The alignment of values: Building a connection to your workplace

The alignment of values: Building a connection to your workplace

Reflections from Director Ben Taylor on how design can help bring personal connection to the workplace, and how corporate and personal values need to meet for the most productive offices

This article is by Ben Taylor

Ben is a director at the practice who has played a key role in the design and development of Santander’s Unity Place.


We all want to work somewhere we feel valued.  That’s a given.  But I think the contract between employer and employee has shifted during the pandemic and there’s now a different definition of value for all of us who work in corporate real estate to get our heads around.

Individuals want to be valued for who they are and what they bring to a business.  They also want to feel the organisation reflects their priorities and cares about what’s important to them.

So beyond the function and fit out of the offices, yes I’m talking about ESG.

“If you’re a business hungry to employ and retain the best, this means having workplaces which connect with your people on multiple levels – and that will include purpose, sustainability and brand.”

In the great re-evaluation that came with Covid, many people assessed whether they were happy doing what they were doing in work and in the businesses they were doing it for.  We’ve seen a lot of movement in the labour market and, in some sectors, a spike in employees and applicants calling the shots.

So if you’re a business hungry to employ and retain the best, this means having workplaces which connect with your people on multiple levels – and that will include purpose, sustainability and brand.

Increasingly I’m working with clients where the brief is to optimise the quality of the workspace and to do that while minimising energy and maximising natural materials.  Everyone wants to decarbonise their buildings so they can show their staff that the business is serious about doing the right thing.  This is really interesting because it cuts to the heart of the architecture profession and how we design for new-build or for retrofit.  I’m not going to dive deep into everything that’s involved in this short piece but safe to say we’re being pushed by clients and we’re pushing all the time ourselves to find new and effective ways to achieve this aim.

Part of the ability and the opportunity to decarbonise is obviously shrinking space – that’s a simple and not especially innovative or demanding solution.  But it will be right for many businesses as they adjust to decreased demand for office space and consider a more consolidated option.

“I genuinely think we will see even bigger strides towards workplace buildings as an expression of brand and of values – especially on sustainability.”

As I look into 2023 I’m therefore expecting to see a continuation of the trend for businesses to have three-part workplace strategies which include a smaller office HQ hub, working at home, and a local/regional satellite space in the form of some sort of co-working space.  We’ve seen a fair bit of this already and I expect to see more as the local co-working space becomes a more established and valued part of the mix – its key attractiveness being it counters the ‘isolation’ of home while giving people a reasonably local location for a working community without the need for a commute to HQ.

There’s also a practical side to the attractiveness of co-working spaces.  As occupiers typically push landlords for more flexibility and shorter-term leases, they can be part of the armoury that delivers that for the Group Property Director.  There’s a hedge there between a committed lease on a high-quality HQ which you know you’ll need and then the dial up/dial down aspects of using co-working space and the enhanced flexibility that comes with that.  It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how things evolve and, with a potential contraction in the economy heading our way too, for us to help clients with the very best and most cost-effective solutions.

“I think 2023 will involve not just designing great places where people can perform in their jobs but also telling great stories about the quality, specification and sustainability of that space.”

Going back to my main point, I genuinely think we will see even bigger strides towards workplace buildings as an expression of brand and of values – especially on sustainability.  Regulation will drive things so far (and we know more regulation is coming on office energy efficiency for example) but, more than that, businesses are competing for people, market position and on purpose.

I think 2023 will involve not just designing great places where people can perform in their jobs but also telling great stories about the quality, specification and sustainability of that space.

As architects, we’ve often let the designs and the visuals do the talking.  In 2023, I think we’ll all be working harder with our clients to share the full story of the spaces we’re providing and what makes them sustainable and special.

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