Employee experience drives design

Why progressive companies see their workforce as customers
Friday, September 14, 2018
By Annie Bergeron

With so many people having choices in where they do their work — ranging from third places, airport lounges, hotel lobbies, or simply at home — they have higher expectations for what the work experience should feel like. Now they ask: What’s the draw to the workplace? What is the workplace’s new value proposition? And how should the job of the work environment evolve?

Experiences are key to defining human interactions. Just as consumers choose the experience of shopping as much as they choose the products they buy, progressive companies see the workforce as their “customers” and look to turn current and future employees into the best thing possible: true believers.

This trend is having a significant impact on the workplace, which plays an important role in setting the tone for culture. In earlier times, an office’s job description was about communicating presence: the building, sign, and logo. In that paradigm, the workplace was considered a cost — a container to fill with people, furniture, and tools.

The new job description is different. It turns the workplace into a valuable asset — one that is designed to support people in myriad ways, not simply house them. Today, employees are consumers of space.

A business’s best customers become repeat buyers because they love the experience they’re offered. The same holds true for employees when a great workplace is sustained by great work experiences.

This means businesses must transition their approach to workplace design by considering and designing for the experiences their workforce looks for when it comes into the office every day.

Modes of experience

A fundamental element of designing for experience is understanding a person’s intention and how it frames his or her experience. Though there are myriad reasons why people do what they do, Gensler’s Research Institute identified five distinct categories, or “modes,” of experience.

  • Task: Task mode describes when a user has a clear task they are trying to accomplish in the space. In task mode, employees are concentrated on heads-down, focused work.
  • Social: In social mode, employees are open to engaging with colleagues.
  • Discovery: In discovery mode, employees are looking to uncover new things.
  • Entertainment: This mode describes the moments when people are looking to be entertained and brought away from “everyday life.”
  • Aspiration: Aspiration mode describes the experiences through which users seek to grow, expand, or be connected to the larger purpose of the organization.

What does this mean for the design of the workplace? It means that the mental model people hold of the office needs to shift from the static idea of simply being a location to do one thing — work — and instead become the dynamic notion of an ecosystem that supports, enables and encourages a multitude of experiences.

The workplace ecosystem

A workplace ecosystem will set the stage for different modes of experience to emerge naturally and authentically. In fact, Gensler’s research also uncovered that 98 per cent of people report being multi-modal on a daily basis.

In addition to desks and focus pods for the heads-down work typically associated with the office and task-mode activities, an experience-oriented workplace will provide the spaces and the programming required for all the other modes to exist too.

That could look like cafes and pantry areas for socializing, outdoor spaces for discovery, and townhall spaces specifically programmed for entertainment and aspiration.

The overall design look and feel of a space influences positive emotions, which in turn influences positive experience — and positive emotions and experience are at the heart of engaging users, connecting employees to organizational purpose.

Annie Bergeron is a principal at Gensler.

Pictured: The Collective, a Seattle, Washington-based social club.

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