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Office design around cultures

Office design can help build company culture, the following blog illustrates the main 4 cultures present within most organisations

You’ve optimised the tech, had consultants streamlining your processes. What next?

Organisational culture is an important consideration that will affect efficiency and performance when it comes to office design.

“The critical achievement of workspace design is to integrate the various – and sometimes competing – cultures, values and behaviours of people to meet company goals,”

Carl Brown

Managing Director

No matter how strong an organisation’s planned procedures, culture trumps strategy when the two are not aligned.

The workplace is usually viewed as a cost rather than a driver of performance, with emphasis often placed on factors such as increasing worker density and introducing homogeneous workstations. However, employers may be missing a trick, office design can help companies build their culture.

Above showing works completed at Brunel.

Companies that want to encourage a “collaborate” culture should use a flexible design with lots of group spaces.

Image of collaborative culture at London based Levitt Bernstein Architects, designed by their crack team and fitted out by Select Interiors an example of a Collaborative Culture.

Above showing works completed at Levitt Bernstein.

Architecture, interior design and furnishings can provide a tangible way to support – or even change – the culture of an organisation.

While a company can attain temporary competitive advantage through product or service innovation, the advantage is ultimately short lived. Competitors can copy ideas and enter the marketplace. Culture is the only sustainable advantage because unlike a product or service innovation, it cannot be duplicated.

Workplaces that reflect and encourage organisational culture lead to better-motivated employees, the research states.

Companies with low employee engagement suffer from a 32 per cent decrease in operating income,” the white paper says. “At the heart of employee motivation resides company culture. Workspace strategy and design is a tangible opportunity to convert the office into a space that sets high performance standards.”

To help companies create motivational workplaces, Haworth has co-developed a tool to identify their unique organisational culture as well as the subcultures that exist within teams.

Above showing works completed at VProperties.

An office for a “create” culture needs lots of informal working areas and few closed or sheltered spaces.

As a general rule organisations have an over-arching culture that is often tied to their brand, but that there are also strong and varied sub-cultures that tend to run along business unit lines, such as finance and marketing, which, not surprisingly, may express very different cultures.

Understanding the cultural context of an organisation can help the designer offer the right mix of individual, meeting and social spaces and even the atmosphere of those spaces that encourage the desired behaviours

Put simply, this model categorises company culture into four types – collaborate, create, control and compete – all of which are considered equally useful depending on the type of work being carried out.

For example, a “control” culture might work for a company where linear communication and “doing things right” is essential, whereas a “compete” culture likes to “do things fast“, thrives on external competition and focuses on results.

A “collaborate” culture is typically a “do things together” organisation that focuses on team building and concern for people, while a “create” culture has a “do things first” attitude and prizes experimentation and individuality.

Most companies will have a dominant culture that broadly falls into one of these categories. But workspace design also needs to recognise the distinct subcultures that can develop in team units within a company.

It’s important to recognise the difference between each culture profile because organisations always have a dominant culture and may also contain different subcultures,” says the white paper. “By understanding and accepting various cultures, organisations can harness the differences for success.

Above showing works completed at Jordan Fishwick.

Some companies need a more formal office layout to help staff focus on technical problems – this kind of “control” culture needs plenty of individual workspaces. The idea of culture creates a sense of order, continuity and commitment that permeates every aspect of an organisation, from how employees interact to customer perceptions.

This is manifested in the values, attitudes and systems a company employs and promotes, as well as in more tangible factors such as dress code, architecture and products. Getting the physical environment right is key in reinforcing these ideas.

The three big levers of culture are people, place and technology, but we think place is probably the strongest determinant. Office designers learn from other everyday spaces including coffee shops and libraries and how the mobile workforce use these spaces.

Arriving at work, the physical location and space frame the vision and values of a company and we as designers should present the best face and design spaces to reinforce good cultures.

Clients are finally starting to realise the importance of nurturing culture through the physical workplace.

Select Interiors have noticed a trend with organisations starting to focus more on the human capital aspect of organisational performance

They’ve optimised the technology, they’ve had consultants in optimising their processes and the last bastion of organisational improvement is the environment.”

Above showing works completed at Hello Hub.

Open desks allow workers to have some personal space without creating communication barriers and work well for a “compete” office culture.

He added: “It’s gone ignored for so long and it is a vital component of the tools at an organisation’s disposal to reinforce and support processes. We see our role as creating that physical expression of the culture that reinforces those beliefs and values and processes.”

However, companies need to be careful not to jump on trendy office-design bandwagons or try to ape the workplace culture of other organisations.

“Space design is just a tool, not a means for cultural change, clients that state ‘’we want to be like Google’’ is a common term of phrase to try to convey to designers, and by that they mean funky offices, playful furniture and ping pong tables or game rooms.”

Problem is, if the organisation’s culture is not like Google’s, chances are very high that such design concepts will backfire: employees hanging out in the game room or playing ping-pong while working will not be creative innovators, but more like people who are sabotaging their daily work. Thus, these spaces will likely not be used at all. An Accountants Practice in Bolton doesn’t really need to look like Facebook, work is a serious thing and it is apparent that not all companies need a creative playpen.

For any company looking to improve staff satisfaction, gaining a better understanding of its organisational culture is a good first step.

From this foundation, designers can then build an environment suited to a firm’s unique and varied needs.

Understanding the cultural context of an organisation can help designers offer the right mix of individual, meeting and social spaces and even create an atmosphere within those spaces that encourages the desired behaviours.

Four types of office culture explained:

A “collaborate” culture is best nurtured by a flexible environment with an organic layout, medium levels of enclosure, informal spaces and a low ratio of individual to group spaces.

A “create” culture is also aided by a highly flexible environment with an organic layout, informal group spaces and a low ratio of individual to group spaces but responds best to low levels of enclosure.

A “control” culture works best where there is a high ratio of individual to group space, more formal spaces with higher enclosure, structured, symmetrical layouts and a less-flexible environment.

A “compete” culture thrives with a medium ratio of individual to group spaces, a mixture of formal and informal spaces, low to medium enclosure and more structured, symmetrical layouts.

 

 

 

We at Select Interiors Office Design & Fit Out Company judge the success of the buildings and places we design by the way people use and enjoy them – the clients who commission them, the people who inhabit them. Good design is about helping clients meet their needs and objectives. It is also about the way people feel when they experience it, a sense of meaning, connection and belonging.

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Talk to the experts about how an engaging fit out can improve productivity and wellbeing to help attract & retain motivated staff call the Select Interiors design team on 0161 445 4040