Designing Workspaces for a Community-Driven Culture

by PlaceLabJan 8th, 2020

For companies today, recruiting talent means prioritizing something that technology simply can’t replace: in-person connections. The workplace — and society — is more digitally connected than ever before. Studies suggest that the nation’s 2020 workforce, comprised of millennials (an estimated 75% of the total) and Gen Z (an estimated 20%), feel most included and supported in the workplace when they are able to have regular, face-to-face time with managers and team members.

In addition to meetings at work, in-person connections build inclusion in a community and help to integrate the United States’ most diverse workforce to date. Less religious than the generations that went before them, millennials and Gen X nevertheless flock to meet-ups that resemble congregational gatherings, much in the way that Americans socialized at church historically. In short, this generation seeks tribe and community, and these components are critical for a workplace culture that is to attract talent.

"Millennials and Gen X seek tribe and community, and these components are critical for a workplace culture that is to attract talent."

Lisa Picard, CEO of EQ Office, calls such gatherings a moment to “break bread” — whether or not food is served. Making intentional space for community is one of the four essential components that EQ spells out in its guidelines for nurturing an effective workplace, which it calls the 4Cs of Spatial Alchemy. Within an enterprise, a sense of community and shared spaces can increase engagement and boost effectiveness and productivity.

Community as Company Culture

Companies that prioritize community naturally create a group of people who feel connected and included. Providing places where employees can enjoy a moment to socialize in the midst of work can help to cultivate an effective and more productive workspace.

Claudia Fry is a vice president of People at Five Stars, a San Francisco-based marketing startup that specializes in creating community for local businesses through rewards and services that can help keep people loyal to a business. “A community allows employees to feel a sense of belonging: that they’re part of something larger than themselves, which gives meaning to their work and their lives as a whole,” she says.

One way companies can engage their employees and increase happiness in the workplace is to host events focused on wellness. Most employees — 62% according to one study — report that their work positively affects their physical health. Such popular events can help to promote a sense of belonging. Possible themes to explore might include: fitness tribe, meditation tribe, vegan tribe.

"Breaking Bread at HC Social," a tenant lounge and community gathering spot at EQ's Hughes Center in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bethany Paige.

Community Leads to Happier and More Productive Employees

The impulse to socialize is an inherent human trait, according to Adam Waytz, Psychologist and Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at Kellogg School of Management/Northwestern University and the author of The Power of Human.

Typically, belonging to a tribe, neighborhood or cohort strengthens trust, confidence and familiarity, according to the American Enterprise Institute Survey on Community and Society. Such feelings have also been identified as increasing overall happiness. Research shows that people most value homes that are close to centers of community and that offer places to congregate (e.g., restaurants, stores, libraries and community centers).

In the workspace, the same concepts are in play. Workspaces that are designed intentionally to include community space create a work environment where talent can thrive. Industrious, an EQ partner based in New York, has helped pioneer the concept that community can help make people more creative, according to the Harvard Business Review. Simultaneously, the Intuit 2020 report predicted that in 2020, companies are likely to have a workforce that is 40% flexible. This makes communities and face-to-face gatherings even more important for building brand culture and team cohesion.

A Culture of Inclusion

Industrious champions community-focused spaces as opportunities for inclusion. “Effective work requires a level of buy-in to a broader vision that is born out of community,” says Eivind Karlsen, the company’s vice president of product. “If people feel connected on a personal level with a community, they will contribute to it in meaningful ways.

“Physical space should serve as a canvas for different programming — it needs to be flexible, it needs to be a safe space with a balance of inclusion, but also customizable to the needs of a specific subset group,” he adds. “Overall, a good community space is malleable enough to meet a lot of needs and perspectives. It is one part ‘black-box theater’ where you can bring your own ‘performance’ and one part ‘hotel,’ where you can check in to a larger, common identity and spirit.”

Spatial Design That Fosters Community, Creativity and Innovation

When EQ took over Hughes Center in Las Vegas, it faced the challenge of transforming a traditional, corporate, 10-building office park into a place that would put out the welcome mat for technology companies. These companies wanted a truly connected campus where innovative ideas could be generated spontaneously, anytime, anywhere.

“Today’s workforce wants to escape the monotony of the everyday office experience,” said Vivienne Kwong, Portfolio Director at EQ’s Hughes Center. “We knew that if we created a desirable and flexible space built for moments of human connection, it would add value to our customers not only as a property amenity but as a tool to recruit and retain talent.”

The HC Social tenant lounge is one good example. This popular gathering space features a coffee bar, beer and wine dispensers, a fire pit, a game area and multiple collaboration areas, including a tenant conference center that accommodates up to 50 people.

“Upon opening the lounge, we received immediate requests for networking events, hockey and football game watch parties, and reservations for community events and company holiday parties,” Kwong says.

“Employees from various companies are meeting one another while getting coffee at the complimentary espresso machines; teams are moving brainstorming meetings from their office down to the communal tables on the outdoor patio space; impromptu ping pong and cornhole games break out during the lunch hour.

“It gives tenants a space for collaboration, between not only co-workers but companies.”

Space for community is much in demand at Hughes Center's tenant lounge, the HC Social. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bethany Paige.

Nowadays, it isn’t enough just to offer a job. Companies must offer inspiring, physical spaces where talent can flourish, rather than silo employees in the productive process. Allowing community space for this creates an opportunity for social interaction, which encourages creative work. Space to congregate is space where community can develop and where everyone has the opportunity to get on the same page, feel connected, and be included.

Relaxed, social, "unboxed" meetings at EQ's Hughes Center in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bethany Paige.