Inspire Your Employees: Designing for Explosive Staff Engagement

How can you design a space that excites and inspires your staff and makes them enjoy working for you? We sat down with Tom Newins, COO at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union (AKUSA), and Greg Ward, President of NewGround Canada, to chat about how to design for staff engagement.

Engaging Employees

AKUSA just opened a new operations center in Glendale, Arizona with a new collaborative space to keep employees engaged and excited at work.

“This center is divided into four quads, one for each operational function. This design allows our staff to work collaboratively, yet can contact members from large, open spaces that offer great privacy. It also features alcoves, or ‘outside nests’ to break apart for interviews, a café with separate areas to socialize, and multiple other areas,” said Tom Newins, COO at AKUSA.

AKUSA’s design transitions outside elements and brings them inside the working environment. As soon as people arrive, they see a montage of Alaskan scenes with photographs taken by employees, primarily of nature. All main offices and hallways feature these similarly-sized photos so they can be rotated for a fresh, interesting vibe.

“We have images depicting the Northern Lights on the lake, and incorporate our Alaskan culture and nature in our designs to make our staff feel connected and excited to be inside our space,” said Tom. “All of our offices have photographs like these to reinforce culture—it shows who we are!”

NewGround’s Discovery Session

NewGround also has a similar strategy in designing spaces to maximize staff engagement.

“Working collaboratively using an employee journey map, we uncover four key areas: arrive, recharge, learn, and collaborate,” said Greg Ward, President of NewGround Canada.

Through NewGround’s thought-provoking Discovery process, we immerse ourselves in gaining knowledge and understanding of our client’s culture and brand relative to their physical delivery channels. We also delve deeply into defining the perfect Member and Employee Journeys. This engagement includes not only senior management in the process but employees in other departments and branch staff that will be involved in the day-to-date use of the branches.

“The Discovery session works with the client to summarize ideas in a road map. We want everyone to be involved, open, and honest in this session so we can design the best possible solution for the space,” said Greg.

NewGround Office in Canada

NewGround understands that accommodating your staff will make them happy to work in a space specifically designed for their comfort. This was top of mind while designing the NewGround Canada office.

“In NewGround Canada’s ow

n office, we have incorporated ‘nap pods’ in relaxation areas, and our staff has reacted very positively to them,” said Greg. “These areas are sound-proofed and are good for making personal phone calls and taking breaks. We even had three expectant mothers who really loved these spaces to put their feet up and relax outside of their normal chair.”

One of NewGround Canada’s clients also asked their staff to photograph nature during each season to blow up into professional artwork. Every two years, the artwork will be switched out to engage and excite employees. They also have other interactive elements, like a special paint wall that you can mark on and erase, and a ping pong table with tournaments during lunch and after work.

Sounds like an appealing and engaging place to work!

Creating Connections

Alaska USA’s experience is better than banking.

The staff understands their role and the value of their services, and member expectations are high,” said Tom. “Our employees are defining our culture and brand. We have training areas in our four quadrants, a centralized area that models the branch design, an area set up as a computer lab, and another area set up for employee onboarding.”

“We want to reinforce our culture

and offer personalized service to advocate for the members. All of our employees are financial professionals, so they really are there to help members understand how to better manage their money,” said Tom.

Human collaboration creates connections—that’s why design is so important!

“To design differently, interacting with members by breaking down barriers helps the staff feel more engaged,” said Tom. “We encourage employees to speak with each other face-to-face, whether it’s in the nest or the café. We are excited to work side-by-side with our members to show them we are there to help them, and not just take orders from them.”

“It’s all about human connection to reach out to the member,” said Greg. “Even in administrative areas, the end goal is to create connections. In that respect, various spaces we have designed make sure those connections are there.”

Resulting in Retention

Although it’s still early since it’s completion, AKUSA’s operations staff loves their new space.

“By word of mouth, all feedback has been positive. It is clear to us that our staff feels

much more engaged and ‘at home’ in their new space,” said Tom.

Providing the staff with warm, bright areas makes them happy to be in a comfortable, accommodating work environment. To allow for flexibility, sit-stand desks are in all areas. They also have treadmills to walk on to promote a healthy, active lifestyle.

SF Police CU, San Bruno, CA

“Most of our employees are existing employees who moved or employees who were referred by others and now work for us. That’s always a good sign if your employees love their workplace enough to recruit others,” said Tom.

AKUSA plans to grow the business and open more staff-friendly spaces along the way. “We want to consider designing other local branches with 150 to 200 employees in mind for future opportunities,” said Tom.

Maxmizing retention includes thinking with a multi-generational focus.

“Workspaces are becoming multi-generational. Many of the Baby Boomers are comfortable in traditional designs, but Millennials provoke the most cause for change and retention,” said Greg. “They really care about their work environment, so a good design with a branded cultural environment and amenities brings in the best and brightest talent.”

Design really becomes a key element in retaining talent and attracting members.

“We just finished a 10,000-square foot IT space for a credit union in Ontario, and the challenge was to create a cool, engaging space that attracts top talent and members,” said Greg.

Focusing on the Future

Express the brand and support the staff’s well-being through future-focused designs.

“Just be future-focused and design for staff flexibility and growth—accommodating the next five to ten years of business activity in your new space,” said Greg. “Technology changes so fast, so something as simple as replacing outdated technology can instantly upgrade your space and increase staff engagement.”

“Replacing aged-out technology can help members, and employees can become the digital ambassadors to help coach and guide members through the ever-changing technology,” said Tom.

Remember to continually think about how to be better!

“It really is up to the management teams to identify how to improve their space and make changes,” said Tom. “Some processes that work today may not work next year, so it’s important to always look at how we can be better. Listening to our employees is so important. You must rely on each other for ideas because no single person has all the answers and solutions.”

A successful workspace means engaging your staff through design. Most of our waking lives are spent at work, so why not make that exciting?

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