Ten years ago, the quality of office buildings in China was so poor that international companies did not consider their bases as anything other than temporary. Today, there are plenty of quality office buildings, in which companies staying long-term are better utilizing their space. Companies, foreign and Chinese, are becoming more aware of the importance of projecting an image of professionalism and productivity for clients and staff.
The design of an office contributes to the company’s image, and this is especially important for companies that have clients come visit.
“Office design reflects the culture and values of the company itself, and it is important that clients can see that.
“As an example, we’ve undertaken a very transparent layout: we prefer to engage our client in a way that they are aware of the design process. For example, the studio is visible from the meeting room,” said Ilma Siksna, principal of interior design at Hassell China.
For this reason, certain companies are willing to pay a premium. Banks normally use their offices to make a strong statement, and now that they are establishing themselves as players in the domestic market, their image can only increase in importance. Advertising and marketing agencies project their image, one they are trying to sell to their client, through their offices.
Mike Golden is general manager of AdSmith, a Shanghai-based marketing and communications company. Their office is vividly colored, with areas for casual meetings between staff. Golden thinks that, for his company, having the right office is essential.
“It’s everything. We had to move from our old office because it wasn’t portraying the right image. Our new office has certainly helped gained new customers and make our current clients feel more confident about our services,” he said.
The advantages of having a well-designed office are myriad.
“One of the biggest benefits is happy staff, which means increased productivity due to a better general attitude to their workplace. Feeling like you are an employee of choice is important, especially in a market like China where good staff is hard to find and retain,” said Siksna.
Good design can also save money. A more efficient use of space can allow an employer to comfortably fit more people into a smaller area, thereby reducing rent costs since less space is needed. Well-designed workspaces and well-placed facilities such as printers and meeting rooms also help employees use their time more efficiently.
“It is people’s time that we pay for as employers and if people are more conducive to being productive, you are going to get more for your money,” said Stephen White, managing director of iAction, a Shanghai-based interior design company.
Challenges in design
For iAction, different companies pose different problems for the designer. White says that when he helped a company move from Shanghai’s downtown Puxi to a technology park in Pudong the challenge was to create an office environment that was pleasant to work in, with recreational facilities and amenities to make up for the paucity of entertainment around the office’s vicinity.
On another occasion, iAction was commissioned to help an oil company occupy two floors of a tower block. In order to make the tower block a more efficient place to work, he adopted an open plan to incorporate management with other employees to share a open workspace.
Open plan is becoming more attractive to Chinese companies.
“In China. there is a shift from a hierarchal office structure to an even level plan where everyone has pretty much the same facilities,” said Siksna.
Technological advancements effect how people work, and office design is beginning to reflect that: the advent of flatscreen monitors and portable technologies indicate efficient workspaces and an employee-friendly environment where people no longer need to be tied to their desks all day.
The benefits of having the right office is multidimensional: it can cut rent costs, improve staff retention, and project a healthy company image for clients. In an increasingly crowded market, these factors can help a company gain a competitive edge.