The “Where” of Work Matters Too

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How one firm creates workspaces that enable high performance

Building a successful business requires several key components, including a compelling mission, a strong team, and a sustainable business model. But there’s another important element that many companies overlook: the workspace.

That’s where Rosewood Furniture, a family business started twenty-six years ago in Nairobi, comes in. “People focus a lot on improving performance of the team. They focus on who and why,” Rosewood CEO Kavan Shah told Kenyans Come Home in a recent interview. “Often they forget the where. But where you work can be a big driver of your business.”

According to Shah, an ideal workspace should be productive, comfortable, and fun. “If you’re comfortable, you’ll do more work. If you do more work, it improves everyone’s performance,” he explained.

The layout of a workplace also says a lot about the culture of an organisation. According to Harvard Business Review, “An office environment reflects and reinforces a business’s core values, through the placement of different teams and functions and design elements that reflect culture, brand, and values.” Some factors that managers should consider are the degree to which spaces are enclosed, the level of visual or acoustic privacy required, and how much a space invites lingering.

Unfortunately, many organisations do not design their workspaces with these ideas in mind. At an event in Nairobi earlier this year, Sjoerd Jan Spiekhout, South Africa regional sales manager of U.S. furniture-maker Steelcase, shared the results of a multinational survey that found that one-third of workers are dissatisfied with their workplaces. This discontent can reduce team morale and ultimately affect productivity.

One challenge is that the definition of the ideal workspace regularly evolves. In the last two decades, many businesses moved toward open plan offices, in hopes of promoting communication and collaboration. Since then, a growing body of research has found that the increased noise levels and visual openness make it more difficult for employees to concentrate.

The current trend is toward offices with a variety of different spaces that allow for meetings, informal conversations, as well as quiet and privacy. According to Spiekhout, an effective workplace should invite employees to stay and engage. “People are happy to stay longer in an office whose furniture encourages teamwork on a home sofa, or at a cafeteria-like counter next to tea urns and a coffee maker. It is in your company’s interest to invest in furniture that lures workers to the office,” he explained.

Multinational corporations like Google have become famous for including unexpected elements in their workplaces that are less about functionality and more about enjoyment, such as slides, climbing structures, nap rooms, and large-scale art installations. In Kenya, the “coolest offices nowadays have swings, homely furniture, and museum-like artworks that could be gourds or paintings,” according to Business Daily. Other Kenyan offices provide cozy sofa sets and coffee stations.

These are among the many factors that Rosewood Furniture considers when it consults with clients to create their ideal office environment. Designing a workplace and purchasing furniture for it can be quite intimidating, explained Shah, which is why firms like Rosewood try to make the process as easy as possible.

Ultimately, the workplace should be a destination that provides a positive lifestyle experience, rather than a location that employees are simply stuck in for eight to ten hours a day. “With this new generation of people and offices, the idea is that people should be enjoying their work,” Shah explained. “Work is not just a place I go to. It’s about creating ideas and collaboration.”