Social capital can be tricky to define and even more difficult to measure. However, in the post-COVID workplace, creating a culture that’s rich in social capital will pay dividends for years to come.

With the ongoing impact of COVID-19 yet to be realised, many organisations are considering cost savings through rationalising their office space. However, reducing spontaneous workplace interactions could harm your organisation’s social capital which could potentially outweigh short term property savings. Unlike monetary and physical capital, social capital isn’t measured in units of value or assets, so it can be hard to understand and effectively justify in your decision-making process.

Read on to find out what social capital is, how it impacts your workplace and ways your workplace can help build it.

What is social capital?

Social Capital is the combined value of your people, their networks and their interactions with one another. It is the value of your people to create positive interactions with one another, their ability to relate in different scenarios, understand the values of others and most importantly, to foster a deep sense of trust throughout your organisation.

Social capital spans across output and productivity, through to diversity, inclusivity and even impacts our basic human needs of providing a sense of belonging.

What is Social Capital in the workplace?

In a workplace or office, social capital can be demonstrated through your people and their willingness to work together and understand one another. It has often been referred to as the glue that brings divisions together, and this is best demonstrated thinking about your culture.

If you have a culture rich in social capital, you’ll likely have a team that communicates fluidly and collaborates extensively; going out of their way to help one another, and who continually draw on each other’s opinions and experiences to produce a better output.

How do you build social capital in the workplace?

Social capital is promoted in the workplace through mutual respect and collaboration across different teams. While social capital is heavily determined by relationships and culture, your physical work environment plays a strong role in its development. Thankfully, building your social capital doesn’t have to cost the earth and there are many ways to easily start building on your organisation’s social capital; from clever design and smart furniture through to a complete fit out or refurbishment.

Collaborative Furniture

If you want to promote a culture of collaboration and inclusivity, then you’ll need furniture that supports people working together and helps break down traditional organisational silos.

Small and unbookable meeting pods, like these at Perspectum, are great for providing somewhere for colleagues to easily meet and collaborate. This facilitates cross-team interactions and idea sharing; boosting the important relationship and trust elements that contribute towards social capital. Ensure that the areas are encouraged for use by different teams and aren’t designated just for a particular division.

Perspectum office pods for collaboration

Open Plan Spaces

Open plan areas are critical for ensuring that your teams maintain open working relationships with one another. Not only does this allow for a line-of-sight throughout your workplace that provides a greater sense of space, but also facilitates movement around your office throughout the day – contributing to employee wellbeing.

While most workplaces are built with a sense of open-plan, one of our favourite recent projects is for charity WaterAid in Canary Wharf. This workplace features a great mix of spaces that allow for different teams to come together and collaborate. From standing meeting spaces, to enclosed booths and an oversized lunch and breakout space, WaterAid’s team members can always find somewhere to work together.

Morgan Lovell open plan office design
WaterAid workspace design

Wellbeing and Biophilia

People work better together when they feel better themselves, that’s why integrating biophilia into your office design helps boost the mood of your staff, and promote wellbeing. Planter boxes are a great way to break up an open plan space and also double as a convenient storage solution. That’s why we used these extensively in Sage Publishing’s fit out – which even provided a great space for them to showcase their latest work; enabling teams to keep track of their recent achievements.

Sage Publishing biophilic office design

Bringing Clients Together

Providing a great client experience and fostering future relationships is an equally important part of social capital; building a working relationship between your organisation and key external stakeholders. Client meeting suites are an important part of the workplace experience, which is why we designed a variety of formal and casual meeting spaces where Dodge & Cox could welcome their close clients. From traditional meeting spaces to a homely-inspired kitchen area, Dodge & Cox welcome their clients to use their space as if it were their own before and after scheduled meetings.

Dodge & Cox meeting space fit out

Technology and Conference Facilities

2020 has placed a renewed emphasis on video conferencing facilities and remote working, but R3’s central London HQ was ahead of the curve in digitally linking their two offices together. Having their teams split between London and New York meant that they needed a creative solution to build strong relationships with their intercontinental teams, despite the distance.

R3’s breakout space looks the part with plenty of areas for local teams to work and unwind together, but it’s the integrated videoconference facilities that set this workplace apart. The cameras and screens situated around the town hall area allow for seamless connectivity with their remote colleagues, allowing for the company to act as one.

R3 breakout space bookcase wall
R3 breakout space design ideas

Building Your Brand

Employees bond through sharing achievements and working towards a common goal. One of the best ways to capitalise on this is ensuring your fit out embodies your company’s brand and values. A great example of this in the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth office, which has been transformed into a high-tech nautically-inspired workplace.

From the entrance with its faux riveting and curved feature wall, to the row-boat inspired meeting pod; there’s no forgetting your industry in this workplace. To further boost the cognitive relationship and collaboration between teams, an agile work wall was setup to share project progress. And since the entire workplace is classified, it’s free to be shared with everyone who has access.

Royal Navy meeting pod design

Creating a community

Since social capital is built by increasing our trust and emotional ties with one another, providing a space where you can foster this community and celebrate success together is key. Since food is one of the best ways that we bond with one another, kitchen spaces are an absolute must in a collaborative workplace. That’s why for Bottomline’s people-focussed workplace, we went a step further and installed our biggest-ever breakfast bar.

Bottomline staff cafe design
Bottomline communal workspace design

Workplaces that are built around a social, communal hub excel in their social capital. This provides a space for your staff to not only actively collaborate with one another, but it boosts the chances of them spontaneously interacting with one another. You’ll be amazed how a conversation around a secret Bolognese ingredient can quickly lead to discussing new work developments in a much more organic setting than a scheduled meeting.

Social capital is an important and valuable commodity in promoting a high-performance workplace. Since we have been deprived of many ‘bump and meet’ workplace opportunities throughout 2020, staff are craving these interactions and it should be high on any company’s agenda to bring these back to the workplace.