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Is Your Office a Brand Asset or a Gimmick? 

Slides. Ping pong tables. Rainforests. With the biggest companies in the world using office design to attract talent and media, learn to spot the difference between a unique concept and an expensive gimmick.

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BY Jeff Pochepan - 18 Jul 2018

Is Your Office a Brand Asset or a Gimmick? 

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Office design has so many facets: employee comfort and well-being, brand building and awareness, aesthetics, and functionality. When moving a unique office concept from blueprint to reality, it's easy to get swept up in the new and exciting, but how can you ensure your office design stays on the right side of innovation and doesn't cross into gimmicky?

Purpose Driven Design

Beautiful and adventurous offices attract talent. It's a fact that the hottest minds want to work in the greatest locations, and having a structure that takes your breath away leaves an impression that your company is not afraid to express itself and make a statement.

The trick is to make sure that statement has a purpose.

Google's Playground

Google's playground offices caused waves in the design world. Soon, every startup and established wanted billiard and ping pong tables, slides instead of stairs, and open plan offices with furniture you had to stare at to figure out how to sit on it. But copying their design isn't always a great idea. Employees at Google have complained the slides ruin their clothes and they only used them once--on their first day. Those who sit near the slides are subjected to the constant noise of new employees and visitors hollering as they take their first ride, and it's more of a distraction than any purpose it might serve.

Design that encourages the behavior you want--mobile work areas for a mobile tech company, or cafés for a coffee company--should be foremost in your mind when considering any office redesign.

While the culture at Google may consider the game rooms a great place for creative thinkers to brainstorm, at a company whose industry doesn't turn on quite the same dime, long sessions over a pool table could be detrimental to productivity and those playing seen as slackers.

Design that encourages the behavior you want--mobile work areas for a mobile tech company, or cafés for a coffee company--should be foremost in your mind when considering any office redesign.

If a design feature has a reason to exist besides that it looks great or is a conversation starter, then chances are it has a purpose and isn't a gimmick.

Incorporating your brand is more than putting your logo and company colors on the walls. It's about fostering a sense of belonging and brand loyalty. But putting obstacles in the way of your employees in the form of inconvenient or distracting design elements doesn't foster long-term growth.

Intention Matters

The log-on anywhere freedom of younger generations is becoming a must, creating a need for flexible work spaces to fit all types of workers. But not all workers are thrilled with hot-desking in an open office. Noise distractions frustrate employees looking for somewhere to get their jobs done.

Keeping in mind your employees' true needs--privacy for focus as well as spaces for collaboration--you can design a space with the intent it needs.

Meeting rooms can come in many themes. AirBnB has done this well in their San Francisco headquarters, using the multiple types of properties they manage as a stepping stone of design features. Meeting rooms that look like log cabins, camping destinations, and reflect designs of their rentals around the world give the spaces unique features without detracting from their usefulness. Phone pods are set up with soundproofing, and plush seating in what are called "work caves" provide segmented places to work alone or with a team in relative privacy without cutting employees off from each other.

How Far is Too Far?

Having a thoughtfully designed office that compliments the work your employees are doing has been shown to increase productivity and job satisfaction, lower turnover and absenteeism, and reduce mental and physical health medical claims. Studies have shown the color green and biophilic designs are good for employee health, and many companies have adopted onsite gardens, either for use in workplace eateries or for employees themselves to maintain and benefit from with crop shares. Bringing the outdoors to your work force through greenery, water features, natural lighting, and air quality are seen as wonderful additions to the workplace. But how far is too far?

Amazon's Rainforest

Amazon's Seattle Headquarters boasts something called The Spheres, which is a rainforest, literally. Home to more than 40,000 plants from around the world, there are no enclosed offices, meeting rooms, or desks. While the sounds of running water and the scents of flowering plants are likely quite pleasant and the entire project promotes biodiversity, Amazon's entire purpose for the building is recruitment and providing a place where employees can recharge. While the plant preservation itself is impressive, does it have purpose in an office beyond how it looks?

Microsoft's Treehouses

Microsoft, on the other hand, built treehouses for its employees. And while that sounds more gimmicky than Amazon's beautiful Seattle rainforest, Microsoft's intention was similar: bring nature into their employee's every day work life.

They, however, did it in a way that promotes productivity and work focus, and not just as something to look at. Each treehouse contains embedded tech, so while it looks rustic, it's anything but. More than 12 feet above ground, the treehouses have Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, and at least one gas fireplace. The more rustic setting promotes greater creativity, focus, and employee happiness, and it's working. Employees speak of the treehouses with a kind of reverence, pleased with how present and in -the-moment the space makes them feel. It renews their focus and changes their perception of how much better they work.

The more rustic setting promotes greater creativity, focus, and employee happiness, and it's working.

Given they have 500 acres of green space, woods, and wildlife, Microsoft took advantage of what they already had to create a retreat-like feel in the three treehouses, part of their growing trend of "outdoor districts" dotted around their campus. Since Microsoft has the outdoor environment at their disposal, they didn't have to create a proxy green space indoors. 

Between Amazon and Microsoft, which of the two companies' green spaces seems more purposeful and functional?

By considering intention and purpose, the more outlandish-sounding design actually works better as an office element, proving that the farfetched can be practical and not gimmicky at all.

In the race to satisfy employees and attract new talent, design is key, but functionality will outshine uniqueness. If you can find a way to incorporate both, you're doing it right.

 

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