Offices, our employees… everything speaks, everything communicates

This article explains how Workplace Branding and Employer Branding provide answers as to how a brand is applied in an office.

Nowadays, we are seeing how buildings and corporate offices are being transformed into spaces where we can truly experience the brand’s corporate culture. But this leads us to a reflection: Are they just now beginning to communicate or have they always communicated? All offices say something about what the brand or company is like, intentionally or not. For several years now, we have been seeing how many companies, from the biggest ones like Google, Lego, Facebook, Affinity Petcare… to even the smallest ones, are realising that perhaps their offices don’t represent who they are or who they want to be, which is where we step in to start working on branding in offices, called Workplace Branding. But what is Workplace Branding? And most importantly, how is it carried out?

First off, what is Branding?

Branding is everything your brand or company communicates in all points of contact, intentionally or otherwise. As a result, our customers or consumers will feel or think something about our brand, which may or may not be what we want, and this is what we call brand positioning. There are many elements that help to work on this brand positioning, including image and communication.

We often think that working with a good logo, name or packaging is sufficient; however, everything we do or stop doing contributes to communicating and building the positioning of our brand. So we need to take into account a myriad of elements that surround a company, such as our employees or our offices, because they also communicate, and they do so a lot!

In this article, I will focus on discussing how we can portray the brand’s image in office design, known as Workplace Branding or Office Branding. But before delving into this subject, it’s important that we’re clear on the brand strategy and communication strategy, as well as how these strategies are reflected in employees, known as Employer Branding.

What is Employer Branding?

It’s probably happened to several of us that we’ve needed to get more information about a company in order to work on it. To do so, you can search for information about the company and its culture on social networks (LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube…), on its own website, or by asking any company employee or stakeholder. Through branding and communication, we can work on this information that we get from these different channels, or from the employees themselves, which is what we call Employer Branding. Therefore, not only is what is communicated externally important, but also what is communicated internally among our employees, since their experiences with our brand and what they have to say about it will have a huge impact.

One way to work on communication with our employees is with the very place where they work. This is where the concept of Workplace Branding comes in.

But what is Workplace Branding?

From the moment we enter an office because we work there, or simply because we are visiting, how we are welcomed when we arrive, the design of the offices, the rooms, the signage, the names, the images we see… everything says something to us, everything communicates. Workplace Branding is what allows us to communicate in a consistent way that is aligned with our strategy in all of these points of contact.

By correctly applying our brand in the office, we will obtain multiple benefits in return, such as increased productivity, improved comfort for our employees, better internal communication or becoming more attractive to talent, among others.

But to work on Workplace Branding, we must first create a multidisciplinary work team, led by an expert in marketing and/or communication. To guarantee the success of the project, I recommend including people from management, human resources, communication, IT, and representatives of the different groups of employees.

Let’s look at a real case of Workplace Branding. What did we do at Affinity?

It’s time to get down to work. First of all, together with management, we have to define the project’s objectives, the budget and the space we have, which in our case was a pre-existing building. Secondly, we create the work team involving different areas of the company. We completed our team with a key partner, the Little Buddha agency that provided us with support throughout the project, in everything from the strategy and development of the creative concept to its supervision.

When we are clear on the space and the team, the next step is to define the creative concept. In the case of Affinity it was obvious: the bond between the pet and its owner. With the creative concept now defined, we have to start to take it apart to make it more tangible, we turned it into “places where you can enjoy bonding with your cat or dog”. We moved this idea to each floor of the office, converting one floor into a beach, another into a mountain, and divided the third floor between home and the city.

Do we want spaces that encourage innovation, communication or creativity? Having a clear idea of the objectives of the Employer Branding strategy is essential since it will answer many of the questions that arise when designing an office. In the case of Affinity, the Employer Branding concept was “Leave your footprint”, accompanied by 8 statements that gave a more detailed definition of how employees were part of the company, which needed to be reflected in the design of the offices.

Having already defined the objectives, the budget, the space, the team, the partner, the creative concept and the Employer Branding strategy, it’s time to work on elements such as: naming, signage, furniture, distribution and the different work areas.

Naming the rooms or spaces, key elements to conveying the creative concept.

The naming of the different spaces has to be aligned with the creative concept, since it will be a key element in terms of both reinforcing this concept and helping to decide on the location of each of these spaces. In the case of Affinity, the meeting rooms were given the name of a mountain, beach or city according to the floor they were located on, prioritising emblematic places where Affinity has a presence.  This made it possible to quickly know which floor each room was located on, in addition to reinforcing the creative concept and the company’s international presence.

Is signage just about putting signs and names on spaces, or does it play some other role?

To work on signage, there are many resources within our reach that allow the graphic signage to play a more significant role beyond merely indicating and/or naming spaces. It can also help us to reflect the creative concept and convey the soul of the company.

At Affinity, it helped to decorate each floor like a mountain, beach or city, in addition to associating each of the rooms with the name they were given. An illustration of a cat or dog participating in the scene depicted was included in the rooms, recreating the bond between the pet and their owner.

The signage was created with outline sketches that helped recreate the image of Affinity that we wanted to convey. In certain open spaces in the office, we also included drawings that, in a fun and friendly way, decorated the spaces for each of the themes.

How do we reflect this creative concept in each element?

Creating an office design is not just about creating signage that reflects the brand’s image, but taking it a step further. It’s about thinking of how we distribute the space, whether or not we want offices, what the work areas will be like, what furniture we will use, the materials, the colours, the rest areas, the areas for visits, what names we will give the rooms, how rooms will be reserved, what will be in the rooms, whiteboards, blackboards, if the meeting rooms will be big, small, individual, whether or not there will be tables, if there will only be chairs or sofas…

It will be very important to find the balance between what we want to communicate and the business’s needs, as well as the power that space has to transform corporate culture. For example, limiting the offices to only members of the steering committee and not making offices for all directors can communicate the fact that we are a horizontal, transparent company that promotes teamwork… This is what Affinity went for, offices were only made for the members of the steering committee, some offices with a single table in the form of a meeting table with several chairs to turn it into an open space for meetings with management and with vinyl panels at the entrance giving the space some privacy, but without covering all of the glass to reinforce the concept of transparency.

And what will the work areas be like?

There are so many options to choose from, including everything from closed areas for each department to open spaces or zones without assigned spots, called “Free Seating”. All are valid options, but as I have already mentioned, everything speaks, everything communicates; therefore, the decision must be aligned with the corporate culture and the Employer Branding strategy.

At Affinity, we chose the option of open spaces, with large tables, without papers and without cables, which allowed them to quickly adapt to rapid changes in business and teamwork.

At a time when the company was fully in the process of digitalisation, there was a key element that influenced the design of the offices: paper. And why paper? Well, if they were in the process of digitising, why would they need to have cabinets or drawers that, besides taking up space, didn’t help these wide and open spaces to take form? Thus, everything was digitised. The open spaces featured only tables with screens, with a small shared space to leave some office materials. Each employee had a locker to store personal belongings.

Depending on the needs and the space, you must define the number of meeting rooms, how big they’ll be and what each of their purposes will be. In the case of Affinity, we defined different sizes of meeting rooms, as well as individual work rooms for making phone calls or videoconference meetings. We also defined open rooms that allow a quick meeting to take place without the need for a reservation, or where employees can sit alone if, for example, they need to concentrate on a task. Not to mention rest areas and spaces for quick, informal meetings with sofas and other features.

To encourage training within the company, a large room with tables and chairs was created, which allowed different setups to be quickly laid out for every need. And something that was essential to the brand’s essence was to create a space for working with your cat or dog, which we called the “Doggy Zone”, an open space with tables that allowed people to work with their laptop and their pet. This area also had toys for our pets to enjoy during their visit to the offices.

Finally, we can’t forget to mention the furniture that is selected such as chairs, lamps or tables that help to convey the creative concept, in addition to being a requirement for getting work done.

How is the image reflected in our other offices?

As we now know that everything speaks, everything communicates, it is therefore vital to maintain the coherence of our image in all of our offices and factories, just as we do in our products and/or communication campaigns. For this reason, working together with our agency, Little Buddha, we created a Brand Book that clearly explained how to reflect the brand’s image in offices and factories.

In Workplace Branding, there are no good or bad decisions, as long as the decision is aligned with what we want to communicate.

This will ensure that our offices are a reflection of our brand, helping us to improve our communication and processes, while increasing productivity, retaining and attracting new employees and allowing them to work comfortably.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

If your company’s strategy involves transparency and attracting talent, why not communicate this work that we’ve done to people? This is what we did at Affinity, we showed it on our website, and communicated it through corporate videos and social networks. And if everything communicates, why not also have all those providers that had a hand in the project share it as well? Or have our employees share it on their social networks? And why not also encourage everyone who visits us to take a photo in the offices and post it on their social networks?

So most importantly, don’t forget to communicate, communicate and communicate!

About the author: Marc Rubies | Communication, Advertising & Branding Lover at LEO Pharma
• Communication Manager Iberia at LEO Pharma
• Ex-Communication Specialist & Brand Equity Manager at Affinity Petcare
January 28th, 2019 | Corporate Interiors, In Depth

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