Better retention, greater productivity, more cohesion and fewer employee absences. We take a look at how employee engagement can be boosted by a great office design and fit out.

Paul Dare

Head of Design

19th Feb 2020

Picture a workplace where people are satisfied and inspired to work because they feel connected to colleagues and enjoy autonomy in their day-to-day work. This is the goal of many of our clients and we firmly believe office design and fit out has a big part to play. We would describe this kind of environment as an ‘engaged office’. People aren’t simply coasting along; they take pride in being part of the company’s DNA.

Your workspace helps drive employee engagement which can promote a number of holy-grail outcomes for your business, including greater productivity and profitability. Aon’s analysis of 250 international organisations revealed that those with high levels of employee engagement posted a 58% higher return for shareholders. This suggests engagement is the key to financial success.

So, how do we design and build workplaces to boost engagement levels?

Choice and control

First, we think about what’s important for the end user: choice and control. A report from Steelcase, an international office products and services provider, showed that employees are more engaged when they have greater control over their physical workplace.

Our recent fit out in Portsmouth for the Royal Navy is a great example of this. Our brief was to create an inspiring office for the men and women behind the Royal Navy’s artificial intelligence programme. This programme is project-led which means that team sizes, requirements and confidentiality vary from task to task. We also provided a mix of different nautically-inspired working areas so employees can choose from any number of scenarios to suit the task at hand. There are standing desks, a lounge with sofas, hot desks and even a meeting booth in a rowboat.

Our activity-based design and fit out created an office which easily adapts to the needs of any team, on any given day. This not only gives employees a choice of where they can work, but control of their immediate environment too. One of the design tactics we used to achieve this was installing hanging and sliding writable walls. These open and close to reconfigure the space and create private enclaves or collaboration hotspots - all in one handy solution.

Sense of belonging

A report from Deloitte says engagement is one of the most cited challenges experienced by businesses, with 87% admitting it was their top obstacle to performance. If you’re among those included in this staggering statistic, your only saviour is addressing your culture. Remember, culture is the very heart of your business.

Your culture needs to be inclusive, one which is conducive to making friends and comfortable enough for people to shed their professional persona. Meaningful connections to colleagues helps foster higher levels of employee engagement. When given a choice of working remotely or in the office, the social aspect of the work environment is often the main drawcard. The social scene defines the office as a destination: a place worth the effort. After all, ‘sense of belonging’ is the third tier in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs right after basic physiological needs and safety.

It is equally important employees feel connected to your brand and what the business stands for. This gives purpose; no-one wants to just be a cog in the machine. When we designed and built a new office for construction and regeneration group Morgan Sindall, we included a physical reminder of the company’s culture in the form of a beautiful bespoke wooden tree, right in the middle of the space.

This tree is now the focal centrepiece of the HQ branching out throughout the workspace. The tree represents the company’s decentralised culture and each branch an autonomous part of the business; it is a constant reminder to those in HQ of how they fit in and why they’re valued. All the workstations and seats face inwards towards the trunk of the tree ensuring everyone feels connected to something bigger.

People first

Choice, control and a sense of belonging can’t be manufactured. These are authentic feelings fostered by the type of environment you provide when you put your people first. There is a strong, positive link between employee engagement and attitudes towards the workplace. So, why not shape the story of your business by designing for greater employee engagement?