Behavior: Influencing workplace design.

Behaviour_guy thinkingIs behavior even something you consider when designing a workplace?

Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves but we all wear our behavior on our sleeves.

Good or bad, it’s there for us all to see.

If you consider our behavior makes us who we are and our actions essentially define us it’s important to ensure we are fully aware how our actions impact those around us. It stands to reason, for any leadership professional, regardless of vocation, if we want to elicit a certain outcome there’s no better way than to lead by example.

As Interior Designers we are not formally trained in psychology, however, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or more to the point, a psychologist) to figure out if you want someone, or even a group of people, to modify their behavior showing them the way is a step in the right direction. Sure, there’s a lot more to it but, in simple terms, we all respond to basic stimuli. If I tell you what to do and don’t demonstrate to you the importance of the activity the likelihood that you will trust me, comply or believe in the course of action is slim at best.

Environmental Psychology is the field of study which examines how our environments (urban space, architecture, interior space, personal surroundings) influences behaviour and how behaviour, in turn, influences environments. The study of Interior Design touches on Environmental Psychology and covers concepts such as the Gestalt principles and Proxemics which are largely spatial influencers. As Interior Designers we have a general understanding of how the principles of Environmental Psychology may influence the physical spaces we design but how often do we really consider how our design influences our client’s behaviour? How often do our clients consider how the change they make to their workplace will influence the behaviour of their employees?

Behaviour plays such a fundamental role in our daily lives yet evaluating how behaviour influences workplace design (and vice versa) doesn’t seem to come into play very often when we design space.

It should and it can.


Why is it so difficult for a company to share its intentions?

Consider these two thoughts:

  • Not only does our own behaviour influence those around us but it is influenced directly by what we do and the type of environments we find ourselves in.
  • Our behaviour is such a critical element to our personal success, our professional success and to the success of the companies where we work.

If both those statements are true then here’s a conundrum.

If an organization wants to make a change why is it that the people most directly influenced by the change (the employees) are rarely shown the way? Why do so many organizations fall short when it comes to sharing organizational change yet expect their people to trust the organization, comply with the changes and believe they are being taken care of?

As Interior Designers we have a responsibility to educate our clients on the design process and sharing information is a critical piece of the puzzle. We live it day by day. Through the design process we actually give our clients the tools they need to keep their workforce informed. So, why is there such a gap in communication between the organization and its employees when workplace change is being planned?

It seems to happen because of fear.

Would you agree that there’s a big difference between keeping people informed during a transition and offering the opportunity to influence the transition?

I think that’s exactly where things start to fall apart.

As Interior Designers we can advocate for effective internal communication. We can help our clients understand how their behaviour may reflect on the organization and offer some simple and easy ways to share a workplace transition with their people. There are as many options as there are projects and it really comes down to what the organization is comfortable doing.

It should really start with the Interior Designer.

We understand our client’s needs and offer the opportunities to our clients to build their solutions. We can also recognize the opportunities for sharing information along the way and offer the tools to help our clients to create a workplace transition communication plan.

Sample high-level communications plan

The opportunity, the challenges and the solution

Some clients have it figured out.

We have seen companies build Change Management teams, deliver town hall meetings, offer an intranet with regular project updates, conduct furniture tours, offer workspace personalization opportunities (wouldn’t you feel good about being able to select your own chair?) and build pilots for employees to test drive the new workspace.

All of these ideas (opportunities) drive behavior and what kind of behaviour do you suppose the organization might experience?

A positive one.

Sure, there will always be the naysayer. Maslow taught us that we are all at different stages of the hierarchy of needs so we cannot possibly all be pleased with every change that happens in our lives. It’s also virtually impossible to understand where each person in an employee base is positioned in their lives. The tools we noted above to communicate workplace transition can help the majority (the 80%) to better understand the “why” and that can only produce favourable results. Early adopters (the 20%) are an asset that cannot be bought and those are the converts that will offer the greatest return. The more people understand and accept the change the better the opportunity the organization has for a positive experience.

In reality, it all boils down to understanding the value of a corporation’s assets. There are complex formulas to consider when aligning capital expenditures (like real estate) with operating cost (like salaries) and we understand no two organizations are alike. Interior Designers are not bean counters, however, when you think about it in simple terms the employee base is the greatest cost and asset to a company in a corporate office environment. If that’s even half right, then why would a company not want to ensure their employees are well informed, have choices (if even perceived) and buy-in to a transition plan?

If they do, the leadership of any organization should take the initiative to communicate the change and advocate for it all the way down the line. Leading by example is one of the best tools an organization has to catalyse a workforce to accept change. Without it not all is lost however pushing a boulder uphill is much more difficult than the momentum gained once it is rolling across the plain.

Change is hard enough as it is.

Why not give your project the opportunity to drive positive behaviours in the organization?


Nothing beats walking the talk.

We did a presentation to one of our clients recently which, in and of itself, is nothing to write home about. On the other hand, the project itself really is. It’s part of a larger initiative that our client is embarking on to change the way they work. An important project for any Interior Designer who is in the corporate office (or should I say workplace) field.

The steps they are taking represent a major shift in how their employees will work which, in turn, is influencing them to rethink how their workspace responds. The very first step in their workplace transformation saw the C-Suite leadership take the reins and lead by example. The existing executive space is being redesigned to reflect the change they want the remainder of the organization to adopt.

They admittedly wanted to walk the talk.

If they do nothing else to communicate their transition plans they will have won.

We know that won’t be the case. The next phase of the project involves constructing a pilot floor for one of their business units who the organization selected via an already well-established transition strategy. A Change Management team has been put in place and we are ready to begin the design process with our client’s workplace transition team. The workplace transition team is structured to allow the organization to bring transparency to the project at every level.

  • They are looking at the long game.
  • They are ensuring their employees have the direction they need.
  • They are building trust.
  • They are visible and available to guide the transition.
  • They will share in the issues and help resolve any challenges.

It will be a long road but one that will surely be fun to drive down. We wish the best of luck to our new found friends. We will learn a lot from this experience and will continue to share our findings as we discover them. 


If you have some thoughts on how behaviour may influence your design work that you would like to share you can get in touch with me via email here, call me at  416-500-0374 or you can ask your questions below.

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