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By Design: How Winning Spaces Increase Retention and Productivity

It’s the colors that grab you first.

When clients, visitors and employees walk through the doors of the digital agency, Envoc, in Baton Rouge and Hammond, they’re hit with bright splashes of lime green, blue and purple. Modern furniture, natural light and glass-walled spaces also pop into view. A hospitality room with endless snacks and coffee is around the corner, and in a conference room straight ahead, employees are scribbling ideas with dry erase markers across the surfaces of tables and walls.

Envoc’s offices feature the kind of Google-inspired, pulsing vibe that attracts millennials, but underneath lies an intentional design strategy meant to ensure everyone, from client to software developer, is at his or her most creative, says founder and CEO Calvin Fabre.

“We wanted to make sure we were providing our clients and team ‘a better reality,’ which is, in fact, our mission,” says Fabre, who launched Envoc in his garage in 2003. “Clients hire us because we’re technically good, that’s a given. But the differentiator is the environment we bring them into. We’ve set it up to be a catalyst for creativity.”

A Design Strategy in Technicolor

In the midst of a company expansion in 2015, Envoc hired Hammond, Louisiana-based Holly & Smith Architects to design a new headquarters for the firm’s Baton Rouge headquarters. Three colors, green, blue and purple, were chosen for the Perkins Rowe offices because they are the original brand colors on Envoc’s website. Holly & Smith used them to denote different physical zones in the workplace. The purple “think” zone includes collaborative spaces and meeting rooms for staff and clients. The blue “work” zone features offices with glass doors that allow for visibility, but provide quiet for software developers and “bullpens” for creative teams. And the green “play” zone includes the hospitality/kitchen area, lounge and an area where employees can relax in a centrally located, suspended swing.

One of Fabre’s favorite design components is the conference room, which he says puts clients and staff in a creative mode that’s palpable and inspiring. Because so many ideas are flowing and are being captured, it results in shorter, productive meetings and better outcomes.

“It’s a comfortable space, because it’s right next to kitchen, where conversations naturally take place and people are put at ease,” Fabre says. “And in the conference room itself, you can write on the walls and tables.”

Fabre and his team sketch software and app design ideas in real time as clients explain what they need out of an app or piece of software.

Flexibility is the watchword

Envoc’s decision to use design to bolster productivity and employee satisfaction is part of a trend among a growing number of mid-sized private employers, says Phillip Lafargue, a design expert and partner at the Baton Rouge-based business consulting firm, Emergent Method.

“Your work space is a very impactful and important tool in the tool belt,” says Lafargue. “It’s a communication channel. If you think of it that way instead of just as walls and desks, you’ll do a lot more in terms of strengthening your organizational culture.”

Flexibility is the most powerful watchword in modern office design, adds Lafargue.

It’s not just about sitting in a dark office with a closed door anymore. Employees want the chance to collaborate with each other in a well-lighted, open room, but also take advantage of quiet nooks for meetings and focused work.

“Employees want to alternate between different types of spaces, so that they can work across silos or get answers quickly, but also step into a room to take a meeting or make a phone call,” says Lafargue.

Emergent Method, which recently moved into a new office suite in downtown Baton Rouge, created both options for its team. Employees work in an open area where soft background music creates pleasant white noise. When they need privacy, they can step into smaller, closed rooms, like the “phone booth.”

Feeling cramped? Time to redesign.

Lafargue says that one of the best times to reevaluate workplace design is when you’re starting to run out of room.

“When you find yourself talking about having to squeeze new employees into your current offices, it’s probably a good time to stop and think ‘is this the right space?,’” he says.

Needless to say, there are cost constraints when it comes to investing in a new design strategy, but it’s likely that creating a workplace that reflects the core culture of the business will go a long way in increasing productivity, both through better outputs and through employee recruitment and retention.

“It’s a much heavier lift to replace an employee or deal with low morale,” says Lafargue. “Design can really help reinforce your culture and your performance expectations.”

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