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An office furnished with social responsibility

Przemysław Różowicz, Brand Management, PR & CSR Director of the Nowy Styl Group talks about designing an employee-friendly office and its importance for building the image of a responsible business.

What trends do you see in the area of corporate social responsibility, and what impact do they have on the modern office?

As CSR awareness in companies is growing, more and more are opting for the so-called ‘green offices’, designed in line with the idea of sustainable development and circular economy. Environmental education on the sorting of waste, saving paper, electricity and heat is also increasingly popular. However, as a company we encourage a holistic approach to ‘responsible office’ as a tool for building an organizational culture.

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What is responsible office about?

In this kind of office employees have healthy and comfortable conditions to perform their tasks. In the era of universal competition for talent, an employer that asks his or her employees to perform their work in a dark room or on uncomfortable work stations has little chance of acquiring top talent on the market. So it is important for employers to know the basics of work ergonomics and the changes that took place in recent years. Today, in addition to providing the right work station, caring about workers’ wellbeing is also important.

Companies should holistically support the well-being of their employees. An ergonomic work station is absolutely essential in caring about workers’ health.

Employees spend too much time in a seated position, which is unnatural for the spine. Hence, employers are increasingly investing in desks with height adjustment and ergonomic chairs which can be adjusted to any figure. It is just as important to educate people about healthy working practices, such as frequent changes of body position or short breaks for the eyes.

When a company works on its office arrangement and furniture, it is a good idea to talk to the employees as well as the management. In this way, you can determine their real needs much more precisely and get them involved, to ensure they identify with their workplace later on. This is how we have been working with our clients and partners for a long time now.

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What are the needs of today’s workers regarding office space?

The Nowy Styl Group has carried out over 3,000 interviews to work out a list of five needs employees most often point out to with respect to office space. The physical aspects of a working environment that usually interfere with their wellbeing include air conditioning and lighting. As many as 28% of respondents indicated these inconveniences. Employees also pointed out to noise, which made about 1/3 of respondents unhappy. About the same number complained about the insufficient number and type of meeting areas. Solution to this problem is more complex and has to do with the entire office layout. We advise to companies on various types of space organization and furnishings but we always make sure an office allows for the performance of many types of activities. Arranging separate functional zones within the office for administration, concentration, communication and regeneration, in line with the Activity-Based Workplace concept, brings a number of benefits. In this way, we make it easy for employees to frequently change the way they work, encourage them to regularly move around the office, and we give them a sense of self-control.

Work wherever you feel comfortable and wherever you are most effective – this message shows your confidence in employees and naturally improves their well-being.

Spaces for individual work and collaboration are arranged and fully furnished to ensure people in need of communication and those requiring concentration do not interfere with one another.

What can a company win by furnishing its office in an employee-friendly way?

In the era when technology allows people to perform many tasks remotely, we place emphasis on the role of the office as the hub of the organization. The office integrates the team and is the place where employees exchange knowledge and experience and come up with creative ideas. Particularly important are informal meetings as this is when most creative ideas are born, as research has shown. Companies that wish to emphasise a friendly, family atmosphere do it by having interiors decorated in the home office style. This is a strong trend, especially at companies hiring people from generations Y and Z, who value freedom and dislike business etiquette.

What areas in the office are the most important in motivating employees?

The canteen has a special, culture-building function for a company. Provided it is well furnished, of course. Fortunately, things are getting better in this area. Admittedly, 33% of employees still say their kitchens are too small, dark and impractical, but we are already seeing a strong trend of informed entrepreneurs creating attractive interiors which invite people to relax and have lunch or a cup of coffee together. The new canteens are like atmospheric cafés, they are spacious, warm, finished with materials used in homes and often filled with the sound of music. Such a canteen is an excellent showcase of the company to show off to potential employees but also to prospective customers.

The style of office space arrangement and the atmosphere in the company (which can be sensed very well eg. in the canteen) can characterize an organizational culture better than a CSR report or a corporate website.

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What impact does a well-designed office have on the environment?

So far, the environmental focus of offices has been mainly on environmental certification of the building. Today, more and more is said about how greenery outside and inside the building impacts the well-being of workers. The circular economy model brought about new challenges too. Employers can contribute to environmental protection even by choosing the right furniture (made from raw materials that are durable or easily recyclable).

The environmental protection trend is also heading towards the optimization of purchasing processes to which additional services are added. We can learn this eg. from the Dutch. In 2017, the Dutch government announced the first central tender for interior furnishings of ministerial buildings. Tender specifications were prepared based on analysis and strategy worked out with experts on circular economy. At the end of the day, new furniture accounted for less than half of the contract value. The remaining part was for services such as: local service, renovation, inventorying and the management of existing furniture between various locations, remaking products and designing a new use for them, disposal and recycling of materials. We are very glad because, together with our Dutch company Rohde & Grahl, we have developed a new service model which we are using to deliver the contract for the Dutch ministries. Consistency in this area may become a distinguishing feature on the market and one more strong point in our strategy of sustainable development.

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The interview was originally published in Harvard Business Review Poland (10/2018, special issue). A summary of a debate by ICAN Institute entitled "Benefits of Foresight for Companies" on the condition of Polish CSR can also be read in the issue. As a follow-up after the debate, a CSR Breakfast event was held in Warsaw.

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