© 2018 James Steinkamp Photography -WHA MacArthur Foundation

Three Keys to Mission-based Workplace Design – For Any Company

Does your workplace reflect your mission and values? There’s good reason it should. For millennials and especially Gen Zers, working for a company where they can get behind the firm’s values is important. Research shows that these younger generations are driven by values and want to know they have a purpose at work.

A thoughtfully designed, mission-based office space can go a long way toward keeping employees of all ages and stages – from promising interns to senior partners – engaged and connected to their work. And there are real, concrete business benefits to this goal. Engaged employees are 17 percent more productive, and are absent 41 percent less than unengaged workers, according to Gallup research.

Plus, conveying a clear sense of shared purpose can also help visitors connect with the mission, whether they’re prospective clients visiting for the first time, or valued long-time clients.

Too often, however, aesthetics alone govern workplace design, where only tasteful décor and a logo here and there are considered sufficient in making the space reflect the organization. By delivering a setting that’s not only attractive but also deliberately inspiring, workplace leaders can spark engagement and productivity — and directly advance the mission, too.

So, how can teams go about integrating mission into workplace design? One way forward is to take a cue from a different kind of mission-driven organization: nonprofits and associations, some of which have found success in mission-based design.

Top takeaways from inspiring nonprofit workplaces

From real estate and finance, to technology and sales, all kinds of companies can take a page out of the nonprofit workplace design approach to design their workplace in a way that inspires employees and visitors alike.

Whether you are moving to a new office or looking for ways to refresh your current space, the following strategies can help uncover opportunities to design a workplace that embodies your organization’s mission:

  1. Leave a lasting impression on visitors. When any visitor walks in and out of your office, you want it to be with a positive impression of your organization. The design of your lobby, meeting rooms and other common areas can go a long way toward communicating a compelling message about your organization’s values and beliefs.

    Consider, for example, the economic development association in the Chicago area that wanted to celebrate its brand and culture in a new office. Designers installed custom wall art that depicts a Chicago map in the elevator lobby for employees and guests to enjoy upon arrival. This striking, hand-painted map of local neighborhoods prominently evokes the organization’s mission to empower surrounding communities.

  2. Inspire employees to live out your company’s mission with artwork. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words, and that remains true for helping articulate your mission statement. Wall murals are one example of a direct way to express brand promises — which is exactly why companies and nonprofits alike have been incorporating them for decades.

    But some organizations are going beyond painting on flat surfaces, creating more interactive and stimulating expressions of their mission. For example, an international charitable organization’s central territorial headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, features an eye-catching two-story monument that rises up out of a reflecting pool and displays the organization’s mission statement, ensuring the firm’s values are front and center throughout the space.

  3. Create a common design across a network of brands. Every company likely has multiple teams or subbrands dedicated to various outcomes and goals, while all working toward one overarching company mission. Sometimes, these distinct groups can threaten a unified design. When we think about brand expression, creating a consistent look and feel throughout a space is important.

    The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, for instance, had nine associations operating under its umbrella, each with highly specialized needs and desires for its workplaces. In the end, each group achieved a uniquely designed space that reflects its individual goals, while contributing to one cohesive aesthetic that supports the organization’s mission.

    Within the building, the nine associations share values – like excellence in orthopedic surgery and dedication to healing and a culture of innovation – and so the common areas reflect those values. The associations together chose to invest in shared “wet” laboratory space, an auditorium for large-group training and events, and sophisticated audio-visual spaces designed for optimizing the video content so critical to training surgeons. On the upper floors, however, the individual office spaces are more customized for the specific focus of each association.

    And in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s office, the firm’s refresh of its Chicago headquarters includes new informal, collaborative spaces, but retains individual offices and workstations.
MacArthur Foundation Offices Chicago
MacArthur Foundation Offices Chicago

Photos © 2018 James Steinkamp Photography -WHA MacArthur Foundation

What’s next in mission-based design

The world of work is changing quickly, inspiring forward-looking workplace leaders across all sectors to go beyond sheer aesthetics, and tap into the rich potential of a thoughtfully designed workplace.

Branded spaces can inspire all employees, regardless of generation, to live out their purpose every day. And visitors — including partners and potential clients — will soak up your organization’s values with every step they take through your office.

The mission for workplace designers is clear. Is your organization ready to accept the challenge — and the opportunity — of creating a mission-based workplace?

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