No matter how lavish the amenities, they’ll prove ineffective in making any kind of positive impact if they don’t align to a company’s culture and the characteristics that make an organization unique, write Gensler’s Lena Kitson and Kimberly Foster.
“You can’t always get what you want,” sang the Rolling Stones. It’s true in life and no less true in the workplace environment, particularly when it comes to amenities. But a smart and strategic approach to amenity selection and design can result in something much better: you get what you need.
The idea that amenities can help in recruiting and retaining top talent has resulted in a veritable corporate keeping-up-with-the-Joneses competition, with companies trying to one-up one another with over-the-top perks. “I’ll match your fitness center with a climbing wall and raise you a kegerator.”
But no matter how lavish the amenities, they’ll prove ineffective in making any kind of positive impact if they don’t align to a company’s culture and the characteristics that make an organization unique.
Instead of wasting time and money copying what others are doing, the solution is to build a sustainable environment that truly works for the company and its employees. This can be readily achieved by approaching amenity selection and design through a framework of three critical factors: location, wellbeing and culture.
The first step in determining what amenities are needed is to first understand what’s already there. A company located in an urban, vibrant downtown will have a different set of amenity needs than a company in a suburban office park or one on a sprawling corporate campus.
Financial Services Company—Suburban Chicago
A large financial services company located in suburban Chicago lacked nearby options for food and fitness, but boasted a large site with trees and rolling lawns. The campus was thus designed with a full-service cafeteria, a fitness center and ample outdoor walking trails.
But the company didn’t stop there. Recognizing that nearly 20 percent of their workforce lives in the city, they created a new downtown location to augment the suburban campus. The new space serves local employees and also facilitates hosting out of town visitors. It is free-address and offers diverse space types while embracing the surrounding urban fabric. It is the ultimate amenity: a convenient, refreshing option for employees that has also improved productivity.
The focus on worker wellbeing began largely as an attempt to lower healthcare costs, but was quickly found to drive improvements in employee engagement and performance. Wellbeing is now an integral driver of workplace design. Today, companies across all industries recognize the value found in a healthy, happy workforce, and amenities focused on wellbeing have become an integral driver of workplace design.
Trading Firm—Downtown Chicago
Trading floors are known for being high-pressure, stressful environments. With the health of their workforce in mind, a trading firm located in downtown Chicago put a large lounge and café directly off the trading floor, allowing teams to meet and decompress throughout the day, along with a wellness room for individuals to take a nap if needed. The café also caters daily breakfast and lunch for employees, and it provides healthy snacks throughout the day.
The firm found that the café not only facilitates interactions between staff but that these interactions are extending outside of the office with outings for bowling, local sporting events and health related challenges throughout the year.
No two companies are the same. Instead, each is the unique sum total of its workforce, the work they do, the workstyles and processes they employ, their traditions and their tics, their customs and conventions, their collective past and their desired future. The amenity strategy to bring out the best of a company will be as unique as they are.
Financial Services Firm—Milwaukee
The mission of Baird, a financial services firm headquartered in downtown Milwaukee, is “to provide the best financial advice for our clients and be the best place to work for our Associates.” That they have achieved this ambitious goal is reflected in being selected as one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for 13 consecutive years, securing the #6 spot in 2016.
A critical facet of Baird’s culture is social gatherings within departments, most often including food. When Gensler began working with Baird on the refresh of their headquarters, food was everywhere—on file banks, on convector units, in unused workstations. In the discovery phase of the project a resounding theme emerged: more space to gather and celebrate what they jokingly referred to as a “food trough” culture.
The resulting design solution incorporates a café along the window line of 14 floors. The floors with this amenity have seen an increase in traffic and use of the cafes throughout the day.
Amenity design is not a one-size fits all approach. Amenity design has evolved to be a more holistic approach encompassing physical, emotional and social needs. Tailoring amenities thru the framework of location, well-being and culture will ensure employees get what they need rather than the latest and greatest trend.