At Haworth, we create what we call Organic Workspace designs—those that support the health of an organization, enabling it to grow and evolve over time. The goal of these spaces is not only to meet changing needs, but ultimately to help organizations and their people thrive.
As a global company, we are always evaluating and adapting our own workplace environments, as we grow and evolve to meet our customers’ needs around the world.
We planted our flag in my adopted home of London more than 30 years ago—in a small office not far from our current location in the heart of Clerkenwell. Since that time the UK market—and London in particular—has seen staggering growth in the financial and professional services industries, has teetered on the brink of a deep economic recession, and has now redefined itself as a technology and innovation hub.
In 2014, we moved from our long-standing London office to a historic, Grade 2-listed industrial building, once part of the local brewery. The change was more than a simple relocation—it was a chance to underscore our values and brand by revamping our image in one of the industry’s most design-savvy markets.
To help us through the transformation, we held a series of self-discovery workshops with our employees, analyzing our workstyles, our team culture and identity, and plotting our future goals. Together with Patricia Urquiola, we created a new home that embraces our diversity, promotes well-being, and increases our connectivity. It is a beacon of activity on our rainiest London days; its appeal is apparent by the many partners and clients who stop by to send emails in between appointments, as well as passers-by who are drawn in out of curiosity to find out “what we do.”
While the journey was long and at times arduous, the result has taught us a lot about our strength, collaboration, and resilience as a team. Below are a few lessons we learned along the way. These five tips can help you align your people, your space, and your culture for organizational success in the rapidly changing world of work:
1. Listen to your employees—they are the experts. It’s true we all hire (and need!) industry experts: designers, architects, strategists, project managers, and suppliers. These experts help you execute your vision. But defining your vision should originate from within—from your own people. As the end-users who need to perform within your four walls, they are the true “experts.” Without listening to their needs, concerns, frustrations, and ideas, you could be designing a workplace for an employee that doesn’t exist. We’ve all seen beautiful offices that are half-full or underutilized; you can avoid that costly mistake by beginning with the right brief. Flip the adage of “customer first,” and put your internal customer first. You may be surprised at the resulting level of engagement!
2. Design for your future culture. Hopefully, you’ve already heard/read about organizational culture and its importance in creating a successful work environment. It’s your unique fingerprint—your own organizational DNA. Not only do you need to know its current state, but it’s important to align and map its future state, so you know what culture and behaviors you want to support. It’s important to design not only for today, but for the future you envision.
3. Make your values visible. Now, I don’t necessarily mean plaster your values or mission statement on the wall. What I mean is, for example, if your organization values transparency, make that a theme in your design through the use of materials, layout, and architecture. If you value your people, put their needs first and make sure the design speaks to their individual well-being and team needs. If you value environmental responsibility, find the products and materials with the least impact and reuse, recycle, repurpose. Express your values—don’t just state them.
4. Embrace the power of (appropriate) color. So many offices are lifeless, with only a touch of color in the workstation, reception, or pantry areas. Color is a strong statement and can go in and out of fashion (this is where the industry experts come in!), but it also has roots in psychological impact. Research tells us color affects emotional well-being and cognitive performance. It doesn’t mean your office needs to look like it was inspired by pop art, but the thoughtful use of color can bring a more human element to any environment and create a more inviting, appealing space.
5. Think beyond green. Whenever a customer first visits our London showroom, they inevitably remark on the tactile quality of our space—the greenery and use of materials, textures, and light echoes an outdoor environment without feeling contrived. While we may have heard about the benefits of plants and natural light indoors, it can be difficult and costly to execute if not carefully considered. We suggest integrating natural elements into the architecture of your space, perhaps even as a focal point rather than an afterthought or token gesture. There’s nothing worse than a half-dead plant in a conference room, or one that sheds all over your desk! Consider how you can bring the “outdoors in” and create a memorable experience for your employees, customers, and guests that will resonate with them long after they’ve left the building.