A Good 'Space' is About More Than Design

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Spaces Indiana, a competitive design showcase of innovative workspaces in Indiana, recently celebrated five winners from its 2017 pool of candidates, including MOBI, greenlight.guru, Flaherty & Collins, Mimir, and Bradley & Montgomery. These winners were chosen from dozens of forward-thinking, innovative companies who understand that workplace design is critical to realizing success.

Attending the Spaces event brought back memories of my first job out of college – and highlighted just how much and how rapidly change has occurred in the workforce. Our office was going through a massive overhaul at the time. A neophyte to the working world, I remember a general excitement about new carpet and wallpaper and a revamped cafeteria. It was the talk around the proverbial water cooler (though at the time the water cooler was a drinking fountain). And while we were interested in how things would look different, it certainly was not intended to be culturally transformative or affect how we went about doing our everyday business.

At my next employer, a more thoughtful overhaul of our office space occurred. My company was an international professional services firm. Our pre-renovation décor resembled the set of a legal television drama circa 1990. The lobby was formal and cold, there were lots of big offices for partners, and the rank-and-file employees were situated in groups of two to five people throughout. About halfway into my time with this firm, we did a major office redesign, intended to update our look and promote a more cohesive working environment. Post-renovation, staff sat in large, open areas, each employee working at a compact, divider-less cube. Senior managers had “cockpits,” interior workspaces with no natural lighting, wooden countertops, and limited storage space. Yes, partners still had their offices, but the vibe was more contemporary. What’s more, my firm was deploying this same design at as many other of its local offices as possible throughout the country to achieve a virtual sense of being one firm (homogeneity = community).

There was nothing wrong with either of these office reboots. Both were carried out with much fanfare, and my colleagues and I were excited to see the final product. But the depth of strategy, data, and discipline that companies use today to make their workplaces better seems to be in another league.

The Spaces event was about more than cool offices and employee perks. The judging criteria evaluated entrants based on four categories: space functionality, design uniqueness, branding, and culture/employment engagement. Companies demonstrating these characteristics are moving to a higher level altogether with their business approach.

And it’s not just office design that has propelled the workforce forward at breakneck speed. Examples abound. The ease of working remotely has enabled businesses to choose from a workforce that’s not just local but international. Companies are able to harness the power of data analytics to maximize, enhance, reinvent and simply be smarter about the way they approach their businesses. The entire spectrum of a company’s employees – from the most recent new hire to the company’s CEO – utilize the results of personality testing to play to their strengths and shore up weaknesses.

None of these concepts are new. But it’s the reckless abandon of today’s workplace culture to constantly mix, match, mutate, and infuse these and countless other concepts to promote workforce improvement, provide a better customer service experience for clients, and ultimately operate more efficiently and profitably. No longer is a detail too small to effect measurable change, including the layout, look, and feel of an office.

Innovative office design is not the salve for a broken business model, but the quest to get it just right is just one of many signposts along the evolutionary journey towards doing business better. Savvy entrepreneurs and owners are well-advised to observe these and other changes happening every day with a discerning but open eye. Otherwise, they risk missing out on the next little thing that can make a big difference in their overall success.

Tim Cook is chief executive officer of KSM Location Advisors.

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