Designed for success

The design of your office space isn’t just about showing off to visitors. According to Debbie McCann, principal of Vocon, the way an office is set up is a key in attracting and keeping employees.

McCann and another person started Vocon in 1988 as an interior architecture firm. Since then, it has expanded into all facets of architecture and design, and has grown to 51 employees.

“It’s hard to get employees, and it’s hard to retain employees,” McCann says. “So what we are saying to folks is, ‘Your lease is coming due in a year-and-a-half. You need to look at ways to create more of a brand for your company, as opposed to just building office space, and create a culture that helps you attract and retain employees.’

“It’s not limited to just the young folks anymore. Everybody is looking for a culture that promotes the team.”

One idea for improving an office setting is to have a caf instead of a traditional lunch room, McCann says.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people say, ‘I don’t want a caf. It’s not productive,’” she says. “Yes, it is productive. Your folks aren’t walking downstairs or next door or over two blocks to get a cup of coffee. They actually feel that they have gone to a space different than their office, which is 30 seconds from where they sit. They can actually sit down in that space.”

McCann said Vocon’s caf helps foster relationships.

“I don’t have a door on my office and I am 25 feet from our caf,” she says. “People ask, ‘Isn’t it bothersome that folks are sitting there all day long chatting and talking?’

“It isn’t. If I see someone I need to talk to, they are right there. And it promotes that whole feeling of team and openness within an organization.

“We have meetings in our caf. We don’t just use it for lunch. All day long, when I need to talk to somebody, I’ll walk right out there, they’ll grab a Diet Coke and you sit down and you can really get to know somebody in a more casual environment than locking yourself into a traditional conference room.”

The wrong office set-up can hinder communications among employees.

“That means no cross-marketing is going on,” she says. “You may have a client that’s come to you for PR, but that PR team isn’t saying, ‘By the way, we can do your advertising.’ By changing the culture, you also promote more collaboration, promote cross-marketing, which in today’s market is critical.”

But McCann warns that no matter how good your intentions, there will still be someone complaining.

“When you are trying to change or alter culture in any environment, there’s always a level of stress because you’re never going to be able to satisfy everybody,” McCann says. “Part of our job is to find that zone where you to try to listen to everyone and come up with a solution that touches the masses.

“You’ll never please everybody, but, in general, you try to push an organization as far as you can without upsetting their core business.”