Monday, October 18, 2010

A Vermont Perspective of the High Performance Workplace

Often times people ask what does designcultivation have to do with workplace design?  While it's the name of this blog I propose it's the also the act of cultivating awareness about unfamiliar aspects, information, best practices about designing and operating the high performance workplace. 

Many of us have experienced short-lived trends in workplace design buffeted more by the winds of fashion or onset of new products rather than focusing on what matters most, creating the high performing organization of which the physical workplace is merely a reflection.  It's not about the equipment and gadgets, how high or how low your panels are.  It's about leveraging the DNA of a company, its organizational mission, values and goals into its physical setting.  This helps to maximize the value and promise of its primary asset, its people and the workplace community they share together.

Because I live in Vermont with early adopters of corporate social responsibility like Ben & Jerry's, Chroma Technology, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Green Mountain Power, King Arthur Flour, Magic Hat Brewery, Main Street Landing, National Life of  VermontNRG Systems and Seventh Generation to name a few, I've come to realize building great companies is more than just building a great bottom line.  It's about people, planet and profits together.

I believe designing the high performance workplace becomes more powerful with these values in mind.  Working with them integrally in the design of the workplace, I believe tends to build stronger more sustainable workplace communities as well as productive businesses.  While these values may not be mainstream yet, I feel what's happening in Vermont is a harbinger of things to come elsewhere.

Some of these workplaces share a quality of openness in the design of their work spaces with large amounts of open offices and workstations with supporting common meeting areas, workrooms and conference rooms.  In some cases, executives and higher level managers have offices and in others they don't, having workstations similar to the rest of  their team. In many cases, the environment also is themed with visuals, logos, messaging on walls and floors which reinforce core company values and the brand.

Depending on the business, the demographics of the company and their markets, this messaging ranges from the more exuberant to more reserved.  When you walk into these businesses, you immediately get a sense of the company, their unique vibe and you also pick up on their commitment to sustainability.  In some cases, such as at Main Street Landing and NRG Systems creative and expressive artwork is integral to the experience of the building interiors.  With their building layouts you often seen their focus on community is more important than the individual in how office areas are subservient to common areas such as cafe's, meeting areas and other shared resources.

Often these businesses are in Green buildings and in some cases buildings which are LEED Certified to various high performance levels.  When adopting these standards, these Vermont based businesses find building green benefits their bottom line as well as reinforces their core mission and values.  Given our cold climate with long winters building with high levels of energy efficiency in mind is already a matter of course but going the extra mile with a Green building helps further lower energy costs for heating and electricity use which depending on the investment can pay back in 10 years or so.  Workplace communities like this are often more comfortable to work in with higher levels of day-lighting, with access to views and operable windows.  Such workplace comfort helps reinforce employee retention and worker well-being.  This also benefits the corporate bottom line with less sick days and higher worker effectiveness. Studies found on the USGBC's website back these anecdotal impressions up.

I don't know what your experience is with workplaces in your communities, whether or not you live in a similarly tuned in CSR community but I certainly invite you to visit mine.  A great place to start is visiting the offices of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility or VBSR located in the Main Street Landing Building on the Waterfront in Burlington.  There you can learn more about member companies throughout Vermont and perhaps arrange visits to these workplaces to see for yourself.  Another place to learn more about the intersection of the high performance workplace from a small business operational perspective is Winning Workplaces, headquartered in Chicago.


Mark said...

Thanks for the mention, Stephen! Very nice post.

Stephen M. Frey, AIA - LEED AP said...

Mark, My pleasure. Does Winning Workplaces have any examples you'd like to share about High Performance Workplaces from your site and members? Please do if you'd like.