People First: The Mantra of 21st Century Office Design

Posted by Dieter Wood on 16/11/2019

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People First: The Mantra of 21st Century Office Design...

...where using the office as an agent for change, creating a people centric design and maintaining a happy workforce is vital.

Modern workplace | Office Design | Interaction

21st Century Office Design

Five years ago, efficiency was the watchword of anyone tasked with finding new office space or improving an existing workplace. Employers wanted functional workspaces for the maximum headcount possible.

The logic was clear enough. Office rents are for most companies the biggest fixed cost after wages; it makes sense to get a good return on the outlay for workspace.

Efficient space use is still important, but the world of work has evolved rapidly. Smart technology has blurred the boundaries between work and home. Employees expect a positive workplace experience. Agile working has become the norm in many sectors.

Importantly, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating how the physical work environment influences the health, wellbeing and productivity of workers. Research by organisations like the World Green Building Council is compelling employers to acknowledge the link between employee wellbeing and performance.  

These trends are redefining the workplace, repositioning the office as a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance.

But creating an office that is fit for the demands of the 21st century is no simple task, it’s a complex challenge that involves far more than physical space.

People-centric Design

Modern workplace design starts with people, and an understanding of how to create a happy workforce. And this is why Interaction’s workplace consultancy team works closely together with the company’s design and build teams to deliver projects that can affect positive, organisational change.

Deborah Wilder, Head of Research and Insight at Interaction, explains, “Progressive employers recognise a positive work environment that inspires people to fulfil their potential is an astute investment, especially among those in highly competitive sectors for talent. But this approach calls for a good understanding of what workers need, and what a business needs from its workers. This is where my team comes in, helping clients to shape the project brief so we can deliver the best solution possible.”

Providing a variety of working environments and encouraging collaboration gives individuals and teams the option of where and how to work. 

Office Design | Workplace Culture | Interaction

The Workplace as Agent for Change

Change management is one key area where Interaction’s workplace consultancy team is supporting clients to achieve wider organisational goals through workplace design. For example, Interaction worked with housing association Alliance Homes to plan how improvements to its 18,000 sq ft head office in Portishead, Bristol, could underpin a move to more modern, collaborative working practices.

Interaction’s workplace consultants carried out a full study to better understand the needs, and preferences, of Alliance Homes’ employees. The aim was to identify the changes that would be needed to both the physical workspace and working practices to promote more teamworking, while also supporting individuals.

This in-depth study informed the project brief and saw Alliance Homes’ former, standard open-plan offices completely re-worked into a montage of flexible, activity-based workspaces, offering a balance of collaborative areas, quiet cubby holes and breakout spaces. Biophilia was used throughout the space, promoting staff wellbeing, with an impressive floor to ceiling living wall feature in the lobby. 

Recruitment and retention are other challenging areas that can be addressed with ‘people-first’ workplace design. Progressive workplaces that offer people a choice in where to work, along with inspiring surroundings, give employers the edge on competitors offering a more traditional office set-up.

Interaction has worked with clients from a wide range of sectors, from recruitment and creative through to financial technology and professional services, to leverage the office as a recruitment tool. Manchester based online retailer N Brown plc is a case in point.

N Bown operates in an extremely competitive and fast-paced sector. Attracting and retaining staff can be a challenge. Interaction carried out an employee survey and in-depth qualitative interviews with key employees to understand how a new workplace could attract talent and foster a sense of belonging, while better supporting employees and promoting a collaborative workstyle.

Office Design | Workplace Culture | Interaction

A perfect first impression for both clients and staff, this two storey living wall in the reception of Alliance Homes gives both a great visual effect but also contributes to staff wellbeing and positivity.