by Katherine Berger and Lynn Brotman
CEO and human resources directors know from experience that thoughtful design is critical to an effective, productive workplace. While goals for workplace design like sustainability and occupant wellness have become industry standards, at Svigals+Partners, we have been quietly pursuing another goal for our office projects that we believe supersedes the others: humanity. By focusing on the essential qualities of the people who work in the spaces we design, we produce high-performing workplace and office projects that optimize productivity and employee satisfaction.
Focusing on humanity in the design process can lead to breakthroughs for the company or institution over its lifetime. But more importantly, employees are much more productive and creative when they feel a sense of pride, community, and engagement in a space. The future belongs to organizations with the most creative thinkers, and effective workplace design will support and even enhance creativity.
The key to unlocking employee potential is to create productive playgrounds — environments that facilitate progress and inspiration while allowing new ideas to flourish — rather than mere work space. To create productive playgrounds for our clients, we focus on two core principles: choice, and belonging.
Supporting choice empowers employees to discover how they can most effectively contribute, which can be accomplished by programming a variety of workspace options. Some employees may prefer quiet and privacy, while others may work best in an open, socially activated space; some do their best work at a desk, while others may prefer a cozy lounge chair or a counter-height space for working while standing. As for the second principle, belonging, the concept is closely interconnected with that of community. Reinforcing the company brand and culture can engender a sense of belonging and community, as can elements that make employees feel comfortable and like their authentic selves. Informal gathering spaces can accomplish this, and also ergonomic furniture that is crafted to adjust to a range of body sizes and types.
We’ve been putting these principles into action on a current project, the new headquarters for pharmaceutical innovator BioHaven. This major interior renovation for a century-old bank building in New Haven, Connecticut — the design of which has involved the use of virtual reality technology — aims to deliver a workplace that emphasizes choice.
The company’s leadership agree that providing options for where and how to work is viewed by employees as empowering and helps cultivate that essential sense of belonging. In the heart of the space, we have programmed a large family-style table, establishing a point of casual connection. The idea behind this is to create a space that encourages informal interaction, where employees can feel relaxed and open — and where we expect the employees to be at their most creative.
Through the use of glass partitions, a design element that also helps to maximize the penetration of natural daylight, the communal table becomes a shared point of reference for the office, visible from the front entrance, work stations, and conference rooms. The glass walls also establish easy visual connections among the various work spaces and offices, creating a sense of openness and transparency and reinforcing the core sense of community and belonging.
Katherine Berger, NCIDQ, is an interior designer at Svigals+Partners in New Haven, Conn.
Lynn Brotman, NCIDQ, IIDA, is an associate principal and interior designer at Svigals+ Partners in New Haven, Conn.