Helix: Tips for giving your workplace a competitive edge

 Alissa Wehmueller, director of interiors at Helix Architecture + Design, says compelling office design can be incredibly influential in employee productivity and career satisfaction.

Alissa Wehmueller, director of interiors at Helix Architecture + Design, says compelling office design can be incredibly influential in employee productivity and career satisfaction.

The conversation around workplace design is undergoing a revolution. Today’s office has a direct impact on productivity, happiness, wellness – not to mention a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent. In fact, a 2014 Hassell study found that a potential employee is more influenced by a company’s culture and facilities than its salary and benefits.

Alissa Wehmueller, director of interiors at Helix Architecture + Design, spends her time helping companies create a successful workplace by determining a design that embraces an organization’s goals, working styles, culture, and potential challenges. She says there are three basic things a company can do to give its space a competitive edge: providing a choice at work, incorporating wellness into the workplace, and letting design tell your company’s story.

“Imagine if you came to work and decided where you wanted to work depending on what you needed to do,” Wehmueller says.

PROVIDING CHOICE

While the open office style seems to be dominating modern office design, Wehmueller notes that one size does not fit all. The same saying goes when it comes to working styles. A well-designed office takes into consideration how each department works best and comes up with a design that reflects its goals.

“Imagine if you came to work and decided where you wanted to work depending on what you needed to do,” she said.

That might mean in the morning, you grab coffee and your laptop and sit outside and check emails, followed by a mid-morning meeting in a small conference room with acoustic privacy and shared screens. Over lunch, maybe you grab a bite in a work café where you can sit down and socialize with coworkers, followed by some quiet focus time in the afternoon in a small enclave with plenty of natural daylight. Late afternoon could meet changing postures for a stand-up impromptu meeting with coworkers.

Providing different kinds of areas to accommodate a range of working styles can also address generational differences in the workforce. Today, four very different generations work side by side, each driven by different motives and social views.

“Those generations will keep changing and as a result, the way they want to interact with each other and their space needs are going to keep changing,” she says.

 A big component of mental wellbeing is providing employees access to nature, fresh air and outside views. Pictured: KCPD Headquarters.

A big component of mental wellbeing is providing employees access to nature, fresh air and outside views. Pictured: KCPD Headquarters.

HEALTH AND WELLNESS

Every year in the United States, 45 million sick days are used. To put that in perspective, that’s equivalent to Salt Lake City taking the entire year off. The health and wellness of employees has a huge impact on a company’s productivity and ultimately, its bottom line.

“Wellness also encompasses mental health and wellbeing, and that’s hugely at play when it comes to the workplace,” Wehmueller said. “What if you could leave work healthier than when you walked in?”

There are aspects of design that can help employees remain more active during the day, whether it’s popping up to grab coffee or go work in another area of the office or take the stairs, these opportunities to get blood flow going can’t be understated. Furniture solutions like sit-to-stand work stations or opportunities to change posture or even walking treadmills are viable options.

Wellness encompasses more than just the physical; It’s also about mental wellbeing. Consider that on an average workday, we’re interrupted every 7 minutes. Then consider that it takes 15 minutes to get back to a place of focus, and you can see how distracted today’s workforce really is.

Wehmueller says this goes back to having a choice of where in the office to work.

“If I have a place I can go and shut the door and be in a quiet, focused place, then I’m going to be more productive without those interruptions,” she says.

Other things that aid mental health and wellness include access to outdoors and nature. That connection to daylight, views and fresh air have a direct correlation to mood, happiness, productivity and efficiency. Wehmueller says companies should thoughtfully lay out their office in a way that everyone has access to views, and that no one is sitting with their backs to windows all day.

Lastly, a workplace that fosters relationships and friendships is an important part of mental health. The Harvard Business Review recently found that employees with friends at work perceive their jobs as more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile and satisfying.

“We joke about ping pong tables but the reality is that for two people to take ten minutes away from what they’re doing is a good mental break, good physical break, and great relationship building,” she said. “There really is something to providing that kind of space to your associates.”

 A company’s values, goals, and identity should be evident down to the details.

A company’s values, goals, and identity should be evident down to the details.

TELLING YOUR STORY

When you’re walking recruits or clients through your space, what kind of message are you sending? In a recent Gallup poll of 3,000 workers, only 41 percent could identify what their company stands for and how it differentiates itself from its competitors.

“Telling your story really goes beyond having a logo on the wall,” Wehmueller said. “It’s creating a space that could only be yours. You shouldn’t be able to take that logo down and put someone else’s up and have the office work in the same way.”

Internal messaging should reinforce your company’s mission, and that messaging looks different depending on the company. A law firm doesn’t have the same personality or values as an advertising company.

Messaging goes beyond words; It’s color schemes, furniture, art on the wall, and the types of spaces provided. It’s seeing in through the details, Wehmueller says.

“That’s where you tell your story through every detail,” she says. “It’s a critical piece of communicating your values through your space.”

All things considered, Wehmueller says that in the same way that we couldn’t predict ten or fifteen years ago how we’d be working today, we can’t predict how we’ll be working ten or fifteen years from now.

“The only constant is change,” she says. “Regardless of any trends, providing choice in where you work and being thoughtful about associate wellness and health and really effectively telling your story are things that are timeless. These things are all a critical piece of creating an efficient happy place for all of your associates to work.”