How innovative offices improve employee engagement

The workspace you provide employees has an outsized impact on their level of engagement—here’s why

Space is a powerful tool to foster engagement, inspire innovation, and drive productivity. But what exactly does an optimal space look like? In the Science of Space, we explore how the science of intentional design can turn any work environment into a holistic experience.

When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute,” Simon Sinek once said—a statement that rings true for almost all modern-day employees and employers. Employees want to do the type of work that contributes to their companies in a meaningful way. And successful employers take the steps needed to provide that engagement.

According to Entrepreneur, organizations where employees are engaged with the work that they do achieve higher results by more than 200 percent. Additionally, companies with engaged employees tend to see 41 percent less absenteeism (which also contributes to a more productive workforce), according to employee engagement research company OfficeVibe.

Harvard Business Review also reports that companies with highly engaged employees result in 25 to 65 percent less attrition than their peers. With highly engaged employees, the percentage in customer satisfaction also rises. It can truly be said that improving employee engagement isn’t optional—when it comes to your company’s bottom line, it’s downright mandatory.

But how can you encourage your teams to become more emotionally invested, connected, and engaged in their work? While that process starts by connecting with employees on multiple levels, there’s one factor that’s hugely important and sometimes overlooked: the design of your physical workspace.

Disengagement and poor workspace design

Before we give you the ways in which workspaces contribute to employee engagement, it’s important to first recognize and address disengagement—which can cost organizations up to $550 billion annually.

We’ve found that there are eight main signs your employee or team might be disengaged:

  • Frequent complaints
  • Constant excuses
  • Refusal to help out
  • Lack of initiative
  • Increased mistakes
  • Drop in growth
  • Few questions
  • Refusal to collaborate

We can all conjure an image of the typical disengaged worker; the movie Office Space probably comes to mind. Surrounded by beige filing cabinets and gray foam walls, one dead plant, and soul-crushing stacks of paper, this example of office design disconnected from the human element is comically obvious. It’s hard to imagine employees being emotionally invested, engaged, and excited to come to work when an office space is that poorly designed (especially when the only pop of color in the room is a stapler).

Workspace design has the ability to engage the disengaged; changing the physical work environment tends to have a ripple effect on the other aspects of an employee’s work life. As Janine Grossmann, practice leader of interiors for the Ontario offices of Perkins+Will, explained to Area Development, a vibrant, animated office with natural lighting and company branding can increase team morale by combining positive factors into one employee experience.

In other words, your employees will begin to associate the improved workspace with your company brand, mission, and goals. That’s the type of personalized, positive experience you want your employees to have when they walk into the office—and one our team can help you achieve.

Productivity consultant Helene Segura describes the perfect office as “areas where people can work by themselves and be free of distraction, open areas for collaboration, and conference rooms for meetings that require privacy.” When a company embraces this idea in design, improved employee engagement is sure to follow. With a flexible workspace, people can choose the working environment that best suits the task they’re trying to accomplish. Need to crunch some numbers? Grab a quiet space. Want to brainstorm with your team? Snag a collaboration room. The choices are endless—and employees will appreciate the options.

How to motivate employees

Employees tend to be motivated in one of two ways: through intrinsic motivation, which resonates on a personal level (employees enjoy their work, which creates a positive emotional state), or through extrinsic motivation (which occurs from external rewards, such as receiving money and/or approval from others).

When employers rely exclusively on monetary or other external motivators to encourage their teams, the result may be underwhelming, as the incentives don’t inspire an emotional connection. This can be seen particularly in office spaces where functionality and design are lacking. There’s only so much employers can do to persuade workers to enjoy their tasks in a space that has bad lighting or is too loud, cold, or categorically uninspiring.

In contrast to extrinsic motivators, intrinsic motivators happily cross-reference with trackable employee engagement metrics. These include: recognition, feedback, happiness, personal growth, job satisfaction, wellness, ambassadorship, team friendships, and company alignment. Harvard Business Review also recommends metrics such as personal development, company loyalty, and recreation.

Many of these engagement metrics tie directly into workspace design. Take wellness, for example: Employers can help reduce employee stress by adjusting the acoustics to cancel out excessive noise, or creating quiet spaces where people can concentrate. They can also improve air quality and temperature by upgrading the ventilation system, adding plants, and regulating humidity. In addition, offering access to healthy snacks and beverages, and designing seating with ergonomics in mind, can also bolster employee health and well-being.

Lighting is also important for employee wellness. In a recent interview, Dr. Brandon Tinianov, chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council’s advisory council, shared that employees with enhanced exposure to daylight experienced a 2 percent productivity increase—the equivalent of an additional $100,000 per year for every 100 workers. In fact, our design teams at WeWork will strategically use circadian lighting to program spaces, adjusting throughout the day to help increase productivity.

As you can see from just this example, the physical workspace has the ability to influence more than one aspect of your employee’s working experience, and can lead to increased employee recruitment and retention (not to mention stronger company performance).

Promoting collaboration in the workplace with office design

Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center, shared how working with people from many different backgrounds, as well as training in writing and communicating, will be some of the most highly valued workplace skills for the future. Never has workspace design been more important when factoring in that human need to connect.

There’s certainly a new emphasis on designing enterprise platforms that enable teams to collaborate and provide feedback seamlessly across devices and teams. Jennifer Martin, California-based founder of Zest Business Consulting, recently discussed the engagement value of employee-to-employer feedback with Forbes. Martin explains that the act of asking employees for insights and opinions signals that their employer likes and respects them—which, in turn, improves their level of engagement.

Additionally, in an employee engagement report, Harvard Business Review quantified the time managers have spent in one-on-one meetings with their directs—and found those employees who got less face time with their manager were more likely to be disengaged.

Workspace design can solve for many of these one-on-one connection needs, in person or abroad—for example, providing office design that incorporates shared spaces and conference rooms, desks alongside phone booths, to create an environment where employees can easily meet and collaborate. And when employees aren’t in the office together, an innovative design calls for meeting rooms equipped with the technology to bridge the gap.

Employee engagement and workspace innovation are linked

Engagement isn’t an abstract feeling; rather, it’s the outcome of multiple factors, such as encouraging individual expression, providing employees the tools they need to do their jobs, and promoting positive coworker relationships. The physical workspace is the backbone that supports all of these aspects.

Whether it’s providing more opportunities for employees to collaborate face-to-face during their workday, creating multi-use spaces that flex on demand, or everything in between, thoughtfulness of design speaks volumes.

WeWork offers companies of all sizes space solutions that help solve their biggest business challenges.

Michael Hershfield is the vice president of product at WeWork. He’s spent more than a decade in the startup space in New York and Toronto while serving as COO of Nucleus Intercom, COO of Kitchensurfing, vice president of business and corporate development of Sailthru, and CEO and cofounder of LiveStub. He is also an angel investor, venture advisor at Silas Capital, and a board member at Israel Policy Forum.

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