This is a guest post by Stevie Toepke, a lead consultant with Frontier Academy, a development and training firm that delivers learning content for professionals seeking to increase employee engagement and evolve the culture in their companies.

It's not uncommon for leaders to invoke the names of big tech companies as models of innovation and high-performing cultures. It is uncommon, however, for Yahoo to be included among those ranks--unless of course we're talking about what not to do.

Case in point: Marissa Meyer's now-legendary decision to overturn the remote working policy that employees had come to love. While the story is old and Yahoo remains in corporate unease, many leaders still invoke this landmark decision--some to support their policies of rejecting remote working practices; others as a case study of outdated, old-school, low-trust management practices.

When our fast-growing firm set out to move into a new headquarters, we found ourselves grappling with the same questions Meyer did. A study from PWC in 2013 found that 64% of millennials want to work from home. As a firm who employs and relies heavily on the talents of millennials, this figure matters. While we pride ourselves on letting people work from home whenever they choose, we also wanted our new space to be a center of gravity, pulling our team together to create amazing work.

So how do you do that?

You design an office that is nicer than home. Of course, the comforts of home mean something different for each person, and that's why we watched our team to see how they interacted with space. We listened to their feedback, and we came up with designs that went beyond kegerators and nap pods.

Here are a few tips we'd pass along to anyone considering an overhaul or upgrade to their workspace in the name of better performance, increased collaboration, and higher productivity. In other words, here's how to design an office better than home:

  1. Design for Personality. Many companies wanting a more team-based, energetic culture make the mistake of rolling in the ping pong tables and bean bag chairs. But most of those items feel inauthentic or even at odds with the company's true DNA. Instead, look at how your people truly spend time together as part of their daily routines. Do they huddle around the coffee maker? Gather at lunch? Or end up working around the same table in the conference room? Watch, then formulate a space around the habits people already have. It's okay to be aspirational on the cool front; the space can (and should) be interesting. But avoid confusing physical artifacts for an intangible culture. Your office should be grounded in your organization's unique personality and brand.
  2. Design for Preference. The offices of old insisted on uniformity, but today's corporate office requires choice and flexibility. For the first time, many workplaces have four generations working in the same space, and those generational differences usually come with different working preferences. Even in teams comprised of employees around the same age, you'll find there are a variety of styles in which people want to work. Some people crave a traditional desk, while others beg for a standup desk or choose to spread out on a couch. The point is that your office should be a place in which your team feels empowered to make decisions to work how they see fit.
  3. Design for Performance. Today's corporate workforce is overwhelmingly made up of knowledge workers, whose capacity for creative thinking, problem solving, and analysis is critical to an organization. One way to support this level of high-performance output is through your space. In our studio, we borrowed from the best of traditional office design as well as more creative office concepts to provide a variety of options, places, and configurations our employees could use as they needed to produce the best quality work for our global clients. We have a large academy for training programs and corporate events, an executive lounge for board negotiations, a production area for our in-house publishing company, and a media bay for our video and sound production. All of these spaces serve a specific function for our team, which is why it was so important for us to consider the flow of the building in terms of these work activities. We then designated space accordingly so that these spaces serve six distinct functions: Coworking, Collaboration, Concentration, Social, Private, and In-Between. (Want to know more about each? Stay tuned for the follow-up to this article!)

The flexible workspace has been a boon to both the culture and performance here at The Frontier Project. Blending the best aspects of evolving workspace design creates a flexible space that supports the needs of a changing workforce. Intentional design goes beyond form and actually facilitates function. And incorporating powerful environmental cues in your space trigger--and ultimately alter--specific individual behaviors. Those altered behaviors are the essential components of elevated performance.

Want better work? Make a better space for it.

Published on: Jun 30, 2016
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