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How brand destinations can inspire workplaces of the future

06 April 2022

This article first appeared in The Drum. Tom Gray, Chief Strategy Officer, asks why brands can’t learn from the brand experiences they create in developing a superior office.

There can hardly be a workplace in the world right now that isn’t grappling with the challenge of what a workplace environment should be, and how it should work.

After the greatest disruption to work since perhaps the industrial revolution, the structures and practices that had become fixed in our minds as normal are suddenly much more flexible.

For those of us lucky enough to have options, this is a rare moment – never before have we had so much evidence and opportunity to question the status quo.

We have not only changed how we think about work but also where it happens, how it happens and perhaps most critically why we are choosing to spend our time on it.

For businesses and shareholders, such uncertainty can be terrifying. In the face of ‘the great resignation,’ organizations need to find ways to attract and retain good people.

Beneath the uncertainty lies a human truth: our desire for meaning and belonging, to spend our time on things that matter, with people who we feel connected to.

Research has shown that the degree to which employees feel a sense of alignment of purpose and belonging in work has a significant impact on the performance of the business – a 56% increase in performance, 50% drop in turnover risk and 75% reduction in staff absences, alongside a 167% increase in employer promoter score.

So how should businesses respond?

We believe that one powerful tool that remains underused in the world of work and employee engagement is brand.

We know brands are proven to create a strong sense of purpose and belonging among consumers. They are powerful because they are a signifier of something bigger than oneself, a signifier that can cut across cultures, a safe haven in turbulent times.

And now, as we see the experience of work being reshaped so dramatically, we believe that by applying experience design principles from the world of brand experience, companies can create more meaningful, more engaging, more motivating workplaces – and with it more successful businesses.

Let’s consider Nike. Not only does Nike create standout customer experiences across retail, live events and digital channels, but it also does the same for its employees at its Oregon headquarters – a true brand home designed to immerse employees.

The Nike Campus is truly the brand in action, celebrating the history of Nike, great athletes of the past and present, and the daily pursuit of Nike’s purpose – to break barriers.

For employees, this can mean working in buildings inspired by great athletes – the lobby of the Michael Jordan building features a museum of the famous sneakers – alongside perks and experiences that epitomize the brand, such as meditation rooms and best-in-class sports facilities for lunchtime exercise, be it football, sprints on its running track or long-distance runs through trails across the campus.

Ikea’s workplaces similarly bring to life the brand’s purpose of creating a better everyday life for many people by designing flexible working and relaxing spaces that enable staff to ‘own’ the design of how they want their workspace to be – from sitting-room style spaces to small focus areas. In communal spaces, digital dashboards relay live data from stores and customer service centers around the world – a sense of communal effort against a higher purpose is there for all employees to feel a part of. The small touches matter just as much – from canteens designed to help new employees meet colleagues, to free bicycles for staff to easily reach their nearby store.

Brand experience principles can stretch beyond the physical office into other aspects of the employer brand. Lego has baked its brand into its recruitment experience by using elements of its Serious Play methodology in interviews, changing the way it engages with candidates before they even join the business, helping get a better sense of their compatibility with Lego.

And Burton Snowboards has applied creativity typically seen in customer loyalty to improve its employee retention. It offers distinct perks that chime with its brand values, allowing employees to work flexible hours in the winter so they can grab a few hours on the slopes before they start work.

By creatively applying principles of brand experience – in both big and small ways – into all aspects of the employee experience, businesses can create stronger cultures that can foster shared purpose while increasing motivation, retention, productivity and happiness among employees, and in turn increase resilience and performance for businesses as they navigate uncertain times.

Tom Gray, Strategy and Innovation Director

Tom Gray

Strategy and Innovation Director

Tom Gray is our Chief Strategy Officer, who is focused on evolving Imagination’s business and those of our clients.

Tom specialises in helping businesses and brands to develop game-changing propositions, products, services and campaigns that can create sustainable growth. His experience spans the BBC, deep tech start-ups and boutique innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212. He has worked with clients ranging from IKEA to Land Rover, Shell, HSBC and Diageo. He is an Associate of the Imperial College Business Design Studio and lectures MBA students on Design Thinking for Business.