Do office environments really have an effect on company culture?

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From pool tables to plants, many companies believe beautiful and creative office surroundings can have a positive impact on productivity – but others say it’s all about the people. We ask two business leaders to debate if office environments really have an effect on company culture?

Faisal Butt office environment 12 June 2015Yes, says Faisal Butt, founder of Spire Ventures and Pi Labs

In smaller companies especially, we have to incentivise staff in other ways than simply with remuneration. Top candidates expect ever-more creative working environments, and something that may seem immediately superficial – the design of an office – can have a hugely positive effect on working culture.

The teams at Pi Labs in east London have comfortable, glowing, open spaces, miles away from the harsh strip-lit, cubicle offices most of us grew up working in. Great design creates a happier workforce and represents the values and brand of a company to staff and visitors.

Having spaces where staff can unwind or chat are important parts of the modern day workplace. At Pi Labs, there is a tech-free space with a small indoor hanging garden where meditation classes take place daily. Initiatives like this prevent workplace stress building up, and improve face-to-face communication, which is so vital in our email-dependent age.

About a decade ago, foosball tables and even office slides were all the rage in cool workplaces. These were fun and whacky, but perhaps self-indulgent and distracting in a work environment. Today we’re seeing a move to more beneficial fun incentives – like coding lessons and yoga sessions. These present an opportunity for people to let their hair down at work while learning new skills – ‘the new team building’ for today’s ambitious workers.  @FaisalButt_


Dale-Lovell-debate-office-cultureNo, says Dale Lovell, content and publishing director at native advertising business Adyoulike

An office has very little effect on company culture. What is far more important is the people. I’ve spent the majority of my career working at start-ups; the offices have always been basic, often over-crowded affairs – and I’ve loved it. These start-ups have flourished into successful digital companies and have grown far beyond their humble beginnings: we always had big ambitions and we certainly were not restricted by the office environment in striving to achieve them.

The office environment comes to reflect the company culture – but it doesn’t decide it. For example, those aforementioned cramped conditions nurtured a camaraderie and can-do attitude that you just don’t get in bigger corporate offices. But it wasn’t the office environment that led to this – it was the people. Helping each other, striving to succeed.

In start-ups you have more freedom in your role, more direct interaction with the leaders of the business – often dynamic entrepreneurs that inspire you – as well as interaction between departments: when working well it’s like you’re all aboard a ship, heading in the same direction. And when you work with people like this, on projects like this, you tend to ignore the office environment itself: who has the bigger desk or that funky sofa in the breakout room. These are nice to have, but do not a company culture make. @Adyoulike 

Do office surroundings affect company culture? Let us know your views

About author

Chris Maxwell

Chris Maxwell

Director’s editor spent nine years interviewing TV and film stars for Sky before joining the IoD in 2011 and turning the microphone on Britain’s business leaders. Since then he’s grilled everyone from Boris to Branson and, away from work, maintains an unhealthy obsession with lower league football.

2 comments

  1. Dr Mark 'Host Leadership' McKergow 12 June, 2015 at 11:51 Reply

    I’d certainly support the idea that environment DOES make a difference for the following reasons…

    · Physical environment goes hand in hand with company culture – both ways. Failing British car factories were oily and dark satanic mills, successful modern Japanese, German (and now British) car factories are clean, precise, looked after.

    · People take their cue for how to act in large part from the environment. Is it OK to leave stuff piled on your desk? Or is there an expectation of filing and clearing up to clear the decks (and the desks).

    · The environment shows how much the management cares for the workforce. Old furniture and rusty shelves or clean, functional and varied working areas? (Note that the furniture is only a part of this – many lively ‘hubs’ these days feature an eclectic mix of fittings which could shows diversity and a keen focus on re-use and recycling.

    · The ‘psychological’ or interactional elements of the space are key. What kind of interactions does the space promote or restrict. Everyone in pens (silence…..) or different areas for group interaction, quiet working, meetings, coffee…

    · The element of choice and personalisation – some organisations reject the personalising of workspaces, while others welcome it. Which would you rather be in?

  2. Martin Pickard 19 June, 2015 at 08:43 Reply

    YES Office environments do have an effect on company culture. Culture is created by the combination of many things including history, systems, management, etc. The design and operation of the workplace itself is an important one of those influences. None of them is the sole driver but the working environment can be a big enabler (or inhibitor) of cultural change.

    Remember that the way the facility is managed can be just as influential as the layout or furniture design. The impact on workplace experience provided by the facilities teams – reception, catering, cleaning, security etc. can be enormous. Great FM can create great workplaces without expenditure in fancy furniture or football tables

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