Three Ways To Create A Sense Of Purpose In The Workplace

Workplace technology affects us all whether it is an entry system to a building or personal devices connected to work email servers.

January 29, 2018

Imagine a workplace where everyone is totally dedicated — not just to their work but also to their colleagues and to the culture and aims of the organisation. Imagine how creative and productive those people would be.

This is not a pipe dream. Employers can construct this kind of high-achieving environment by focusing on elements which create extraordinary levels of engagement. A key element is a sense of purpose. As the London School of Economics professor, Paul Dolan, outlines in his seminal book “Happiness by Design”, there are two main ingredients that create happiness on a daily basis. One is around pleasure and the other centres on purpose. And, as we all know, when we are happy we more likely to feel content and engaged.

At JLL, our specialism has traditionally been the physical side of the workplace. But, as our new global study, Workplace, powered by Human Experience shows, we are also working on the broader, non-physical issues. Our research uncovers how real estate can help your staff to feel a sense of purpose at work. I will focus on three.

Productivity by design

One way, albeit a somewhat counterintuitive one, is to move away from designing workspaces in a purely functional mode. All of us feel more satisfied if we serve a higher purpose than one confined to a narrow ambit. Take a meeting room, for instance, and equip it with the brutality of a prison cell and you will reduce creativity and communication levels. But, if you build in space, beauty and stimulation, you will find that your gatherings are far more productive.

Eye for detail

A second way is always to opt for high quality — whether in the materials, the lighting or in other design aspects. Cheap chairs, for example, communicate the idea that the people who sit on them are also seen as low value. More than that, poor air quality and uncomfortable furniture distract people from their main role. As Professor Dolan, a specialist in behavioural science, says: “You will be the happiest you can be when you allocate your attention as best as you can.”

Bring brands to life

Thirdly, you can use your company’s brand as a means of demonstrating your corporate values and mission through the workspace. This focuses staff on the end goal. To cite JLL as an example, we rebranded this year and employ our new symbols to indicate in a tacit way to our personnel that we now communicate in a more fine-tuned way, one that borders on the artistic. Our use of texture, pattern, certain images and the colour red all run through our office design, metaphorically underlining our shared aim to connect with others in a joined-up and human way.

In our research, which is based on a survey of more than 7,000 employees globally, we heard from the world’s largest appliance manufacturer, Whirlpool. They told us how they brought product design to life by building it into its workplace — with some light fittings, for instance, reflecting the configuration of their washing machines. “Our premises form an important part of how Whirlpool employees experience the brand and how the workplaces inspires them in their work,” says Lee Utke, Whirlpool’s Global Corporate Real Estate Director.

That sense of purpose is also achieved by letting people know their views are important. The University of Stanford did this by constructing a theatre-like stepped design as a location where employees could discuss issues on a grander stage. Giving staff a platform to speak from is a way of showing them that their views are important.

And people have a basic need to engage with each other form the heart. Our research shows that 90 per cent of them want to learn, grow and share knowledge with their co-workers.

Purpose, in a very broad sense, also comes from spending time with people we admire and whose values we share. In such cases we validate each other and become more creative because we communicate well. Incorporating those values into the workplace design is a way of sending out a signal to like-minded people that this is a place where they will flourish.