It is tempting to think of the value of your business as residing in the different components or departments represented on your company’s organizational chart. To be sure, the specific functions, operations and the skilled people you have filling important roles are all essential, but the manner in which they work together can mean the difference between achieving your business goals (be they profit, growth, innovation or all of the above) and something less. Interaction means transfer of information, in all forms. These days much of that is digital but much of it is made through face to face communication, either in formal meetings and in informal conversations that occur during chance meetings. Many times, spontaneous conversations can be especially effective at keeping things moving along or making key adjustments.
Having a workspace that is configured and accessorized in a way that helps workers work, managers manage and leaders lead extends beyond just fast computers and adequately comfortable chairs to sit in. Is the office arranged so that personnel in one department come in contact with personnel from another department? If not, they could be missing the opportunity to understand and suggest improvements in the information, ideas and solutions that help the way they and their colleagues work together. Star employees are certainly an asset but they seldom work in a vacuum and they aren’t the ones that should be establishing priorities and judging work product while it is still being developed, not exclusively in any case. The owners of the business, the folks with the big picture and the most at stake, need to be doing that. The work space can help support that, as well as give employees the ability to succeed in their roles.
To make such an environment, the architects you have helping you need to understand the way the components of your business work together, as well as how specific operations are executed. Adequate attention needs to be paid to the environmental conditions necessary for folks to do their individual jobs and to facilitate interaction when it is beneficial and not when it’s not. It’s no fun and not efficient to be working on a complex spread sheet or developing an intricate project schedule in a distracting environment. But you want it to be easy to meet for a few minutes with one or more of your colleagues to get input, provide guidance, brainstorm or air out ideas, and not easy to hole up in a private workspace so that those short conversations become a chore.
Humans are very adaptable. It is part of the reason for our success as a species. You can put people in a very non-functional environment and ask them to complete a task and they will. They might even get fast at it but that doesn’t mean they enjoy it or feel that their work is appreciated, or that they are providing the best output they might otherwise be able to produce. To attract and keep the best people, you need them to feel appreciated. Part of that is removing obstacles so they can do their best work. As someone famously said, sometimes “…you don’t always know what you don’t know.” Without constructing the optimum environment for your operations, you’ll never know the difference between the really good results you might have achieved and the results you are getting without it.
A second and very important point is that a really great work environment not only gets you better results from a functional point of view, it also communicates to everyone working there that you value what they are doing and think highly of them. Why wouldn’t you? You’re paying them good money to do it. “It” being what you need to have happen for your company, and you, to succeed.
Another reason to seriously consider the workplace you make for your operation is the message you send out into the world, the message received by your clients, customers, colleagues and future versions of all those folks. Is your work environment consistent with your brand? It is a lot easier to be convincing that you are a responsible, aware company that cares about its employees and its community and believes in quality in everything it does if the workplace you inhabit exhibits those same characteristics.
Finally, a good design process can help you rethink the way your people work, together and individually. Notice I said help “you” rethink. Architects can facilitate that process and expose you to imaginative an unexpected possibilities but it is your business and you are the best judge of what will work best. The drawings architects make can help you see the opportunities and the consequences of various approaches but these are all tools to help you vividly imagine the best way for your people to do what you need them to do, and to communicate the things you think are important. With your engagement this process can have surprising value in formulating and improving the underlying processes of your company. Once you and your architect settle on what to do, they can work out how to do it, utilizing materials and systems, furniture and lighting within the allotted budget. The outcome of that process can be an improved idea about the business as well as a really effective work place that communicates what you are all about and helps you achieve what you formed the enterprise to do in the first place.