The design of your office can have a big impact on the success – or lack thereof – of your employees and organization as a whole. Few know how big a role the design of a workspace plays better than Devin Vermeulen, creative director of WeWork, a provider of shared workspaces and services to entrepreneurs, freelancers and businesses of all sizes.
Vermeulen was the company's fifth employee when he was hired in 2010. He helped build the WeWork brand and was especially integral to developing the company's experience-focused approach to design. In his current role, Vermeulen leads the company's team of designers as they work to create WeWork's conceptual direction for numerous interior design projects.
Prior to joining WeWork, Vermeulen was the in-house store designer for Brooklyn Industries. While there, he presented on a variety of topics, including wellness in design and the future of workplace, for panels at the Urban Land Institute, Worktech London, Design Junction and Dwell on Design. He was also a project manager for O'Neil Langan Architects and a design assistant for Daniel Goldner Architects.
We recently had the chance to speak to Vermeulen about workplace design and shared office spaces.
Q: Why should organizations put some real thought into workplace design when setting up their offices?
A: Workplace design has significant impact on functionality, and just as importantly on the company’s culture and the employee experience. By considering how the spaces are designed before occupying, companies can make intentional decisions on how they want their teams to interact and work together. Employers should want their teams to be happy and comfortable within the space; therefore, design is a crucial aspect of taking up any space.
Q: There had been a big push for more open-concept office designs. Is that still a popular design option, or are more organizations returning to a design that provides more private space for workers?
A: We find it is crucial to have both. By providing options within one greater office, you can offer more autonomy to teams and allow workers to choose the space that is best for them. Not only do individuals have preferences in their work styles, but also a specific task may require a certain type of space.
Because of these variances in personal preferences and day-to-day desires, we find it is important to have an array of spaces with different energy and privacy levels that workers can move around in as their work dictates. Encouraging people to move within the space throughout the day also has the positive side effect that they end up interacting with more people than they would if they remained relatively stationary.
Q: How does a workplace design impact the employee experience?
A: Workplace design and employee experience are one and the same. If employees are not pleased with their workplace surroundings, then that will impact their overall experience at work.
Ultimately, a space should inspire employees to do their best work. It should also be a place where people want to be. If the workplace design does not elicit these responses from employees, it is likely that the employee experience is not as positive as desired.
Q: Does your workplace design say something about your company culture?
A: At WeWork, our workplace design is inextricably linked to both our product and our company culture. We design to facilitate connections between people and teams – whether that be for our members or our employees. Especially since WeWork is one of the biggest members of WeWork.
Every aesthetic decision we make is done so to achieve this objective while also creating a space where people want to be – where they can feel comfortable and can be both efficient and effective. Our internal culture is one of diversity of skills and work styles.
For example, we have hundreds of architects, engineers and designers, but we also have plenty of accountants, lawyers, operators and community builders. The diversity we have with our people is reflected in the diversity of our spaces. We have couches or desks, big open rooms bustling with energy, or private phone booths where you can work in solitude. All of this helps create WeWork's signature community and culture.
Q: Why has shared office space grown in popularity in recent years?
A: Over the last several years, there has been a macro shift toward a new way of work – one focused on meaning. At WeWork, we want to create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living. This means we're accelerating this shift by bringing people onto our global, flexible, space-as-a-service platform.
WeWork believes that by creating spaces where people can connect and create meaning together – all the while using space more effectively and efficiently – we are better equipped to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Q: Do you see shared office space continuing to grow? Or do you think as the economy continues to expand that more businesses will return to having their own private space?
A: WeWork's spaces are different than most traditional co-working spaces because more than 80 percent of our stock is private offices. We offer shared amenities, some hot desks that are shared, but mostly small and flexible-format private offices. Because of the unique offering we provide to companies and creators, we believe we'll continue to grow. We will continue to iterate on our product and cater to the needs of our members.
Q: In general, what do you think the future holds in terms of workplace design?
A: There is a big shift happening towards data-driven design that we're embracing and utilizing more and more and seeing great results. More than ever before we'll be utilizing usage, experience and wellness of workers to be able to increase workers' efficiency, functionality, and general happiness all at the same time.