For a Better Workplace, Put People First

By Lois Wellwood, SOM Interior Architecture Associate Director

Why should an organization invest in design?

This is perhaps the single most important question for architecture firms and their clients alike — and one that each side may see differently. When it comes to the workplace, many organizations perceive design as a luxury, rather than a necessity. They may doubt even the most compelling data about the impact of design.

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 The  Hudson’s Bay Company headquarters  in Manhattan accommodates diverse working styles. Photo © Magda Biernat

The Hudson’s Bay Company headquarters in Manhattan accommodates diverse working styles. Photo © Magda Biernat

While design may be among the considerations in the early stages of a project, it can quickly become a distant thought as the discussion shifts to concerns about cost and disruption to the company’s workflow.

However, when we remember that workplace design is really about people — creating a satisfying, engaging work environment — we change the conversation.

What is design?

The nonprofit organization Design Management Institute defines design in terms of its practical value: “Simply put, design is a method of problem solving. Whether it is an architectural blueprint, a brochure, the signage system at an airport, a chair, or a better way to streamline production on the factory floor — design helps solve a problem.”

On a fundamental level, design can help solve many problems in the workplace. Often, one of a client’s foremost concerns is achieving an efficient use of space. Designers can maximize the square footage per person through creative planning, with concepts such as “hot-desking” and mobile working. But, in solving one problem, do we create another problem that is larger and more complex?

 Integrating social amenities can give employees more options for where to work. Photo © Jeff Goldberg | Esto

Integrating social amenities can give employees more options for where to work. Photo © Jeff Goldberg | Esto

Instead of placing the primary focus on real estate efficiency, workplace design must first meet the needs of the people who use it. The true value of design lies in how the spaces we create make people feel. In the best case, design of a workplace should reduce stress and connect people to the organization and to their colleagues around them. This fosters a more positive day-to-day experience, better employee performance, and in turn, better business results.