Strategic Workplace Planning: How to Create an Environment Where Business Fosters Culture

Culture nurtures people — people fuel business

by Sabret Flocos

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Sabret Flocos

The new workplace is comprised of complex intangibles with many drivers. The business purpose is the ultimate driver for every company and industry. In addition to this purpose is the organization’s “heart” or culture that enables longevity. Add to this a multigenerational workforce that requires a comprehensive vision to enable and increase its engagement. Both the business purpose and the people shape and nurture culture in a continuous flow that is supported through a greater awareness of how each are intrinsically linked to the other. Space must support this flow — deliberately and faithfully — as well as respond to the ever-changing needs of the organization’s client base.

To support this complex coalition, the design process must surpass the status quo of confirming counts of workstations, offices, and conference rooms that result in a safe, pragmatic approach, but does not facilitate the evolution of what space must become. As the complexities of operating and managing increase, corporations cannot afford to risk the engagement of its employees, and ultimately the success of its business, by implementing uninformed workplace concepts. Space must reshape the way companies think about real estate and create a dynamic connection between an organization’s culture, its people, and business objectives.

A customized strategic workplace planning process supports the enterprise in making culturally informed decisions about its built environment and provides long-lived solutions. Engagement, productivity, and performance are extremely difficult to measure. However, a sophisticated and collaborative strategic planning process that engages clients early will unite all aspects of the organization and support its evolution into a high-performance workplace.

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Interior rendering of Tauck Inc. headquarters (living room)

The effects of the traditional design approach are more evident when reviewing Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report: “Seven in 10 American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ in their work.” The ongoing study also finds that “. . . the 30 million engaged employees in the US come up with most of the innovative ideas, create most of a company’s new customers, and have the most entrepreneurial energy.” These disengaged employees cost the US economy up to $350 billion a year in lost productivity.

So, how does a strategic workplace planning process help to increase employee engagement? What creates a successful organization’s “special sauce” is wildly different from company to company.

Only by working through a diligent strategic planning process can the organization distill the elements that motivate and help retain its employees. For example, Apple and Microsoft, or Google and Yahoo, or Zappos and its competitors — each pair provides similar products and knowledge, but the cultures are vastly different. To increase engagement, one needs to carefully determine what is important to the organization — its purpose — and begin to measure, report, celebrate, and establish boundaries as the enterprise continues to evolve.

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Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals

The best way to effect positive organizational change is through engaging a cross-section of individuals at all levels in the organization to participate in a series of tailored workshops that utilize engagement tools and surveys before beginning a dialogue about design. The strategic process connects the organizational culture with a new way of working, and in doing so, it explores alignments and resolves discontinuity, creating a more cohesive, motivated, and informed workforce. This becomes the foundation for formulating real estate strategies, identifying performance metrics, developing resources and alternative solutions, and creating new work processes and collaborative methods, directly informing the ultimate design solution.

As an experiential design or a physical narrative begins to emerge, the designer may calibrate and fine-tune the organization’s vision, brand, and culture into a definable road map describing the company and how it engages its employees. This in turn stimulates the performance of both the employees, as well as the business. Experiential design is not about developing an over-complicated design, instead it focuses on enhancing corporate reputation, promoting innovation and best practices, and ultimately influencing the organization’s culture. Peter Drucker, “social ecologist,” often argued that a company’s culture would trump any attempt to create a strategy that was incompatible with its culture. Using a strategic planning process can assist an organization to develop a deeper “business self-awareness” to achieve a dynamic workplace, celebrate its culture, evolve work processes, integrate flexibility, and attract and retain a diverse and engaged workforce.

Sabret Flocos, IIDA, LEED AP, is a principal at Perkins Eastman Architects.