Beyond 50 Shades of 'Greige': Seven Ideas to Create an Inspiring Workplace
11.6.2017
Michael Chappell in Workplace, Workplace Design, Workplace Research

Image © Eric Laignel (at left) and Image © Garrett Rowland (at right)

Gray and beige are two colors I see most often in many of today’s workplaces. I’m not the only one, either. A client at an advertising firm recently described their office as “kind of greige.” Yuck. It’s no surprise these bland workspaces are often empty or distinguished by staff struggling to find the right spaces to meet and concentrate.

Environments are always “on” and saying something. Gray and beige may seem neutral, but they are uninspiring and a missed opportunity to express culture and reinforce how a space could be used. And color is just one small design choice of many that affect work performance.

Achieving the right kind of workplace is challenging, but the following ideas can change your office from a mundane “greige” environment into something that inspires creativity and innovation.

  1. Define a vision that aligns with your objectives and desired culture.

    To be credible and resonate with leaders, managers and staff, the vision of your workplace experience needs to align with your business goals and organizational values.

    A great example of this is when Citi’s human resources decided to collocate several disparate groups in New York City. HR’s vision, led by their managing director and COO, Susan Catalano, and highlighted in Harvard Business Review, was to break down silos by removing physical barriers, encouraging staff to move around the workplace, and facilitating more interaction.

  2. Identify champions who will lead.

    The success of initiatives in organizations are explicitly tied to their leaders and how genuinely and visibly they support these causes.

    Citi is also in the midst of fully renovating their global headquarters in TriBeCa. Citigroup’s CEO, Mike Corbat is leading by example with a workplace model for him and the executive team that has the same principles as the rest of the organization. As described in the Wall Street Journal, the open office planning without any doors is supported by a range of spaces for meetings away from the desk. Equally important is that the executive team championed this significant change by being the first group to move into new space.

  3. Collect data on how work is performed and supported.

    Quantitative data on work patterns and space utilization can help form a clear picture of how space is used today and where there may be opportunities for significant improvement.

    Concurrent with the release of findings from our 2016 U.S. Workplace Survey, Gensler is now investing in collecting pre- and post-occupancy survey data on every project. We recognize the value of this data to influence design, inform decision making and improve performance, particularly with global clients to inform and drive change from project to project.

  4. Engage your staff to co-develop solutions.

    Providing opportunities for staff to contribute through activities like online surveys and focus groups gives them a voice in the process, creates ownership and often introduces ideas that may not have otherwise been considered.

    Like many technology companies, Facebook’s headquarters is a tool for ongoing staff engagement. Taking a cue from the notion that software is always in development, many areas of the new office were left as a work in progress. For example, paint was left out for staff to create their own artwork on unfinished walls, allowing them to really make their mark and own the creation of the office.

  5. Create a complete experience by aligning key partners.

    The value of the workplace is increasingly about connection, culture and community, and this can’t be delivered by real estate alone. Design plays a huge role in creating environments where IT, HR, Learning and Development, Brand and Corporate Communications can align to create a holistic experience.

    Honeywell recently moved into a new headquarters that their CEO described as “state of the art.” An integrated approach to space, tools and services is enabling an improved user experience for employees, partners and visitors. The service model was developed in parallel to the design of the physical space and tested in a ‘learning lab’ where staff experienced the new workplace and solutions like the IT Genius Bar were piloted.

  6. Invest in supporting change.

    Leaders and staff need to be supported and prepared for a new environment, tools and expectations around work. It’s important to openly communicate and provide training to assist in transitioning to a new way of working. Equally important is working with staff to build enthusiasm and ownership for the new work environment.

    L’Oreal recently moved their New York Headquarters to Hudson Yards, a new development on the west side of the city. To support this significant shift in location and to a new workplace, a comprehensive communications program was structured around five major campaigns: the Site, Design, Clean Up, Move and Welcome. Together, they reinforced an overall message about how the move is connecting L’Oreal staff to their work, their brands, the consumers and each other to achieve extraordinary results.

  7. Test, measure and evolve your strategy.

    Pilot projects are a powerful and practical way to test a new way of working. They enable users to fully experience the strategy in practice and provide the opportunity to test aspects of the workplace solution and complementary initiatives.

    GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) continually focuses on the evolution of their workplace, with seminal projects including a new work environment in 2007 to support the reorganization of their Consumer Healthcare group in new hubs around the world. Success and consistent learnings from a variety of other projects around the world enabled their SMART Working program to be quickly and easily ratified by their executives a few years later leading to larger implementations, such as their U.S. Headquarters at the Navy Yard site in Philadelphia.

The work environment can be an exciting enabler of success. Whatever the right workplace is for your organization, these ideas can help you consider all the aspects that contribute to a great experience and let your organization’s true colors show.

Michael Chappell is a studio director for Gensler New York’s Consulting practice. His experience spans both sides of the Atlantic leading the development of both global strategies and local solutions for Fortune 500 organizations across a wide range of sectors. He is particularly interested in how work is changing and challenging our assumptions about the office and in turn how organizations can best support their teams and people to be effective. You can contact him at Michael_Chappell@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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