How to Design your Workspace to Improve Strategy Results

How to Design your Workspace to Improve Strategy Results

It’s common knowledge that you can tell a company’s culture, just by walking into the building and seeing how employees treat you.  But it’s not just staff interaction.  It’s also how the building looks and feels.  Messy companies are always disorganised when it comes to delivering on time (and also tend to have a poor safety record).  Cold looking offices, with not a laugh to be heard, tend to provide grumpy customer service.  While old dated workplaces, circa 1970, have archaic thinking and habits.

Our physical  environment affects how we work.  Designed correctly it can even improve innovation, creativity and communication.  So it is little wonder that workspace and culture go hand in hand.  

Culture is Your Strategy

Research has found that two-thirds of company’s fail to execute their strategy.  It is rarely the strategy that’s at fault. Instead, it’s poor execution. 

Most companies dedicate a lot of time to creating their strategies, but fail to spend any time on ensuring they have the right culture to implement it.  Your culture provides the foundation for your company’s growth.  

Great cultures aren’t accidental.  It’s important to purposefully design your own signature culture.  This means looking at the key capabilities and skills required to design the right projects, set goals and achieve them.  There are many different types of cultures.  It doesn’t matter what culture you create.  All that matters is that it is authentic and true to your company DNA and works towards executing your goals fast.  CEOs must work out how they will build and maintain a culture that is in alignment with the core ideology of the company, while being sustainable.  Some companies work towards nurturing a culture of learning, or a culture of innovation or even a culture of entrepreneurship (see What sort of culture are your championing? for ideas).  

Essentially, the job of a CEO is to continually find ways of getting other people to do their best work in service of a shared goal.   While this means improving strategy communication, testing and tweaking the strategy and recruiting and training the right people, it also means designing the right physical space to encourage people’s best work.  After all, your company environment is a reflection of your culture. 

While most people are aware of the social aspects of culture, few people realise the importance of creating the right workspace to match their company essence.   Keep in mind that your outside world (physical) is really an exact reflection of your inner world (social).  

As Within, so Without

Let’s take a look at some examples of workspaces aligned with company culture.

1. Open spaces – If you want a transparent, open culture, then you need to actually reflect that in your physical environment.  An open workforce encourages people and departments to talk to one another.  It also helps people learn more about what other people are doing in other areas, encouraging collaboration.  Walls between staff are effectively barriers to teamwork.  

2. Places to interact – Relationships are key to creating healthy cultures.  Great people want to work with other great people.  Research has found that employees are more likely to leave a company, if they don’t have any close friends at work. Not only that, if you want innovation, you want people from a range of departments to work together and share ideas.  The key to generating bold ideas is to encourage people with a diverse range of knowledge to collaborate.

Google is famous for their culture and their non-stop buffet.  While outsiders might foolishly believe that it’s all about free food, there is actually a much deeper, strategic reason.  Food helps build relationships.  Google even measures the length of cafeteria lines to make sure people wait an optimal 3-4 minutes to talk to others in the queue.  Not only that, the tables are placed close to one another, so that employees accidentally bump each other.  It’s even known as “The Google Bump” and it ensures that people develop a strong friendship network across the company.

Zappos has free or massively discounted food available to employees, even including a vegan range.  People are encouraged to use the cafeteria space as a work space (see photo above).

While not every company can contemplate a non-stop buffet, other examples of workplace design that foster interaction include bathrooms in the middle of the building to encourage chance encounters and entertaining areas with a BBQ for socialising.  

3. Personalise desk spaces – Bring out employee’s creative flair by allowing them to customise their own desk space – not only in functionality, but also design.  Etsy, an online marketplace for craft goods, provides every new employee with $200 to decorate their workspace from their online store.  While Zappos, encourages employees on each floor level to design and decorate the space together.

4. Customise wall spaces – Use your wall spaces to inspire your workplace.  Pampers nappies makes use of their walls to remind employees of their important work to keep babies dry, by featuring walls with happy babies.  While 1800-GOT-JUNK has a “Can you Imagine Wall?” where customers and employees are encouraged to put up future visions of what they believe will happen at the organisation.  

5. Create a “war room” – If you have an important project that you want employees to focus on, dedicate a room for it.  Marissa Mayer, the CEO at Yahoo, motivated staff to create a new native ad platform from scratch in a record 43 days, with a small team of only 18 employees.  As the team members were working 18 hour days, they were given their own dedicated project space to create and ship the product.  

6. Brand your meeting rooms – Get everyone collaborating by determining what names to call your meeting rooms.  It’s a perfect opportunity to get people thinking about your values or just who you are as a company.  Facebook decided to name meeting rooms after musicians and acronyms. They had a lot of fun with Barenaked LEDs, LOL Cat Stevens and 50 CentOS. While Ignited, decided to get clever with Here, Progress, Shock and Ten Minutes.  Brings new meaning to email titles with “The meeting is in Progress” and “The team is in Shock.”

There are no rules as to how you design your workspace.  The most important thing is to consider is what behaviours you want to encourage at your workplace and align it to your company essence.  Then, try and work out how to demonstrate that externally.  Remember, if you want a transparent workplace, add more transparent walls.  Oh, and also ensure employees have a say in the design. 



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Marie-Claire Ross is the Founder and Chief Corporate Catalyst at Trustologie. She is a workplace sociologist, author, speaker and consultant focused on helping leaders create high trust organisations, in order to get everyone the same page and easily navigate during times of change. She does this through strategic diagnostics, roundtables, workshops, coaching and consulting. Marie-Claire is also the author of the number three ranked book on Amazon, Transform your Safety Communication. She has been interviewed on “Technology Behind Business” for Sky Business News and regularly contributes articles to FM Magazine on company culture. She is also a Graduate of the Company Director’s Course and is on the SME Committee for the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

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