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Flying High on Workplace Character: Why Culture Trumps Infrastructure in Building Exceptional Teams

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The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a seismic shift in the way we work, with remote work becoming the norm for countless businesses worldwide. As offices emptied and employees embraced the flexibility of working from home, companies were left grappling with a new challenge: enticing their teams back to the office.

The traditional approach focused on premium infrastructure — state-of-the-art buildings with top-notch amenities and cutting-edge technology. However, this strategy has fallen short, failing to reignite the sense of community and collaboration that thrives in the office environment. As we move further into the 2020s, a new paradigm is emerging that prioritizes workplace character over infrastructure.

The limitations of infrastructure-focused workplaces

For decades, the corporate world has been fixated on creating workplaces that emphasize infrastructure over character. This approach, driven by a desire for efficiency and uniformity, has led to a proliferation of sleek, monolithic office spaces prioritizing functional amenities like high ceilings, ample natural light, and state-of-the-art technology.

While these features undoubtedly contribute to employee comfort and productivity, they often come at the cost of authenticity and individuality. Devoid of character and personality, these homogenized workspaces can feel sterile and uninspiring, failing to cultivate a sense of belonging or emotional connection among employees.

Moreover, infrastructure-focused workplaces tend to overlook the critical role of company culture and values in shaping the employee experience. Without a strong sense of character woven into the physical space, it becomes challenging for organizations to foster a cohesive and engaging environment that aligns with their unique identity and mission.

This disconnect between bland, one-size-fits-all office spaces and the need for meaningful, purpose-driven workplaces has become increasingly apparent, particularly in the wake of the remote work revolution. As employees seek out environments that nourish their sense of belonging and inspire their best work, the limitations of infrastructure-centric workplaces have come into sharp focus.

The power of workplace character

In stark contrast to the limitations of infrastructure-focused workplaces, character-driven workspaces offer a potent antidote to the disengagement and homogeneity that can plague traditional office environments. Workplace character embodies a company’s unique identity, values, and culture within the physical space itself.

By infusing workspaces with elements that reflect the organization’s history, mission, and personality, companies can create environments that resonate with employees on a deeper level. This sense of authenticity and individuality fosters a heightened sense of belonging, motivation, and pride among team members.

The benefits of character-driven workplaces extend far beyond mere aesthetics, however. These spaces have the power to nurture creativity and innovation by providing inspiring and stimulating surroundings that encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Additionally, they can serve as powerful tools for attracting and retaining top talent as employees increasingly seek out organizations that align with their personal values and offer meaningful, purpose-driven work experiences.

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Perhaps most importantly, character-rich workplaces play a crucial role in strengthening company culture and brand identity. By creating physical manifestations of an organization’s ethos, these spaces reinforce the core values and principles that define the company, fostering a sense of cohesion and shared purpose among employees.

A view of a flexible workspace.

Strategies for cultivating workplace character

Creating a character-driven workplace requires intentionality and a commitment to authenticity. By incorporating thoughtful design elements and fostering a sense of employee ownership, companies can transform their office spaces into vibrant, engaging environments that embody their unique cultures. 

Here are some key strategies for cultivating workplace character:

  • Incorporate company history and storytelling: Infuse the workspace with elements that celebrate the organization’s roots, milestones, and defining moments. This could include displays of historical artifacts, murals depicting key events, or dedicated spaces that honor the company’s origins.
  • Embrace local culture and design elements: Draw inspiration from the surrounding community and its architectural, artistic, and cultural traditions. This helps create a sense of place and reinforces the connection between the workspace and its geographical context.
  • Encourage employee input and personalization: Empower team members to shape the workspace by incorporating their personal touches, artwork, and design ideas. This fosters a sense of ownership and reinforces the notion that the office is an extension of the company’s collective identity.
  • Incorporate flexible and collaborative spaces: Create dynamic, multi-purpose areas that facilitate teamwork, creativity, and innovation. These spaces should reflect the company’s values and encourage cross-pollination of ideas.

By creating workspaces that authentically reflect their values, history, and identity, companies can cultivate environments that resonate deeply with employees, igniting their passion, creativity, and sense of purpose. Character-driven spaces not only enhance employee engagement and satisfaction but also serve as powerful tools for attracting and retaining top talent.

As we look to the future, the most successful organizations will embrace the power of workplace character, recognizing its ability to transcend mere infrastructure and forge enduring connections between people, place, and purpose. In a world where authenticity and meaning are increasingly prized, the companies that prioritize character will soar, building exceptional teams and leaving a lasting impact on the communities they serve.

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About Author

Amanda Stanaway leads User Strategy for ERA-co, a global place consultancy. She sits at the forefront of workplace design; currently working with a broad portfolio of corporate clients worldwide. Her role encompasses user strategy and interior design across the commercial, lifestyle, and public sectors. Her mix of skills and diversity of knowledge provides a unique, comprehensive, and innovative approach to projects for her clients. Amanda has been instrumental in creating some of the most cutting-edge workplaces – which have delivered real business advantages and positive change for the organization.

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