Interiors Experts Assist Firms in Adapting Workspaces to Attract, Retain Workers
By KERRY SMITH
Just as an organization and its people grow and change over time, so do their workspaces, according to St. Louis-area interior designers and commercial furniture providers.
And as talent remains scarce in a full employment era, offering a healthy, productive workspace environment not only contributes to a company’s bottom line but also enables firms to hire and retain the best and brightest people, experts say.
“Creating a brand is important these days,” said Jane Louer, president of Louer Facility Planning, Inc., a commercial furniture dealer and interior design firm in Collinsville. “The brand is an offshoot of the company culture, and they both drive each other. Creating a place where that culture can take root and grow is paramount,” she added. “A company is very much like an organism. It’s dynamic. Employers want to encourage employees to embrace the culture and move it forward. The question is, ‘How do we create workspaces to make that happen?’”
Working with clients to visualize their office floorplate, articulate their key workflow functions and define their specific needs relative to focusing, collaborating and moving is integral to designing interiors that support these healthy behaviors, according to Yvette Paris, design director at Louer.
“Knowledgeable customers are coming to us because they know how crucial this is,” Paris said. “There’s definitely a push toward wellness in the workplace, and there’s an understanding of how the overall workplace impacts people’s state of mind. Small changes can make big impacts.”
In the last five years, Louer said, corporate leadership has embraced the belief that designing and equipping workspaces that fit the firm’s culture and its people can manifest in a healthier staff and a healthier bottom line. “We’ve really seen management picking up that ball and running with it,” she said.
According to Paris, in an era of record low unemployment and a job seeker’s market, plusses such as a creative, healthy work environment serves to attract and keep qualified workers. “It’s very difficult and costly to recruit, train and retain people these days,” she said. “If employers invest in ways to improve their working environment to keep people, not only can it save the organization money in the long run, but it can also help enhance their work experience.”
Helping clients find ideal solutions for improving the design and function of their work environments is closely tied to equipping their workers to be able to maximize their performance. Louer cited a statistic from Haworth, its premier furniture workspace manufacturing partner, that 80 percent of a company’s overall expenses are tied to its employees, with only 5 percent of its expenses devoted to the building.
“The importance of people and how they perform is really what drives a company’s bottom line,” said Louer.
Huddle rooms, quiet rooms and small break-out spaces may augment an open floorplan and create a variety of activity settings for companies while also promoting collaboration, according to Louer. Acoustical treatments may be required if a workspace is opened up and if the number and proximity of workstations dictate.
Jessica Frey, director of interiors at Gray Design Group in St. Louis, said efficient workspace usage is a major priority for companies and organizations.
“Many times, it’s considered a win if the company is able to accommodate more individuals into an existing workspace rather than having to relocate,” said Frey. “That being said, the space has to work for their people and the firm’s culture. In our sessions, when we’re initially meeting and talking with a client, developing a hierarchy of their requests and priorities is essential. For some, open concept and sit-to-stand desks are optimal…but for others, the ability to focus – the ‘heads down’ time – is more important. We also keep in mind that an open concept workspace generally does not stand alone,” she added. “It often should be paired with spaces dedicated for meetings or conversations that require more privacy and aim to limit disruption in the open workspace. Ultimately, workspace design should be dictated by the unique needs of the organization, discovering what will allow them to be more efficient and productive as a company. We also bear in mind how to create a professional environment that keeps employees engaged.”
Technology often adds a layer of complexity to interiors planning, Frey added. “The technology has to be user-friendly, as does the workspace around it, or people won’t use it,” she said. “It has to be approachable and intuitive. We are thinking through this during the design phase to make sure it facilitates what the company wants to accomplish in that space.”
A company’s corporate brand should also influence its interior environment, according to Frey, and can be accomplished economically by use of customized 2D or 3D vinyl wall graphics. Examples of simple design elements include featuring the firm’s logo, its mission statement, the faces of its employees or top clients, and more. These corporate identity-specific visual enhancements, according to Frey, may be particularly useful to firms that lease space in a multi-tenant building. “As clients, prospects and employees travel from the elevator through the hallway and to the company’s space, these brand-related enhancements enable people to see who that organization is and what it’s all about before they arrive at the firm’s main entrance,” she said.
Julie Keil, principal at Arcturis in St. Louis, said often space that was designed eight to ten years ago may still possess pleasing aesthetics, but functionally it may no longer facilitate the way that people work today.
“Mobile technology has really opened up where people can do work,” said Keil. “Young talent coming out of universities, are accustomed to working on their laptops in coffee shops, outdoors and in open, collaborative workspaces. High walls and cubicles don’t work for them. Adapting the traditional office footprint for the way people work now is critical in attracting and retaining talent.”
Still, young employees want to have a connection with where they work, according to Keil, so space does matter. “They want a work environment that is attractive, functional and communicates a company’s culture,” said Keil. “Profitability is 21 percent greater in companies with employees who feel engaged and valued. This doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive gut rehab. There are many low-cost and interesting ways to create a vibrant workspace through design.”
As an example, Arcturis assisted an accounting firm with an office redesign that included full-height movable panels rather than permanent walls. Keil said Arcturis’ environmental graphic and brand design team worked with the client to create high-impact graphics illustrating the company’s brand colors, mission and value statements. “It wasn’t a big investment, but it made a lot of impact,” she said.
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