The quote from influential management consultant Peter Drucker is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”—and lunch, dinner, and late-night apps. So now we have foosball tables, Ping Pong balls flying everywhere, and beer carts clinking around the office around 4 o’clock. The “culture = how much fun we have at work when we’re not working” formula is vanishing; the office playground is evolving.
This is the time of year when the concept of culture meets the reality of budgets, raises, bonuses, work environment, and the people around you. These are the elements of culture designed to keep people engaged and delivering their best performance for the organization. The space where you work has been proven to have an impact on employee satisfaction and, more important, performance. Yet corporate workspaces are competing with co-working spaces, coffee shops, and even your living room couch. Getting people to gather in a common space is more difficult today than ever—yet it may be more important than ever.
Consulting with small, large, old, and new ventures has earned me entrance into the spaces where people get stuff done—such as Google, where it smells like they pump extra oxygen into the space to enhance brain activity. As a cultural contrast, Patagonia is closer to a commune, with surfboards and wetsuits ready for an afternoon “creative session” on the waves. Then there’s Capital One, which missed an opportunity: Its corporate campus in Richmond, Virginia, is like any other—no one thought to leave a gigantic battle axe in a corner as a reminder of its most famous ad character. Your spaces should both inspire and reflect the culture of your organization.
A few of our local corporations have made a substantial effort to upgrade the spaces where people labor over presentation decks, spreadsheets, and forecasts. We’ve seen beautiful new spaces at Sleep Number, Land O’Lakes, and 3M in recent years. Sleep Number moved from a sleepy suburb (pun intended) to an engaging downtown designed experience, Land O’Lakes makes a strong point about its role in food with an innovation center in the North Loop, and 3M added a design office to give physical form to its design process and attract design thinkers to the Maplewood campus. Then there’s Evereve, which recently built out a space in Edina in “feminine industrial” style—that’s the founder’s term.
When spaces are redesigned, what is the goal? If the intention is to amplify culture already present, you’re likely heading down a more realistic path. When our agency Capsule moved to the North Loop, the intention was to find and design a place that better reflects our culture. A large public kitchen, a concept critique nook, and a lofted space certainly amplified our culture of creative curiosity. Evereve seemed to have a similar intention: an open workspace that feels like a downtown loft, with the suburban convenience of free parking. There are areas to inspire different styles of work: stand-up draft tables, restaurant-style booths for collaboration, private rooms for independent thinking, and a prototype retail store. It gives diverse teams (digital, merchandising, creative, finance) places that support their work pursuits, while weaving in hints of the Evereve stores with scent, visual, and tactile clues. The result is a space that attracts talent and inspires innovation.
If the design or redesign is to change culture and work habits, proceed with caution. It might be forcing the space to carry more weight than it can bear. While you can change work styles with spaces, design can also amplify the negative side of culture, expressed in human behavior. If you only address the space without helping people through this change, the effort might backfire.
Like any other design effort, being clear about your company’s intentions will help determine success or failure. Sometimes it’s a simple intention, like enticing employees to come to work to be among a community of thinkers. But the office environment has a formidable competitor: home, with all the amenities (including the bulldog), and without road construction or, let’s admit it, interruptions from flying Ping Pong balls. So be sure to blend design intention—employee experience—with how you’ve defined your brand experience. The expected outcomes: loyalty, creativity, engagement, and more smiles on faces in your spaces.
Evereve’s new Edina HQ—an example of “feminine industrial” design to match the company mindset.
Aaron Keller is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule, a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand, physicsofbrand.com.