Why Workplace Design Alone Can’t Advance Ones Performance

Why Workplace Design Alone Can’t Advance Ones Performance

By: Jill Mendoza Some will say Workplace Design is just another passing trend for companies who are trying to be “cool”, innovative or enticing in their efforts for attracting top talent. Others will claim that you cannot advance the performance of your organization without it….. First, I hope that most who know us will know that we are experts in the design of physical workspaces. So when we say we have seen firsthand the positive impact the physical work environment can have on attitudes and behaviors within ones organizations, it is true and not a passing trend. This experience has given us a deep appreciation of the ways office design can reinforce the underlying beliefs, assumptions and values that are held to be true in organizations. But, we also know full well that it takes more than a well-planned interior environment and/or a ping pong table to make all that work to happen in a sustainable way and a way that directly advances ones actual performance. Chris Cancialosi, a Contributor to Forbes Magazine has noticed this too. In his recent Forbes Article he notes two trends he has seen in organizations trying to change their culture (and behavior) by changing their workspace: “The group that thinks that offering craft beer in the breakroom will make people behave in more innovative ways, and those organizations that use changes in the physical workspace as one lever in an intentional change effort that supports and reinforces changes in all other areas of the business.” Chris also notes: “Organizations in the former category attempt to find a silver bullet through superficial changes in the hopes that it will spur new, desired behaviors. Unfortunately, they usually find their efforts falling short as the other aspects of their culture pull people to maintain the status quo. Conversely, companies that take a more multifaceted approach to evolving behaviors by shaping and aligning the physical environment in addition to their existing systems and processes seem better able to affect sustainable behavior change.” So, what makes the difference? As professional service providers and interior designers we believe there must be a thoughtful approach to our designs and suggestions. Where the tangible design of the interior environment must not only be functional, it must anticipate the need for future change and the intangible qualities must support ones values and culture. We would be very misleading if we told you that changing one thing (like the physical environment) is enough to sway people’s behavior. The best advice we can offer can be summed up by Franklin Becker, Professor Emeritus of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University. Professor Becker cautions about how easy it is to get caught up in rhetoric about workspaces. Before jumping in to make changes to your office environment it’s helpful to ask “What is my organization and culture about?” In summary, as leaders in our industry we have an obligation to the organizations we serve to think more critically and holistically about the design decisions we suggest and support. We must be aware of how our designs influence organizational culture and values – or if they do at all.

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