The Value of an Enterprise Workplace Strategy and Responsible Design

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Approached strategically, the workplace has the potential to inspire people to be at their best and do their best work.

This commodities trading and family trust firm, wanted a work environment that promoted employee interaction, while reinforcing their work hard / play hard culture. Image courtesy of PDR

The Problem

To evolve in today’s ever-changing business landscape, organizations have very complex problems to solve. First and foremost, they must stay relevant to thrive in the future. That means attracting and retaining the right people with the right talent and inspiring them to do their best work.

Staying relevant also requires leveraging new tools and technologies that are continuously changing everything about the way work is done – and at an extraordinary pace. Often, these pursuits create new objectives that take the form of corporate initiatives; mandates direct from C-Suite leadership that have senior executive oversight to ensure the initiatives are rolled out and the business objectives are met.

Unfortunately, most organizations today are simply in reactive mode; reacting to the changing nature of work and workers and responding to individual preferences instead of shaping new ways of working and new cultural norms that are required to support new business objectives. What is often missing is the direct connection between work and place, and the fact that the workplace plays a significant and vital role in enabling, catalyzing and accelerating those new initiatives and business performance objectives. Approached strategically, the workplace has the potential to inspire people to be at their best and do their best work. Conversely, new initiatives and business performance will no doubt struggle UNLESS the workplace enables them.

This atrium sits on a 385-acre corporate campus.  PDR helped to shape and execute a strategy for exploring, designing and delivering a campus that inspires creativity and collaboration. Image courtesy of PDR

The Solution

The solution is to create an Enterprise Workplace Strategy (EwpS) to plan for those changes and enable peak business performance. EWpS is your framework for workplace decision making and should be grounded in your organization’s purpose and connected to your strategic business objectives, with the intent to drive high performance. A successful EWpS needs to be treated like an imperative corporate initiative and must have C-Suite/Executive sponsorship and oversight to ensure that it is fully embraced by all leaders in the organization. It must be non-negotiable. The result of a strong EWpS is a spectrum of solutions that connects evolving business needs with clarity on the investment in the spaces created for people to be their best and do their best work. An EWpS can help shift an organization’s decision-making process so that it is no longer siloed. It shifts from solutions-focused to outcome-focused, and ultimately drives all workplace design decisions.

Vitol, was crafted by PDR to be a world-class trading arena with long-term flexibility that maximizes their brand and captures the high-rise views overlooking the city from the double-height space. Image courtesy of PDR

Each organization has a unique set of business imperatives and priorities for success. The EWpS provides a platform for intentionally connecting with the organization’s purpose and strategic objectives. Working inside organizations across industries, we ask leadership to define which initiatives they are targeting and we’ve developed a set of universal Business Imperatives. These include Well-Being, Inclusion, Empowerment, Employee Experience, Right Talent, Innovation, Synergy, Agility, Exponential Technology, and Purpose. An EWpS and further defining of their Business Imperatives is the framework that ultimately drives all design decisions and is the foundation for the other movement you will see in 2019, which is Responsible Design. 

Bridge to Responsible Design

Design is a powerful vehicle and catalyst for change.  As designers we are responsible for impacting the lives of tens of thousands of people daily. We have an extreme responsibility to create environments that are a strategic business tool. The design must authentically reflect a firm’s purpose, enrich the employee experience, promote creativity and cross-functional collaboration, and enable future growth to affect positive organizational change.

Responsible Design is an empathetic design approach with creativity. It is influenced by, and focused on the EWpS to solve strategic goals. To have a solid responsible strategic design plan, you must embed yourself and look at the organization from the inside out. There are three components to responsible design – Purpose, Stewardship and Impact.

This company’s new campus in Alberta, Canada was planned to heighten the work/life balance of its 3,000 employees with a wellness facility, dining café and convenient underground parking area. Image courtesy of PDR


The organization’s purpose must be respected for the design to be successful. The design process must be intentionally focused on the user experience and embody the business culture. Design decisions are tuned to be influential, imaginative, inspiring and meaningful to the business health of the organization. The goal is to always deliver a compelling experience that empowers and elevates performance, while promoting desired workplace behaviors. Responsible Design should also be aesthetically pleasing to improve morale and stimulate pride. As stated by Mckinsey&Co., “strong design can be at the heart of both disruptive and sustained commercial success in physical, service, and digital settings.”

To further align the organizational purpose with the enterprise initiatives, place attributes are developed which define themes and qualitative characteristics to guide the design. The attributes of place are an essential part of the EWpS that describe how the strategy manifests in the physical environment. The qualitative characteristics of the attributes guide the many design considerations around physical and mental well-being, and inclusion. The attributes are the “why”. Understanding your client’s “why” positions you to achieve optimal design results which resonate long term. Responsible design with defined place attributes connects purpose to place.

TechSpace is a coworking office that inspires creatives within its beautifully, modern 46,000 sq ft walls located in the middle of Houston’s Energy Corridor. Image courtesy of PDR


Being a good design partner means to design within the constraints of a budget and still achieve the strategic goals of an organization. Thoughtful considerations regarding design strategies, materiality, cost, maintenance, and short and long-term impacts should always be part of Responsible Design.

Today’s workplace requires an adaptable intelligence that is smarter and works harder. The expectation is that the infrastructure platform remains nearly invisible. Place should be dynamic, minimizing disruption and enabling a synergistic work environment. On any given day, people move through a range of work activities in a variety of work environments with many tools and technologies. A well-functioning workplace design must seamlessly deliver an active learning environment that supports continuous improvement for talent development allowing the organization to amplify relevance.

PDR worked with this oil and gas client to define a vision for their future workplace and minimize the hierarchical structures. This view shows the path from their Wellness Center to the flexible work environment that fosters knowledge sharing and innovation. Image courtesy of PDR


The impact of Responsible Design will transform an organization’s decision-making process to be highly cross-functional and collaborative, eliminating and preventing the tendencies for siloes. An impactful design will be responsive and sensitive to the diversity of talent and zone in on everyone’s strengths. Design decisions that impact people in the workplace will position an organization to optimize talent. By realizing the relevance of individuals and teams and their specific contributions, the organization will have greater predictability for continued success.

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  1. This is a really inspiring blog post. Particularly liked your point about a design seeking to enrich the employee experience, promote creativity, as well as cross-functional collaboration. Business leaders need to initiate an open dialogue with their employees to find a design that works best for everyone. Responsible design seems to be a win win for everyone. Thanks for sharing.


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