Leverage Your Workplace to Attract and Retain Top Talent

Sony Ericsson Office (Design: HOK)

Just about every conversation I have related to employee attraction and retention tends to turn into an HR sounding discussion about office protocols, incentives, and perks. And there are many great articles on this topic. This recent article by Josh Bersin is a great example of some economic factors and organizational approaches to retaining the best people. But as a workplace strategist, I need to help my clients make more tangible links between their physical workplace and how it can be leveraged to attract and retain top talent. Below I offer up a few thoughts.

First Impressions

Most people would guess that the first impression of your workplace begins in the reception/lobby area. In reality, the first physical impression someone has of your workplace starts out on the curb. To the extent that you have control over the situation, be sure to consider the visitor experience starting with the outside of the building. If you own the building, you obviously have leverage to fine tune this experience through signage, landscaping, a clean, modern building lobby, etc. But if you are like the majority of companies, you are leasing your space and will have less control over the exterior experience. In those cases, it is important to at least consider the following physical elements (and in some cases look for potential negotiating power with your landlord):


  • Is there enough?
  • Is it easy to navigate (good signage, way finding)?
  • Is parking validated for visitors?
  • Can parking spaces be reserved for visitors and current employees?
  • Is it safe and well-maintained?

Building Lobby

  • Does the building lobby have adequate seating?
  • Is there somewhere visitors need to check in, get a visitor badge, etc.? Is this space obvious to visitors?
  • Is there any other special security clearance a visitor or employee needs to go through (turnstiles, badge elevator access, etc.)?
  • Are the interior finishes (materials, lighting, furniture) clean, modern, well maintained?

Now that your visitors and employees have had a welcoming experience getting in the building, they are ready to be impressed with your world-class workplace.

Cisco Executive Briefing Center (Design: HOK)

The “second” first impression will typically be your reception area. Aside from ALWAYS hiring a friendly, welcoming receptionist, your guests (visitors and potential new hires) can learn a lot about your organization within the first couple of minutes in your space. Here are some physical characteristics that can help make for a welcoming experience:

  • Are you sure you’re in the right place? Simple signage, brand colors, and a properly situated reception/concierge desk go a long way. No need to hit them over the head with your brand graphics right away, unless that’s your thing.
  • Adequate, comfortable seating. If your office tends to have several individual or groups frequently visiting, it’s important to be aware of this and provide enough seating (think crowded doctor’s waiting room).
  • Direct views to the outdoors. This can be very impactful for visitors, especially if you have a view worth writing home about.
  • Don’t make your guests feel like they are on display. If your office is big on having glass everywhere, try to have some space for guests to feel a little bit of privacy while they are waiting. For instance, locating a small phone/privacy room near reception to allow a quest to step away for a minute.
  • Consider other little touches to make guests feel at home. Perhaps offering coffee or other beverages and a place to hang coats or store luggage (for out-of-town colleagues).


Create a Tour Path

Bacardi USA Headquarters (Design: HOK)

When recruiting new talent, it is good practice to take a brief tour around the office to showcase the work environment. Planning a dedicated tour path into your strategy is often a great way to ensure you are showcasing the most important elements of your workplace to potential candidates, to make their experience as impactful as possible. A few considerations:

  • Showcase your company history regardless of whether your company has a long storied history or is only a few years old. It’s a great conversation starter and indicates that you value the past and how it influences your future.
  • Create links to you Mission and Value Statements. If you go on a company’s website, somewhere you will find a section where they discuss their mission statement or key values of the company. Unfortunately, a lot of these sound the same. So think about how you can better leverage these statements and how they can be manifested in the physical environment. For instance, if one of your values is “Safety”, be sure to showcase areas in your office that promote safe working (perhaps a sit/stand workstation to promote better health and ergonomic safety).
  • Showcase elements that celebrate the success of the company, including examples of employee recognition, news articles, client success stories and imagery, etc.

Practice What You Preach

This concept applies to both attracting and retaining the best people. When trying to attract new talent, your workplace needs to “walk the walk” in terms of meeting expectations, as well as setting yourself apart from competitors. If you’re pitching your company as “driven by innovation”, for example, you need to actually have something tangible to show people how you drive innovation. One example could be to provide open meeting areas or conference rooms with glass fronts to showcase a visual buzz of activity. People that are looking for new challenges and a fast paced environment will appreciate seeing the lifeblood of your organization at work. On the other hand, if you are an insurance company or law firm touting how much you value client confidentiality, you may want to showcase some more private areas to prospective employees to align with the businees that is being conducted.

When it comes to retaining top talent, some of the same rules above apply. But another huge aspect to retaining top talent is to demonstrate workplace flexibility. It’s one thing to land the best job candidates, but the tools and environments you continue to provide over time will directly impact their satisfaction, for better or worse. Companies that fail to adapt to continuous improvements in furniture, technology, and flexible work arrangements will drive people away to competitors who realize the value of keeping people happy and productive.

As you hire new people and they mature into your organization and culture, their responsibilities and work styles may naturally evolve. Companies that can continue to adapt to support the physical and technological needs of varying work styles are taking a big step in the right direction.

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