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Designing retail HQ workspaces to boost productivity and support creativity

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By Published On: October 17, 20230 Comments

Leading office designer Julie Watts from Unispace shares the benefits of designing spaces that support culture, creativity, staff retention and productivity.

What makes designing a retail HQ office different from other types of offices? 

In designing retail HQ workspaces, there is a need for a real connection to the brand. A successful retail brand has a customer connection and builds trust from its brand image and delivery. The workspaces for these brands also need to be able to provide this same experience for their employees. Employees need to feel like they have a solid connection to the brand and represent it even if they are not in a customer-facing role.

The spaces must be tailored to the company’s needs and the retail products they sell. Areas to display products to see and feel the product are all critical for employee connection to the brand and their employer. A retail HQ workspace needs to adapt over time, so as its retail offering changes and evolves, their workspace and displays can easily adapt and innovate to ensure current brand representation within the working environment.

Another unique trait is the main built form/ architecture within the space should be designed as a backdrop to an ever-changing space for product development and innovation.

Do you find a lot of your retail clients are in the office a lot more than other businesses (eg 5 days)? How does this impact design or elements of the space, including productivity? 

Our retail client’s work patterns vary compared to their retail offering, the more online-based the business the less we see them in the office and work more flexibility.

The business origin plays a big part in our client’s working patterns; this comes down to the company culture and expectations of staff.

Depending on the employee’s tasks within the business the need and amount of time in the office is considerably different. Retail HQs are a quite transient workforce; people are always on the go seeing their suppliers, outlets or are in sales. Not all roles have the need to be sitting at a traditional work point for long periods. It is essential we as designers understand the unique aspects of the business to provide the correct workplace functions and settings to suit their employee’s needs.

The inclusion of a varied offering of working points is essential so employees can select the best location to do their tasks throughout the day.  For example, this can be quite zones for focus works, brainstorming agile spaces, and product development libraries for more collaborative work.

How can workplace design address things like staff retention/attraction? 

It is important to understand your client’s business needs and their employees’ needs together. Generally, what people need to do their job well. Retail is so varied, it’s not a one size fits all and project conception we really work hard to understand the client, the tools they currently use to do their job and workshop ideas on how they would like to work into the future – what works well, what needs to improve etc. Through this initial phase, our Unispace team gets a good understanding of what we need to design for our clients to not only aesthetically represent brand but also what functionally needs to happen within the space.

Ensuring the workspace is space planned around employees’ activities is really important. Central hubs to breakout and collaborate help employees’ sense of connection to brand, culture and colleagues which helps retention of staff.

Additionally, breakaway and non-working spaces have now become more standard within the workspace- Wellness space, Yoga rooms, immersive spaces, and games rooms are some of the examples we have seen within the workspace. These spaces focus on the well-being of the employee rather than traditionally just output.

On your retail projects, have you implemented things like staff surveys and were there interesting findings? 

During our investigation period, there are many ways to gather data on our client. Surveys, workshops, questionnaires, assessment on utilisations and review of their current work environment all help us form a picture of where the business is currently at and where they would like to be moving forward.

Results vary from business to business. We see a strong shift in employees understanding their individual needs rather than assessing space for the business/ production side of things only.

All employees play a role within a business, and surveys can give us wider feedback in understanding workspace needs rather than just a representation of maybe a small few.

Personal choice is one of the main requirements we see from our studies; employees need and expect to be able to move around the workspace and select the best working environment to suit their needs.

Both the Redbubble and Hugo Boss brands are quite different. How did you make sure that the respective brand identities came through – without necessarily using branding? 

Reflecting our client’s brand is done by really understanding the client and their drivers. Retail clients know their brand really well, so it’s our job as designers to really get to know our clients, as they are the brand too.

The best retail workspace does not reflect their brand by putting up a logo on the wall on entry, they do it using Lighting levels, finishes, and space planning.

As you walk through the door, your initial feeling about the space needs to reflect the brand without the use of signage.

Redbubble is a really fun young brand, and its staff are full of life and energy. Their space needed to reflect that, it needed to be light, open and inclusive; the inclusion of their own artist’s artworks within the space helped make the space personal but also gives that wow as you walk through the space. Transforming each space to have a unique feeling. The Space has a base palette of finishes that are used to complement their products and artists’ works.

Hugo Boss is so well-known worldwide.  Our client knew their office needed to perform many tasks for them to ensure the Brand was represented to a high level of detail.

We worked very closely with their internal team to ensure we delivered a space they were happy with, a space to display their brand & fashion and to be multifunctional. Allowing spaces to be used for work and also client shows and presentations.

Hugo had art and objects from archives and stores that helped bring the Hugo history to their Melbourne workspace. The interior architecture was simple and elegant, allowing their product to shine throughout.

How do you provide a space that fosters creativity for the retail sector? 

Creativity is best achieved through collaboration and getting multiple views from many voices. When designing space for the retail sector, we create spaces that allow groups to collaborate in different styles.

Agile stand-up scrum spaces, lounge settings, libraries, pull-up benches are some of the many styles of collaboration we incorporate within our workspaces. These allow staff to select a setting they feel comfortable in which helps creative collaboration.

Connection to product innovation is very important, having these on display helps all staff see development within the business and fosters an open environment that allows the team to connect and discuss what they see, feel and experience.

Do you have any design tips for retail businesses looking at upgrading their offices? What is one of the core or first things to consider?  

Does their current workspace reflect what the brand is showing to the public.

Location – Does this reflect their brand? Do they have the need for external visitors.

Growth prospects – Size of the space. What is the main reason for the move, and how would you like to change your current working environment?

Daily tasks – What do your employees need to do their job, what will keep my workforce happy (retention) and how can I attract new people to work for us. What do the employees need and expect within the workplace?

Many of the above points can be easily confirmed with early staff engagement through workshops and surveys at early stages within a relocation project.

About the Author: Julie Watts

Leading office designer from Unispace, Julie has worked on the Australian head offices for brands such as Hugo Boss and Redbubble and is really passionate about the benefits of designing spaces that support culture, creativity, staff retention and productivity.

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