Is Your Workplace a Flagship Of Your Company? (Part 2)

Simon Bell, Managing Director of FITCH Singapore, believes the next wave of workplace design should be ‘the enemy of corporate’.

Is your place of work an open, comfortable space that fosters collaboration? If yes, then chances are it was designed in the past 15 years. But it’s out-of-date. Another paradigm shift is underway towards workplaces focused on ‘experience’.

For decades, office design was focused on productivity and functionality. It was a straightforward transaction; employees performed duties and were paid in return. Over time, office design became a little more adventurous. It evolved from organic groupings to cubicles to the trend for open plan spaces.

Now the workplace is undergoing its most dramatic evolution to date, driven by two factors. Employees are vocal on the kind of workplace environments that help them produce their best work and are in tune with the way they want to do things, while progressive businesses understand the need for a satisfying workplace experience for their teams.

A workplace that is meaningful and engaging experience and offers purpose will foster employees that are passionate, innovative and committed.

Bringing such an ambitious vision to life requires a workspace design — not to be confused with office design. The latter is essential and governs layout, headcount, resources and utilities but workspace design is a discipline and mindset that connects office design to the brand. It dictates the journey, the overall experience and ensures that the brand’s values and function are reflected in the physical (and digital) space. Much like retail.

It governs the function of individual rooms, zones and the office as a whole and knits together workplace culture, brand values and people’s needs (both the workforce and visitors). And this means the thought processes behind projects need to be ‘the enemy of corporate’. Received wisdoms and old formulas will not cut it amid new cultural trends and expectations.

The evolution of workspace design to becoming a function essential to all businesses can be linked to four factors:

The erosion of barriers between the professional and personal: The way people work is changing, be it the location, hours spent, or tools used. Professional doesn’t have to mean corporate; engagement isn’t superficial and business cultures and values are adjusting and expanding to accommodate this.

Talent is a precious resource. Companies are battling to attract and retain the best. The enticements are now more than monetary; employees want a place where they feel they can belong, make their voice heard and where they can express themselves though their work. Increasingly, culture is what businesses are selling and culture is built on the workforce. Companies need to invest in how employees work and how they feel.

Behind-the-scenes is the new scene. Traditional sector barriers are breaking down, offices are hosting shops, shops are hosting workshops, and customers are being invited to get closer to brands and see how products are made. Greater transparency gives customers access to what was previously ‘behind the scenes’.

Employees are the brand experience. They bring ever new opportunities to bring the brand to life, both in terms of how they look, act, their advocacy and the experience they deliver.

The need to knit the physical, human and digital elements of the workplace together is now an essential rather than a ‘nice-to-have’. A building is more than bricks and mortar: it’s a place of engagement for present and future employees, investors and customers.

FITCH has many years of helping brands develop their own distinctive experiences and we have recently worked with businesses like Microsoft. Our deep understanding of the customer experience came into play when we worked on the brief to design Microsoft’s new Asia Pacific HQ in Singapore.

We have a matrix of codified experiences — a bundle of symbols and language and behaviours that a brand can use to create a certain type of impact on a real human being — and we drew upon them while approaching Microsoft’s brief. The themes below were particularly relevant:

Campfire — design a place that actively brings people together and creates a sense of community

Boudoir — design a space where employees feel recognised as individuals

Shrine — design for visitors and employees to feel a sense of pride as they come to the office

The Lab — design uses of technology that help people explore their options.

See more on FITCH’s Experience Themes.

There were specific contextual factors to consider as well. The rise in Asia of smart, 5G connected cities, with Singapore being a prime example. The younger workforce, completely at home with technology, demands an environment that meets them on their terms.

The beating heart of Microsoft’s workplace design

Socialisation: To promote socialisation for Microsoft’s HQ we designed a Growth Core — a digital and content wall that runs through the building and connects the entire space. It brings people and space together, allowing communication, collaboration and community about everything from new employees to global developments. Technology is at the heart of Microsoft’s product suite, as well as its employees’ lives, and needed to be front and centre.

Digitisation: Extraordinary Microsoft technology such as HoloLens is demolishing gaps between the physical and digital. It made absolute sense that the company’s workspace should do the same. The office consists of six floors, two of which are focused on customer and partner experience. We envisioned a space where the visitor experience can be curated by HoloLens, providing personalised knowledge about the space around them and guidance to their meetings.

Personalisation: Today’s employees want their office to provide the quality of experiences they enjoy outside the workspace. We know this from our work on projects like Starbucks Reserve, Allgood and Sprouts — so our approach to hospitality at Microsoft was more Singapore ‘local café’ than standard corporate food and beverage.

Humanisation: We treat spatial design as both a physical and digital space. The retail spaces that consumers love connect to their personal devices and bring data to life in visual and meaningful ways and such spaces also have an online presence. By treating a workplace in the same way, we give employees and visitors a truly immersive experience.

This flagship project designed around experience, makes a statement about Microsoft’s vision. As Microsoft’s Moira Boullé explained at the Corenet Global Summit, “We ground our culture in growth mindset, focused on being customer obsessed, diverse and inclusive, an approach we call One Microsoft… We need to provide the tools where they can come together collectively with customers and partners to collaborate, ideate, co-create and share.”

Now’s the time to look around your own office and ask yourself what experience it provides, how that relates to your life and most importantly does it bring you closer to your customers?

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By Simon Bell, Managing Director of FITCH Singapore

The expertise of LANDOR & FITCH APAC.

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