The Culture Fund: Creative Brands Growing Investment in Wall Street

by PlaceLab TeamSep 7th, 2019

The Culture Fund: Creative Brands’ Growing Investment in Wall Street

A visitor walking into the lobby of 44 Wall Street might never guess that just a few doors down, high-blooded traders thrive riding the fickle waves of the market. Symbolic of subtle rebellion to its neighborhood and storied past of bulls and bravado, a vibrant neon painting by Brooklyn artist Hellbent traditionally known for his street art, hangs prominently from classic limestone. The entrance signals that this building is transforming into a creative cultural hub where agencies like Contently and Giant Spoon, and newest addition to the neighborhood, SMCP, the Paris-based parent company of fashion brands Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot—who may have formerly operated in neighborhoods like SoHo or Williamsburg, work side by side with the more traditional finance companies. Welcome to the new Wall Street.

It’s all about creating a workplace culture that offers experiences that motivate an increasingly untethered workforce to actually want to come into the office.

This diverse mix of tenants, creatives trickling into the financial district to create awkward fashion collisions in elevators between Vans and Ferragamos is not new, nor distinct to New York. In the past decade, it’s been happening in financial districts across the U.S. where the once-affordable, creative neighborhoods are being developed, priced-up, and as a result, driving unlikely candidates to consider areas that were once conceived as the epicenter for all things money. For example, Bloomberg has reported that in the past few years the consolidation of finance companies has opened up 7% of lower Manhattan office space and given landlords the opportunity to “hipsterfy.” Although different dress codes and business models, this juxtaposition of neighbors has revealed a commonality: they are all fiercely protective of their culture.

In an era of the ever-mobile workforce, where fiber optics and video conferencing enables seamless remote connection, employers are required to build dynamic cultural hubs that inspire talent to come to work. Providing a compelling physical space for employees to interface with their colleagues is no longer optional, but necessary if businesses want to compete.

Space For Culture

Today’s workplaces are investing more in their office culture as a way to retain talent. A company’s physical space can directly reflect that culture - everything from customized office design to on-site services that allow employees to easily toggle between the duties of work and life.

Culture includes everything from shared values to a workplace environment that fosters creativity, wellness and flexibility. This could be on-site massage, a library, artisanal coffee, childcare, or a “culture fund,” which is what the creative agency Giant Spoon, a new tenant of 44 Wall Street, offers as a benefit to its employees, allowing them to spend it on everything from Broadway tickets to magazine subscriptions. The extra funds are meant to support intellectual growth and inspire employees to share their ideas with one another at office lunches and evening events. It’s all about creating a workplace culture that offers experiences that motivate this increasingly untethered workforce to actually want to come into the office.

A compelling company culture starts with a physical space that supports what’s now known as the “employee experience.” A study by researchers at the Turku School of Economics in Finland that looked at how changes in location, spatial organization and architecture details influence a company’s culture found that the design of an organization’s physical space had a positive impact on creativity and employee openness. “Physical real estate is a silent communicator for organizational culture,” Stephanie Heiple, a workplace strategist writes in FMJ, the magazine for the International Facility Management Association. “If you want to create the right environment for a winning culture you need to consider your physical space.”

That’s why adding building services and opportunities for community can make the tenant experience less stressful and more inspiring. This means making the tenants partners in the conception of their space - everything from custom colors to furniture and light fixtures. At the same time, building services can help to support tenants’ creativity and community. For example, 44 Wall Street is offering tenants yoga classes in the building’s light-filled penthouse and crafting classes. “We’re providing services, fixtures and features,”  says Danielle Raby, the property manager of 44 Wall Street. “The creative companies are picking up the ball of customizing and expressing their brand in a physical way.”

For example, tenant Joan Creative, an online marketing and creative services agency presented a mood board with sultry blue colors so the office has the vibe of a “sexy London night club” and tenant Giant Spoon asked to build out their own custom wooden desks.

The content marketing company, Contently is excited about the new space because they have more natural light and a more welcoming layout. They also like that they have the flexibility to reflect storytelling as part of their brand.  “Storytelling is a big part of Contently DNA and culture,” says Greta Fleischer, Contently’s Chief of Staff. “The first thing that comes to mind are blog posts, events, social channels, but we also think the office plays a big part of telling your story.”

In order to continue to support this, Contently has migrated their extensive library to their new office. “The titles change over time as people donate or take books as they wish,” says Fleischer.  “We are anxiously awaiting the day someone borrows the book ‘The Banjos that Destroyed the World’ from the library.”

Culture Inspires Creativity

Trevor Guthrie, the co-founder of Giant Spoon, says that the combination of services and being able to customize their space helps to support a company culture that is about curiosity and lifelong learning. “We’re just not content with taking things at face value,”  he says. “Learning from others and asking questions along the way is how we stay fresh.”

This ethos of learning includes their  “Culture Fund” because Guthrie believes that enriching company’s talent will encourage them to share the cultural wealth with their teams to inspire more creativity in their work. This goal will also be reflected in the design of their space, which includes a place where the company can host panels, talks and “Lunch and Learns.”  "The new space will mirror Giant Spoon's ethos of community and collaboration,” says Guthrie. “ What makes our agency special is everyone learns from one another and that intermingling can only lead to better ideas."

A strong work culture that supports people in innovative ways will lead to better ideas and ultimately drive success. “It all comes down to creating a vibrant community,” says Raby. A great physical space is a key foundation for evolving company culture and supporting a more connected office community, and in the end this all adds up to happier, more engaged talent.