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The Role of Workplace Design in Attracting and Retaining Talent

Our in-house design and build team Dthree sat down with Tom Aird, Project Director at Dthree, to talk about how they help clients transform their workplaces into a tool for talent before the design process has even begun.

Workplace design and its role in influencing employee engagement, workplace culture and wellbeing has become an increasingly vital differentiator for attracting top talent. Working closely with many businesses both during and post-pandemic, Tom shares the top workplace design approaches businesses have been taking to attract and retain talent.


Quality of Work Life: Waking Up to Your Employees’ Needs

There has been a seismic shift in how and where employees work. The emergence of quirky and diverse workplaces, as exemplified by the current stock of serviced offices and impressive facilities that come with modern corporate working environments, means employees now have higher expectations of their everyday surroundings. And with wellbeing initiatives such as the ‘Well’ certification – which sees diverse aspects from air quality to natural daylight provision, providing the new standard for office environments – enhanced workplaces are still firmly on employees ‘must have’ lists. Serviced offices are among the pioneers in providing carefully designed spaces to meet these needs and expectations of employees, as well as businesses themselves.

Dthree is firmly at the forefront of this movement in the sector, not least through its design plans for provider Venture X, whose new Chiswick office provides a mix of shared and private workspaces. 

Characterised by design based on people and their needs, Venture X gives users access to exactly what they need to do their best task. It’s designed in such a way that if you want to get some head space and knuckle down, you can. If you want to have a very private meeting with a large screen, there are rooms for that. And if you need a collaborative and engaging space to catch up with your colleagues over a coffee, you can. This workspace is about first impressions, not only for the members themselves but also for their visitors. The VTX team want their members to be proud of where they spend their time working.

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Getting Involved from the Start

With design and build firms playing a pivotal role in enabling businesses to design their workplaces around their people, getting involved at the right stage of the planning process is crucial. For Dthree, this involvement can happen at any stage; from the very beginnings of office search discussions, to late in the day once a space has already been secured. Unsurprisingly, the earlier in the process we can get involved, the better. As designers and creators, early exposure to the client means the team can get an understanding of your individual and collective needs and get under the skin of your unique company culture.

We’re designing not just for what they need now, but for what they think they’re going to need in the future. It’s an amazing opportunity to identify bad habits and elements of the culture they want to change, as well as their long-term business goals and aspirations. Once engaged with a business, a strategic approach is required to get to the bottom of the real issues with the current working environment and uncover the best opportunities for improvement. There are no separate, one size fits all approaches for businesses who want to redesign their existing space vs those who are moving to new premises. Instead, Dthree works on a simple premise: to make people's day-to-day lives better.

Spending time with staff in the work environment is key to getting to the bottom of current issues and opportunities. However, it’s not untypical for workers to change their normal behaviours if they feel like Big Brother is watching them. To counteract this potential issue, Dthree uses a variety of techniques to complement its on-the-ground employee probing, which include anonymous online surveys and face-to-face and department interviews. Each has proven to uncover opportunities to better meet individuals’ workspace needs.

Whilst not all companies are open to designers speaking to staff across the length and breadth of the business, more exciting insights and opportunities come to the surface when it does happen. Balancing and acting on contrasting views from across the business can be a major challenge, however, picking out the things that really matter is one of the Dthree’s most important jobs. If you want the best opinions, talk to those who use it every day. It sounds simple, but you would be surprised at how often the people using the space are overlooked.

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Beyond the Buzzword; Into the New People-Centric Office

In recent years, talk of employee welfare in the context of office space design was all too often empty rhetoric. Considering the global challenges we all faced, businesses have been prioritising employee mental health and wellbeing throughout their workplaces.

This shift in appreciation for worker needs that go beyond basic requirements to ‘get the job done’ has been a key part in driving the emphasis on workplace design that we’re seeing today. The open-plan offices of the ‘90s, characterized by banks of white desks in white rooms, were designed primarily around reducing square footprints. Whilst an open plan is here to stay, the consideration of diverse employee needs means workplaces need to offer a variety of alternative spaces – providing the right environment for workers to feel comfortable in accordance with their required tasks and personal preferences.

For this reason, workspaces must offer a balanced mix of people-focused areas. These include social designated areas such as bars, cafes and event spaces, distraction-free zones such as phone booths and meeting rooms, as well as self-care and wellness spaces such as beauty salons and massage parlours. It's about showing a true understanding of your people and their needs – not just their needs based on their roles, but their personality nuances. You say open plan to some people, and they might love it, typically a telesales team do. They love the environment; it’s busy and noisy and they thrive off it. In contrast, an introvert at this point is cringing and withdrawing from the company.

There’s no doubt that the big driver behind the demand for varied workspaces is wellness and agile working. However, there is an increasing desire to personalise spaces so that they support the company's core values and purpose. But when fundamentally changing a workspace, sometimes to the point where it becomes unrecognisable from its predecessor, how do you appease those of all ages and generations? Is it a case of trying to teach an old dog new tricks?

It’s not an easy thing to do. You may have an age gap of 30-40 years, so designing for that is difficult. If you’re used to having your own office, you may think you need to keep it because you’ve always had one. Our challenge is to design the space, so all those people feel catered for. There is an in-depth thought process where we ask, ‘how can we help people feel more engaged and happier at work so that they perform their jobs better?’.

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Building the Priority of Office Space Design

The key to a successful workplace transformation is client awareness and sharing the statistical evidence of the benefits that adequate workplace design can bring; productivity, employee satisfaction, and ultimately talent attraction and retention should be the incentive to business owners, rather than ‘how many desks can I cram into this space?”.

However, this ideal comes with some hurdles for office design and build companies, the biggest of which is a client justifying the expense of an office move and/or redesign. This again requires a shift in thought process – to view the opportunity of what the business can get out of its people, just by providing the right type of environment for them.

For businesses about to embark on that new search or who want to ensure their workplace is beneficial to their staff and their recruitment and retention drive, remember that people will always be automatically drawn to what doesn’t work about a space. It’s too hot, too dark, too stiff. There are always positives in the existing space and enhancing those is usually an easier win than trying to start from scratch.

So, the message to all businesses thinking of upgrading their office – talk to your people from day one and work out what works and what doesn’t in the current space. Those simple steps can put you on the path to a happier and more productive workforce – and who wouldn’t want to see those gains?

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