What your Workplace design says about your culture & your values

blog Apr 28, 2020

Design creates culture.  Culture shapes values.  Values determine the future. 

Robert L Peters.

Purpose-driven organisations are understanding the power their workplace has in communicating their intentions and impact, creating thriving workplaces.  The ability to communicate this purpose lies within the organisation’s existing business intelligence; its values and strategy.  This intelligence, forms the foundations for the functional planning and aesthetics of the workplace, influencing the behaviours that instil this greater purpose.

Organisational values can be much more than the words that get stuck up on the wall.  Typically, these values are informed by the brand story of the business and show up through the behaviours of its people.  A brand story is not just the logo and the suite of colours, it’s the narrative that illustrates the history of the business, where they came from, who they are, what they do and what they stand for.

The communication of this brand story is embedded through the overarching design aesthetic of the workplace so that employees, clients, suppliers and anyone who comes into contact with the space can “feel” what it’s like to do business with them.  The workplace design of Hall Chadwick illustrates this point well.

Hall Chadwick is an accounting and business advisory firm, established in Longreach 40 years ago, with strong foundations and client relationships in the region.  The workplace embodies these elements, resonating with the feelings of rural life through earthy materials, rich, deep colours and textural finishes reflective of farming and agriculture.  Every aspect of the design, from the alfresco patio structure over the kitchen through to the furniture, subtly reflects the company’s origins in Western Queensland. 

While the visual aspects of the design can be seen, it’s the elements that can’t be seen, but are felt, that provide the strongest cues.  The importance of relationships and mateship, that the door is always open and you are welcome to make yourself at home, and the fact that the kitchen is a communal gathering space that draws everyone together, are all aspects of the values that Hall Chadwick hold dear.  The planning and flow of the spaces are key to influencing these behaviours to come naturally and while you might not be able to put your finger on why you feel it, you still feel it.   

Understanding your values, and the behaviours that underpin these values and then those you wish to create, enables your space to be intuitively designed to influence these behaviours.

One prospective client aptly described the lack of impact that these behaviours can have when the spaces we occupy do not support them.  She described how her organisation seeks to encourage collaboration, however, through the spatial cues that have been communicated to the organisation through the built environment, they are not speaking the same language. 

The business strategy also plays a significant role in the execution of the design.  While the values are underpinned by the brand story and are executed through the look and feel of the space, the strategy is implemented through the physical planning of the space.

The strategic vision that the organisation has for their future is a critical foundation in defining the parameters of the future space; what impact are they looking to make? Do they plan to grow or downsize? What is the culture of the organisation and how is this linked to the work environment?  The purpose of the organisation defines the strategic direction to progress forward and intimately understanding this enables the space to support the achievement of these goals. 

Multiple factors are applying external pressure to our organisations ranging from emerging job titles that didn’t exist five years ago, to rapid shifts in technology, all changing how our organisations require to operate.  This pace of change means workplaces need to be able to evolve and adapt to these changing requirements.  The type and style of work conducted is changing and requires workplaces to respond to the personalities of the people who work there. 

In planning the workplace, it’s critical that the environment meets the needs of the organisation and leads to greater connections.  Livingstones, a HR, Industrial Relations & Organisational Psychology practice, originally occupied an office-heavy premises that no longer supported the aspirations of their strategic direction or their culture, creating physical barriers to collaboration and social connectivity.  Through analysis of their strategic direction and the work styles of their people, an agile workplace was adopted.  In the six months following their occupancy, they have seen their highest financial performance achieved in their 35-year history, which they have attributed to the cross-collaboration that is now occurring due to the planning of the workplace. 

Your workplace plays a large factor in the successful creation of a high-performing team, however it relies on the inherent communication of your values and business strategy.  Knowing what your business stands for and having a vision for the future is key to defining an effective workplace that embodies a sense of belonging and connects your community. 

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