Hospitable work environments

Over the past couple years we, as hotel designers, have experienced a trend of being asked to create office spaces — or, at least, the entrance lobbies, board member offices, conference rooms and dining areas of these larger companies.

“Hospitality” is the magic word here and is what these companies are seeking to inject into their interiors. We are accustomed to designing hotels, yet somehow we have also become qualified to design office spaces!

We’ve been involved with two different aspects of workplace design, the first being the entrance lobbies and conference rooms — places where a company wants to impress its business partners by showing them just how innovative, tasteful and interesting it is. The second is the office workspace itself. Hip social media companies are at the forefront of wanting to have environments that keep their employees happy. The design of these spaces is conceived around a balanced work-life model where employees not only labor (albeit 20-hour days!) but can also enjoy a range of relaxation activities such as games, music and cooking. The staff in these organizations can really feel “at home” in their offices and have a sense that their needs are being taken care of.

And we mustn’t forget that in the battleground for attracting and retaining talent, the workplace environment is becoming as important a factor as the salary.

Only once have we been asked to design an office workspace as described above — although in the end the potential client felt our fee was too high and decided that purchasing sofas and curtains from Ikea would be just fine. Nevertheless, we have completed several projects involving reception areas, conference rooms, dining areas and canteens as well as board member suites with private dining, a wine-tasting area and a fireplace. And actually, these areas really are more related to the hospitality arena than those whose primary purpose is to be a productive work environment. There’s one big difference, however, and that is the budgets that are involved. Whilst in hotels every dollar spent on design has to be justified for the financial return it will bring, no return on investment is expected from the “front-of-house” areas of these large companies, as the interior design is considered part of the marketing strategy.

And this “hospitable” ambiance is exactly what people want and why they come to us. The question that comes to mind, though, is why “normal” offices are still so functional, simple — and boring. I hope more corporate decision-makers will learn from companies like Google and Facebook so we can all enjoy interesting working environments.