Workplace branding and the war for talent

The most talked about workplace design and management issues might be those such as the environment, new ways of working, building design, supplier partnerships and technology, but there is increasing talk about the importance of softer issues that are equally closely aligned to the wider business objectives of the organisation. That is one reason why there is closer collaboration and crossover between what may once have been clearly demarcated roles for IT, FM and HR managers. If you want the best people to work for your business, you need to offer them the right working conditions, surroundings and equipment and it must all tie up...

...This makes perfect sense because there has always been a close link between the labour market and office design and management. That is especially the case in key sectors where the war for scarce talent becomes more and more fierce. It’s possible that the advent of Generation Y as decision makers in the workplace is helping to focus attention on the issue of how to attract and retain the right people, but it is equally applicable to all generations of workers who look at a range of working conditions when deciding for which firm they would like to work.

In London alone there are now some 1.5 million people working in knowledge based jobs in high skill sectors such as digital media, banking, legal services, software development, telecoms and publishing, according to Deloitte. This hothousing of talent is reflected in other places around the UK and it’s important for firms to use every tool at their disposal to work with the best people, including agile working practices and a well branded workplace. 

You have to wonder what impact the changing job market and the continuing economic revival will have on the way we manage and design our workplaces. In the wider business community, the conundrum that has dominated management thinking over the last two decades is this: if your main asset is knowledge and that knowledge is largely locked up in people’s heads, how do you attract those heads to your organisation? Then, once they are safely in your employ, how do you make them stay there or at the very least share information with their colleagues and the business?

It is this riddle that has led to the dominance of soft issues in management thinking and why workplace design has focussed increasingly on such softer business issues as corporate culture, the environment and knowledge management. It has driven the growth of flexible work practices as organisations have tried to give people a better work-life balance. It has driven the softening of the workplace itself, the growth of break-out space and the focus on the team. And, of course, it has pushed on the idea of employer branding.

As with many of the issues that FMs have to manage in one way or another, the issues of knowledge management and employer branding are complex, multi-faceted, evolving and demand a multi-disciplinary approach. They are certainly likely to require input from HR and IT and will attract the interest of general managers across the organisation. They incorporate a wide range of factors from working culture, working methods, interior design and the physical environment.

When it comes to employer branding nothing can be achieved in isolation. That may have been the case in the past, when branding in the workplace may largely have focussed on replicating a corporate identity, but now there is a far greater focus on reflecting important values to staff. Where once you had logos in the carpet and walls in corporate colours, now we have visualisations of how the company addresses business and environmental issues, the intelligent use of colours and materials on interior elements to convey ideas and emotions and manifestations of symbolic and literal ideas about what the company stands for. 

What is important is to understand how employer branding works in its many facets and recognise the role that it can play in achieving organisational success as part of an overall workplace strategy. Creating the right environment to attract and retain the best staff has always been important but the growth of the knowledge economy and the recovery from recession will make it increasingly important in the coming years.