Discussing office design with Lucia Prado

10th Aug 2022

Recently, you might have seen our design and consultancy project manager, Lucia Prado, speaking to WorkLife about how modern office design impacts working relationships and decision making.

During the interview, Lucia explored how seriously organisations were taking strategic design, some of the pitfalls of creating spaces that aren’t truly fit for purpose, and the effect an attractive and efficient workplace can have on attracting the very best employee talent.

In your opinion, do you think companies take workplace design seriously enough – and has the pandemic and hybrid working focused minds?

People are the key assets in any organisation, and for this reason companies take wellbeing very seriously. And, to help in their endeavour, businesses will need to plan and implement a design which fosters an environment where people want to come to work every morning, feel valued and safe, and can perform effectively and in harmony.

Office design blog - AgilitéSince the pandemic, workplace design has evolved rapidly. Many premises were empty for over a year, but organisations were still able to keep things running – with most workers operating from home. This phenomenon, new to most companies, encouraged colleagues to adopt new technologies and skills – and a fresh appreciation for the ‘work from anywhere’ notion.

Some industries – such as financial services, insurance, research, and IT – adopted, and adapted to, remote working at a faster pace, while others really struggled. But, in the end, everyone found a way to work remotely.

Finally, 2022 arrived, and (many) employees have returned to the office.  But what happens now, at a time when many have realised they prefer a fully remote or hybrid approach to their role?

There’s no denying the pandemic has rearranged priorities, schedules, family dynamics, time management, and attitudes to life in general. Hybrid is here to stay, but likewise, the office will not disappear completely. And, for many, it will remain the best place to communicate, collaborate, undertake training, tackle brainstorming sessions, and encourage team building.

What are the downsides of having an office space that isn’t fit for purpose – and how can this impact companies in real terms?

Having the right tools and design is mandatory to succeed in the long run. Imagine a bakery without an oven, an airport without a control tower, or a house with five bedrooms and only one toilet. Such an approach would cause bottlenecks – and the circulation flow would not be logical.

There are many downsides of having a space that isn’t fit-for-purpose, one of them being wasted time and resources. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to office design, but get it wrong, and you could see a decrease in employee motivation, engagement, and efficiency – plus a much higher turnover of staff.

Done right, office space should properly reflect the company values and be sympathetic to operational processes. The design should take into consideration the tasks performed by each department, and provide adequate tools to optimise employees’ time and energy.

Why and how does workplace design differ from company to company - and how can companies work out the optimum layout for them?

You can’t take a cookie cutter approach to office design. Every business is different – from the industry they work in, cultural nuances, and diverse management styles to the workforce’s age, size, and function.

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With that in mind, office design should be relative to the company activity and culture.

While the layout of the space may be reflective of the organisational chart – with a nod to company objectives and growth plans – there needs to also be thought given to clustering, and the need for easy connection between departments.

If the company is well structured, it will be reflected when drafting the layout design. The look and feel will invite both colleagues and clients to embrace the ‘experience’ of the brand from the moment they walk through the front door.

The best place to start, is understanding the vision and values for the organisation – and what story they want to tell. A flexible and fun start-up will probably end with a ‘Silicon Valley style’ – cramming lots of services inside their premises, as well as flexible spaces with soft seating, probably a nap room, and plenty of coffee corners to encourage communication, innovation, and energy.

The experience is likely to be totally different for those who are entering a financial services HQ. You’ll likely be greeted by high-end finishes, elegant furniture, perfect acoustic treatment, and closed environments that provide a feeling of privacy, confidentiality, and trust.

How have workforce needs and behaviours changed since the pandemic – and how does workplace design reflect that?

Most offices adopted new digital tools during the pandemic and are continuously working on improving the hybrid experience. The workplace design challenge now centres around making a space which employees want to visit – beyond the need to turn on a PC, reply to emails, and do their online work. Because we know that now can be done from the comfort of their home.

The office needs to be repositioned as the beating heart of a company, where colleagues meet, and spend face-to-face time with each other, clients, and management, and while performing any work they are unable to complete at home. Going into the office isn’t overrated, but it should inspire a holistic experience for users and visitors.

In short, the office should complement what the home can’t provide. That could be privacy, a space for concentration, open communication, fast internet, wellbeing zones, or even psychological safety – due to the ‘opening’ hours of the space.

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And finally, how important is an attractive and efficient workplace in attracting the best staff?

The company magnet is its culture, its people. Done properly, a workplace should reflect those aspects, and influence the experience of those who enter.

This is very much akin to retail and hospitality design. We all have a supermarket we prefer to shop in, a favourite restaurant with a cosy atmosphere and soft fabrics, or a luxury hotel for special occasions – complete with a magnificent view – the same goes for the workspace. You have to create the feeling you want to instil in those who cross the threshold.

In summary, it all comes down to the attractiveness and efficiency in the design, and one which will resonate with users – making them feel more engaged, motivated, comfortable, and relaxed.

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