Curating a Great Physical
Work Environment:
One Size Does Not Fit All

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It’s no secret that the physical environment of an office has a profound impact on the way people work. When we think of “bad” environments, visions of gray, bland cubicles and fluorescent lights immediately jump to the forefront of what companies need to avoid. But ripping out cubicles alone doesn’t solve the problem.

Open spaces and ping pong tables are not enough to create a truly great work environment—and all too frequently result in excellent ping-pong prowess, but not-so-great work. A study from 2010 in Economic and Industrial Democracy discovered that employees create a social identity that is associated with their workspaces. It’s no surprise that the physical environment does impact the psychological experience of the employees. There is no single solution that works for all workplaces. Different organizations need to create and curate different types of environments based on the forms of collaboration and independent work required for their business.

Curating a Shared Workplace

Creating a Workplace That Supports Shared Purpose

Open workspaces, social areas and cafes are great perks, but without the entirety of the organization understanding and supporting a common goal—a Shared Purpose—it’s difficult to design and curate an optimal physical environment. Shared Purpose is a clear definition of value that engages customers and articulates what the employees who comprise the organization have come together to accomplish. It is, at its heart, a singular idea to engage employees and drive customer preference. Even the best workplace environments can’t build Shared Purpose alone.

Poor leadership, lack of proper rewards and recognition, ineffective communication and inadequate or ill-defined structure and process are all factors that can negate the effects of even an optimal environment. But the physical environment is an important pillar of a company’s culture framework to improve the employee experience. Building an environment designed to support a Shared Purpose helps ensure both individual contribution and collective collaboration, including informal serendipitous encounters that the workplace environment can be designed to foster.

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Cultivating and Curating the Workplace Experience

While there are numerous ways to improve the appearance of an office environment, the workspace needs to assess the factors that are unique to the people and the range of different types of work being done. WeWork does a great job in curating the experience in their offices and has been so successful that they recently became the largest landlord in Manhattan. WeWork starts by reflecting on the neighborhoods in which they operate. They understand many of their tenants reside close by and appreciate the artwork from local artists and the decor that blends into the city the space inhabits. WeWork continues their space curation investing in understanding the types of people and businesses working in their space and designing the layout to cater to that crowd.

WeWork attracts young creatives. As a result, the floor plans are airy and open with exposed beam ceilings, lots of glass and modern fixtures and colors. All of these design choices appeal to the majority of the professional Millennials that are flocking to these shared workspaces. Most importantly though, the spaces buzz with energy which illustrates WeWork’s strongest curation proficiency: experiences. While the right throw pillows and exposed brick can liven up a space, it’s the variety and velocity of events that happen within the four walls of each WeWork outpost that are a vital component of the physical environment.

Every WeWork office employs a “community manager” dedicated to organizing these experiences. Ranging from book clubs to yoga classes, cocktailing to personal financial planning, lunch and learns to holiday parties, all of the various events and activities encourage interaction and connection. Modern offices continue to become more and more casual, bringing the distance between “work” and “life” closer together. Employees want a live-work-play environment feeling within their workspace and WeWork delivers on this demand.

WeWork Shared Space

Incorporating Hospitality Best Practices

Forward-thinking office design is also taking cues from the hospitality world by integrating the same relaxation, refreshment and social interaction that hotels, restaurants and lounges provide. An ideal modern workspace should be warm and welcoming, blending the comforts of home with the productivity of the office. The environment should make it easy for employees to come and go as they please, and enable them to use the space however they see fit on any particular day.

According to the Workplace Index study, only 36% of employees feel that their desks are the best location for inspiration. Having hospitality ideals incorporated into the office not only heightens the employee experience, but also the experience of guest who visit the space. In the same way that a hotel lobby welcomes their guests and offers various amenities for their comfort and enjoyment, the workplace has the same opportunity to create this experience for clients to feel welcome… and create a powerful first impression. Companies that do this best take guests through a multi-sensory experience by offering a selection of delicious treats from the workplace café.

The delightful and invigorating aroma of freshly brewed coffee combined with soft lounge seating where natural lighting and bright colors can ignite the senses and spark creativity throughout even an extensive meeting. A well-equipped, hospitality-minded office space can help instill not only a warm welcome, but also a lasting impression for employees and visitors of a place to belong.

 

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