Can You Design Company Culture?

Culture is created through shared values and experiences, which can be fostered through thoughtful workspace design

Lesley Ray
Dec 16, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

TThere are so many different ways to interpret culture, especially when it comes to companies. Is culture created by the addition of a foosball table? Is it an annual company retreat? Or is it created by Amber, the receptionist who won’t stop sharing stories about her weekend photo shoots with her cat? In order to create the culture we want, we need to understand all the things that affect it.

We’ve all experienced the effects a good design can have on the way we work in and use a space, but what if design can go deeper than that? Culture is created through shared values and experiences, two attributes interior design is perfectly suited to address.

At Revel Architecture and Design, our design philosophy is rooted at the intersection of our four core cultural values.

1. Built to serve. We build trust with our clients by setting, meeting, and exceeding expectations.

2. Always the apprentice. We are students of our craft, always learning and embracing our curiosity.

3. Passion for perspectives. We bring our backgrounds to the foreground and (loudly) celebrate our individual perspectives.

4. Approachable by design. We strive to cross-pollinate, building strong relationships with our clients and colleagues through an approachable, family-like foundation.

These values drive our process. By drawing on each one, we create unique user experiences for our clients, which inspire them to continue the momentum in their offices. As the workplace continues to evolve, and with competition for talent becoming even more fierce, the adage “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is increasingly true. If you want to hire and retain top talent, you need a strong culture.

“Values can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees.”

— Patrick Lencioni, HBR, “Make Your Values Mean Something

Research continues to prove that a well-designed office environment can benefit physical and mental well-being. Workplace design, the physical build of the office environment, is typically measured statically: sit-stand desks reduce hours of sitting, acoustic ceiling tiles improve acoustics, glass partitions use daylight. Although these baselines are important, we can’t stop there. How do we ensure the built environment reaches its full potential by continuously promoting the culture beyond the day the shiny new office opens? The design process needs to fully encompass the office environment beyond workstations and task chairs. Employee utilization — the ways in which employees interact with the space — should be assessed with a multifaceted approach that evaluates not only physical wellness but also emotional health. An ergonomic task chair may be great for your back pain, but it won’t solve conflicts with a hostile manager or celebrate a colleague’s achievements.

The conversation around delivering new workplace design should incorporate the role design plays in shaping a company’s cultural identity. We need to approach the office not as a final product but as a catalyst for evolving company culture. A well-designed office has the opportunity to tell an architectural story that allows the built environment to serve as a launching point that shapes the employee experience.

Engaged employees make it a point to show up to work and do more work — highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity. (Source: Gallup.The Right Culture: Not Just About Employee Satisfaction)

AtAt Revel, we decided to practice what we preach using our annual Halloween bash as an example. To encourage employees to step out of their comfort zones, we drew on our four core values to create an immersive cultural experience to share with guests. We gave our designers free rein to use the venue as a blank canvas to create three immersive art installations. Designing these backdrops was a shared learning experience that took us into a collective state of vulnerability.

Here’s what we came up with:

First, to demonstrate our value of celebrating diversity and unique backgrounds, guests were greeted by a hedge wall with sketches of favorite holidays drawn by our diverse staff, who hail from 16 countries.

Photos courtesy of the author

Within the venue, two dynamic photo booth backdrops provided an interactive platform for guests to commemorate their experiences at the party. By deviating from our traditional architectural projects and drawing on our “approachable by design” value, these installations gave partiers a unique way to try something new and different. Guests were able to build connections and revel with lighthearted spirit while making the place something they were a part of.

The Nightmirror House photo booth emphasized materiality, color, and overall weirdness to create a quirky (and creepy) experience guests wouldn’t soon forget.

The Gates of Heaven and Hell photo booth used interactive props to play with traditional Halloween stories of the gates of heaven and hell.

The results of our prototypes further confirmed our hypothesis that design can influence culture. They established a platform for employees, clients, and guests to engage with the event and interact with each other in ways they hadn’t anticipated. All this built a sense of culture, and all of it was designed intentionally.

If you want to consider culture within your floor plans, start by asking these questions:

  1. What are our core values and how can our design inspire those values?
  2. How will the design we’ve created affect the way people will interact, and what kind of culture might that create?
  3. What kinds of experiences can we design to continue evolving our company culture after the first day of business?

A strategically designed interior space is a beautiful envelope. But until we start designing culture and shared experiences, we have nothing meaningful to fill it with. We can and should continue to challenge ourselves to design these moments that make the workplace more meaningful. By going beyond free snacks and a foosball table, we can influence these shared experiences to emphasize and strengthen our core values. That’s what creates a company culture.

Modus

Helping designers thrive.

Lesley Ray

Written by

Architectural Designer based in San Francisco

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

Lesley Ray

Written by

Architectural Designer based in San Francisco

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

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