How office design puts your company at an advantage in times of adversity

During times of business adversity and slow economic growth, it can be tempting to lay off staff members, innovate less and implement austerity measures to protect a company. But what if new opportunities anchored in Machiavelli’s advice to never waste a good crisis meant that a company could use adversity as a competitive advantage? A chance to grow as a team, innovate, and approach austerity smartly to ensure success. Step in design.

With recent healthcare adversity and recessions looming over many industries, companies need to focus on three critical variables to thrive over the coming years and become more assertive: retention, innovation, and austerity. Design plays a fundamental role in this resilience process. 

Robust Office Design for Retention

The procurement and retention of top talent are crucial to the future of any business, as a high retention rate leads to a more productive workforce, a better customer experience, and more. Also, large US corporations lose $1 trillion yearly due to voluntary turnover, which supports that staff retention is a money-saving game — essential in times of recession.

Strategic design serves as a buffer in times of global economic crisis, transforming your office into a hub of innovation and creativity with which to affront adversity and foster economic growth. Today’s employee needs more than a gym membership and a supply of fresh fruit — wellbeing is pivotal to employee retention.

How to Nurture Employee Wellbeing with Design

A business model whose nucleus takes care of employee health puts itself in good stead for resilience during adversity. But how can design nurture wellbeing?

  • Layout

Open plan offices and rows of cubicles previously served their purpose but are less relevant nowadays as we begin to understand precisely what our employees need. A company office that emulates the home and where employees can choose their way of working boosts productivity, satisfaction, and retention.

Employees need different spaces for different activities. Some for ‘me’ work and others for ‘we’ work. While some tasks require focus and individual effort, others require space for collaboration and group work. Office design that provides both, and where employees aren’t limited to using one of these spaces but can choose to flit freely between them go a long way to improving employee wellbeing. 

With human capital an indispensable resource for any company facing adversity, areas in the office that are dedicated to their wellbeing are a must. Design spaces that cater to health and fitness are a welcome addition and need not be costly to implement. A simple space with yoga mats and access to a smart TV could be all it takes to provide employees with the opportunity to partake in some physical activity throughout the day.

  • Design features

Retention offers a company stark advantages such as savings, making it a worthwhile decision to reinvent the space where your team goes about their professional day. 

Spaces that offer the maximum possible amount of natural lighting and green spaces are well-known contributors to employee wellbeing. Environmental factors such as temperature, color, noise, and plants have been proven to impact employee wellbeing and productivity directly, so tweaking design features such as these can contribute a substantial financial gain through staff retention, particularly during times of recession.

Further austerity measures that don’t have to affect your human capital but that this capital could benefit from is automation in design aspects such as heating, lighting, water supplies, and security. Intelligently designed offices can use sensors and other interactive features that economize on utility expenses. “Some overhead lighting will grow dimmer as more natural light enters the space. Such a system can pay for itself in reduced energy bills within three years,” says chief executive Tom Polluci of HOK, a New York City-based architecture, engineering, and planning firm.

  • Technology

Paperless environments have become the norm in the office world, freeing up the space that would have been used to store files for other, more environmentally enhancing options. With e-commerce and technology replacing the traditional alternatives, a design that facilitates the use of technology is an important consideration when revamping the office.

Desk-height charging points to nurture office ergonomics, ample electricity outlets that aren’t confined to desks, and, conversely, strictly technology-free spaces are all essential factors. The latter can help reduce screen fatigue and its associated discomfort. It also fosters an environment that encourages ‘correct’ break-taking — one where the interruption in workday continuity is most contrastive and replenishing.

Adversity Breeds Innovation

An entrepreneur mindset is paramount to success in the face of adversity. When the going gets tough, it may seem intuitive to pivot and find a new product or range of leads — to look outside the office walls. But perhaps the answer is inside those four walls, and tweaking the office design itself can encourage positivity, creativity, and innovation among team members, effectively equipping them with the necessary means to keep the company afloat during times of crisis. You can see some of AEI Spaces’ innovative approaches to design here.

Problem-solving requires a diverse workforce, and for creativity and innovation, eight hours sitting at the same desk isn’t inspiring. This is where layout and design come back into the spotlight. Accessible offices for employees living with disabilities, as well as careful considerations of color, textures, and shapes (rounded edges give more soothing energy than squared, for example), can all make the difference in innovation.

Austerity in the Face of Adversity

Companies would do well to consider austerity measures other than staff layoffs during recessions for the following reasons, according to Mokolimbo Media:

  • It gives the impression that the company is in trouble, damaging its reputation. 
  • It makes it more difficult for the company to recover during times of growth. 
  • Ex-employees will be less likely to recommend the company.
  • The local economy is affected when employees have to support themselves and their families.
  • It’s expensive to train new employees when you once again require a populous workforce.
  • If jobs are secure, team members can focus their efforts on their job rather than stressing job security.
  • It avoids the domino effect whereby remaining employees fear losing their jobs and, as such, are less productive and motivated.
  • Lawsuits.

When metrics show that 37% of young people would accept a lower salary if a company offers appealing culture, workplace facilities, and technology, the design of a space can be a valuable compromise for short-term austerity measures.

Austerity doesn’t have to mean pay cuts or laying off staff to keep profit margins out of the red. Martin Henn of Henn architects offers a plausible alternative. Rents in downtown areas can be one of the significant expenses for a company, which is why he suggests smaller, decentralized ‘satellite’ offices. These would tap into transportation networks, facilitate commutes, and reach broader demographics — in terms of talent and business, as new products would become available over a wider area.

Adversity Isn’t The End

During economic uncertainty, many corporations conclude that laying off staff and reducing expenses is the way to go. At AEI Spaces, however, we believe that a company can better equip itself to overcome adversity by using design to its advantage.

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