Procurement 1 October 2015

How workplace design can improve talent attraction and retention

Deloitte's breakout space
Deloitte’s breakout space

The director of interiors and workplace strategy at Arney Fender Katsalidis explains why micro businesses should be thinking more about improving workplace design to up their ability to compete for talent.

Many businesses rely on one thing: people. Staff are recruited and retained. They are mentored and trained. They are cultivated and indoctrinated into the brand and culture. For any business, large or small, staff salaries and benefits are the largest operating expense. Smart companies realise that their people need to be armed with the proper toolkit to do their job efficiently.

Smarter companies view the workplace as part of this toolkit. If you imagine that a thoughtfully developed workplace design could eke out just a five per cent higher level of productivity in an office of 100 people, a savings of hundreds of thousands of a year could be achieved.

We are at an amazing time in workplace design. The conflux of technology-enabled staff, progressive management and a deeper understanding of the psychology of how we work is impacting not only our working lives, but our personal time out of the office as well. As we have the ability to work anywhere and collaborate with more sophisticated online tools, the traditional office is dead.

The workplace’s role in this brave new world is to bring people together with innovative tools, spaces and colleagues that they can’t find working at home or out of a Starbucks. Think of the office as the 17th century salon, but cooler. It is a club you want to belong to.

Take for instance the new regional headquarters in Montreal for international professional services firm Deloitte. Staff have the ability to work anywhere with a whole suite of online and mobile technologies. However, the “cool” factor of the offices with different spaces to work, better technologies for collaborating and colleagues to learn from, bounce ideas off of and collaborate with abound. Why work at home when you can choose this environment? For a business like Deloitte that believes their growth in Canada will come from the opportunities between their varying business units rather than growth in any one business unit, getting their staff to interact and build connections is paramount to the reason behind the design.

Rather than just offering staff the traditional three places to work – desk, office, meeting room – Deloitte staff work in a landscape of choices. From digitally enhanced brainstorming rooms, to breakout spaces, comfy libraries, cosy lounges and phone booths, the options are plentiful.

All in all, Deloitte provides 18 different immediate types of places to work depending on mood, task and number of people working together on the business unit floor.

A sketch of the new Deloitte building
A sketch of the new Deloitte building

The idea is to encourage highly mobile, intelligent staff capable of working anywhere to choose the “office” as their first option. While virtual communication is effective, nothing compares to meeting colleagues face to face and establishing those connections in person that allow the virtual to happen more smoothly. This allows the organisation to leverage the knowledge of each staff member from the serendipitous conversation in the lift or café or the organised meeting.

Whilst Deloitte is a large organisation, the project provides lessons for smaller businesses that can benefit from some of the project’s successes.  The first lesson I would suggest is “if you build it, they will come”.  Spaces for collaboration and socialisation are important contributors to knowledge exchange in offices.  Therefore, tea points can be designed as cosy, attractive spaces to draw people in and act as meeting places as well as small cafes.  Not only do they create additional meeting space relieving pressure on client facing meeting rooms, they also encourage a different style of meeting and as a real benefit to the organisation.

Another key take-away is providing different spaces for different types of work.  As mentioned, Deloitte has 18 different types of work settings available for staff. Though this might be a luxury too far-fetched for some small business, carefully editing this list down to a few additional options in the space such as 30 minute phone booths for one to two people to take conference calls or a private conversation can greatly increase productivity.

A final thing is make the design authentic to the business’ aspirations. Engage with your design team. Let them create a space that reflects your organisation’s culture. At Deloitte’s new building, branding colours are used very sparingly but for effect like on the stair, which is all about the connectivity of the business.

The brand is more conveyed by the openness and the juxtaposition of tailored versus raw finishes which reflect the integration of diverse business units like tax and consulting all housed under one new roof. All business, large and small, should find the places within design that celebrate the culture which is unique to your organisation.

Matthew Kobylar is the director of interiors and workplace strategy at architecture firm Arney Fender Katsalidis.

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