In today’s post-pandemic world where organizations are searching for the perfect blend of back-to-office, work-from-home, or something in the middle, the workplace needs to make some serious changes to attract and care for the people they are trying to lure back. To keep up, organizations must focus on three key elements: experience design, culture, and the overall workplace environment. Let’s dive into how these elements work together to create a dynamic and engaging work experience for today’s workers.

NOTE: As the owner of a shared workspace, we are designing a work environment for people who are not our employees, but instead workers from different organizations choosing to work here. Knowing they can work from anywhere they choose, most of the time, we take experience design and culture creation seriously… in a fun sort of way!

What’s Experience Design All About?

Breaking Down Experience Design

Experience design is simply about creating environments that make people feel good and do their best work. In the workplace, this means designing everything from the office layout to the digital tools employees use, making sure everything works together to enhance productivity and satisfaction. But to go beyond satisfaction and encourage today’s workers to leave their comfortable home offices, organizations must build in elements that delight! 

Why Experience Design Matters

Today’s workspaces must be more than a building where people come to do work. We have learned that work can be done, for the most part, from home. To entice people to come into an office again, organizations must create a delightful experience where creativity thrives, collaboration is abundant, and overall wellness is nurtured. A well-thought-out workspace can boost employee happiness, productivity, and even retention. By focusing on what employees need and want, companies can create spaces that are not only functional but also enjoyable to work in.

The Heartbeat of the Workplace: Culture

What is Workplace Culture?

Workplace culture is essentially the personality of an organization. It’s made up of the values, beliefs, and behaviors that shape how work gets done. A positive culture can make today’s workers feel connected and motivated, while a negative one can lead to disengagement and high turnover. Can you describe the personality of your brand in three to five words? After you describe it, ask yourself, does the environment match the words you have listed?

Building a Great Workplace Culture

Creating a positive culture isn’t something that happens by accident. It takes effort and intentional commitment from leaders and employees alike. Here are some key ingredients:

  • Clear Vision and Values: Having a clear mission and core values helps everyone understand what the organization stands for and what’s expected of them. What is your organization known for…internally as well as externally? 
  • Leadership and Management: Leaders set the tone for the culture. They need to lead by example and demonstrate the behaviors they want to see in the entire organization. 
  • Communication and Transparency: Open and honest communication builds trust and fosters collaboration.
  • Recognition and Rewards: Acknowledging and rewarding employees for their hard work and engagement with the organization encourages them to participate even more.  
  • Diversity and Inclusion: Embracing diversity and ensuring everyone feels included makes for a more innovative and dynamic workplace.

Where Experience Design Meets Culture

Creating a Cohesive Environment

To really make a difference, companies need to align their experience design with their culture. For example, if a company values collaboration, they should create some open and flexible spaces that make it easy for people to gather and work together, as well as designing opportunities for these moments to happen. If fun is a core value, offering fun activities as well as fun elements to the physical space will be important. This could be as simple as having boardgames or scheduling fun movie meetings at lunchtime.  

Focusing on Employee Well-being

A great workplace experience takes into account the well-being of employees. This includes their physical, mental, and emotional health. Companies can support well-being by exploring these areas:

  • Ergonomic Workspaces: Providing a variety of comfortable and adjustable furniture, along with spaces for relaxation, and natural movement to prevent physical strain is important. Just because furniture looks beautiful and costs a lot, doesn’t make it comfortable for working. So much work is now done on laptops and in cafe settings. Look for ways to incorporate these elements into your design and always test furniture before assuming it will work. There are a lot of beautiful sitting areas that go unused in today’s workspaces.
  • Mental Health Support: Offering resources like counseling is one way to support employee’s mental health, but blending in fun elements such as family days, non-work skill classes like painting, stress-management, or yoga classes are just as important. Employee loneliness is at an all time high. This is not just affecting those who are working from home either. Today’s workers claim to feel unsupported and lonely even when working in a building filled with other people. Finding ways to allow, and even help foster friendships at work can add an element of mental health support most people are craving. According to a recent Forbes article, Having at least one good friend at work significantly boosts employee happiness. A good friend goes beyond the trite exchange, “How are you?” and “Fine.” A good friend at work is one you feel comfortable sharing real feelings, activities, and even hanging out with outside of work. 
  • Work-Life Balance: Encouraging flexible work arrangements helps employees balance their work and personal lives. Since this has been the main driver keeping employees at home after the pandemic, this area needs more focus than just ensuring work hours don’t bleed into homelife. 

Leveraging Technology

Technology can enhance your experience design and culture. It can streamline processes, enhance communication, and provide valuable insights into what employees need. Some tools include:

  • Collaboration Platforms: Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom make it easy for teams to communicate and collaborate, no matter where they are. Create channels with these tools that support more than just work productivity. Create a channel for wellness and post team offline activities such as weekend hikes, walking groups, and even funny gifs. Have a funny gif channel or joke of the day channel to add levity to the group.
  • Employee Feedback Systems: Regular surveys and feedback tools help organizations understand how employees are feeling and where they can improve.

Real-World Examples

Google

Google is known for its innovative approach to workplace design and culture. Their offices feature open spaces, recreational areas, and a variety of work environments to cater to different needs. Google’s culture emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and continuous learning, supported by policies like the “20% time” rule, which allows employees to spend 20% of their work time on passion projects. While many small organizations feel they could never create such workplaces, there are lots of low-budget ways to incorporate these. 

Zappos

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, is another great example. Their office includes themed meeting rooms, open workspaces, and areas for relaxation and fun. Zappos’ culture focuses on delivering exceptional customer service and creating a family-like atmosphere among employees. They prioritize cultural fit as much as skills in their hiring process. 

The Village Workspace 

At our shared workspace, we have created a fun-focused, family-friendly, dog-friendly environment, offering kid’s playrooms, dog runs and playpens outside. We focus on creating a space where wellness is encouraged with zen/nap rooms, fitness and yoga classes, as well as offering healthy grab-n-go foods instead of junk-filled vending machines. We use Slack channels for those wanting to set weekly goals, coordinate fitness outings and post other fun activities. Since we know we have a high number of entrepreneurs and solopreneurs, we create lots of opportunities for people to connect and form friendships. 

Challenges and Considerations

Balancing Individual and Organizational Needs

One of the biggest challenges is balancing individual preferences with organizational goals. While it’s important to create personalized experiences, companies also need to make sure these align with their broader business objectives. This is probably the biggest reason most organizations don’t spend time on these objectives. It does take time and intentionality. Assigning a person or team is necessary to keep focus on these areas. 

Adapting to Change

The workplace is always changing, influenced by new technologies, economic shifts, and social trends. Organizations need to be flexible and able to adapt their experience design and culture strategies to stay relevant. Experience design must stay fluid and therefore, it takes ongoing creative energy. Experiences need to change to stay fresh and interesting. Changing up decor, seating, and offerings are some of the ways to do this.  

Measuring Impact

Measuring the impact of experience design and culture initiatives can be tricky. While metrics like employee retention and productivity provide some insights, organizations also need to consider qualitative feedback to get a full picture.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Experience Design, Culture, and the Workplace

Embracing Hybrid Work Models

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of hybrid work models, which blend remote and in-office work. This shift requires a rethinking of experience design and culture, focusing on flexibility and support for remote employees. This change presents a unique challenge for traditional workspaces to adapt in order to attract workers back to old office spaces. 

Prioritizing Sustainability

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important. Companies are prioritizing eco-friendly practices, like energy-efficient buildings and sustainable commuting options, as well as increased focus on recycling and composting at work.

Investing in Employee Development

Investing in employee development has always been important but now it is a selling proposition to attract remote employees back in. Training programs, mentorship opportunities, and career development resources help employees grow and succeed.

Wrapping Up

Experience design, culture, and the workplace are deeply interconnected. By taking a holistic approach that integrates these elements, organizations can create environments that foster innovation, collaboration, and well-being. As our workplaces continue to evolve, those that prioritize experience design and culture will be best positioned to attract and retain top talent, driving long-term success and growth.

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