides tremendous insight into what is required to drive company performance and efficiency. Design can support and, perhaps more importantly, change or shape company culture if necessary. Interior architecture is a tangible expression of a company’s ethos. During this fact-finding phase, it is important for the design team to educate the client on current trends, and how these may reinforce desired behaviour. For instance, if a firm is keen to encourage more collaboration and teamwork in an office environment, introducing an activity-based space with designated areas for specific tasks would be beneficial.

There is never a one-size-fits-all solution. While a firm of corporate lawyers may require an impressive reception area and several private spaces for confidential work, a production company may put more emphasis on its social areas where creative brainstorming takes place. There are no longer divisions working from designated areas and the floor plate is completely open-plan, with everyone from the CEO down co-working in relevant ‘neighbourhoods’ across the space. With no set formula, it’s about how the company wants to be seen in the marketplace and creating a space that says that.

With real estate at a premium, new workplace fit-outs are changing quite substantially, whatever the company culture. This makes change management essential to manage expectations and it must happen long before staff move in.

Another important aspect of company culture is talent retention. How do you plan to attract and retain the best staff? These days, the atmosphere at work can be as important as salary and benefits when it comes to employment choices. The modern office must accommodate different working styles in a positive environment. For a designer, it’s imperative to understand company demographics and age-groups when contemplating space planning. Imagine the design concept for a 26-year-old CEO of an app development firm versus a 60-year-old legal partner. Taking design cues from the people who work there can create spaces that promote business performance and employee satisfaction.

It’s why the home-away-from-home trend will develop further in the workspace. People like to feel comfortable, secure and have a sense of community at the office. While this domestication of the workplace will continue, it is important not to take a trend too far, to find that happy balance from a design perspective.

Getting a clear picture of a client’s business, staff and brand is an opportunity to reinforce the good and change the bad through design. This knowledge provides the foundation to build an environment that suits a company’s individual requirements and creates a place where its people feel welcomed and engaged.

Helen Wentzel is the Senior Interior Designer at Tétris.

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