Can employee engagement be improved by workspace design?

Making sure your staff are engaged with your business is clearly critical to success. There is plenty of research evidence out there to show that engaged employees are more productive, will deliver better services to your customers and will stay with you for longer.  But does the design of a workspace play a role in this?

The first thing to say is that yes it can but it needs the fundamentals to be in place.  If the organisation is struggling to define its purpose or its values then there is nothing for the workspace to express. So start by making sure you have a real and compelling vision.

To have an influence on the thinking and behaviour of staff, the workspace design has to go deeper than sticking up some logos and using the brand colours on the walls. There are a whole host of other activities that companies can work on to improve engagement and the workspace design should only be seen as one pillar of these.

In a survey, Gallup asked more than 3,000 randomly selected workers to assess their agreement with the statement “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand different from our competitors.”.  Only 41% of employees strongly agreed with this statement which suggests there is a communication gap in lots of companies.  So clearly if you have a strong mission then you can use the work environment as another channel to tell this story to your team. Story being the active word here as it is a very powerful way to get the message understood:

  • Make it real
  • Tell the history of the company
  • Share what people have done rather than just corporate success
  • Make it personal.

The design of the workspace itself is important as providing the right kinds of spaces for people to work not only enables better work but also sends a strong message to the staff that the business values them.  The investment made in getting the workspace right shows how important the people are.  In most companies, this is also a message that it wants to communicate to its customers. The workspace becomes a visible expression of this value without having to do anything banal like write on a poster.

Finally, it is important that the workspace is developed in a way that reflects the culture of the organisation and the way things are done. Trying to impose new ways of working can have a negative impact on engagement. So it is about more than just providing a good design that is important – the process you go through with the staff is also central (something we discussed in a previous blog on participatory design).

Engagement starts in the design process and seeing it as part of an organisational change and transition is key.

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