Today, work takes place across countries, cities and cultures. Work is no longer boundaried. And it never stops. Somewhere in the world, someone is always at work.
Global companies are therefore faced with the critical question as to whether culture should be incorporated into the design of office space. Should offices adopt a worldwide standard, or should they be slightly altered in each country to suit local needs and requirements?
Many multinational companies have chosen to merely replicate their offices worldwide, not taking culture into account. Yet workers’ behaviours, preferences, expectations and social rituals vary greatly depending on their culture and country of origin.
Hierarchies and how people feel with regards to their space affects, for instance, how workers cope with moving to open plan workstations. Open plan is therefore ideal for some countries and cultures, but certainly not for all.
South Africa, for example, is considered an individualistic society where people are good at working as an “I’, not necessarily a “we”. South African professionals are used to looking after themselves and not needing people to take care of them. We are also seen to be a country driven by competition, achievement and success. A country where people live in order to go to work.
At Giant Leap, we are constantly faced with the global vs local question when dealing with international clients.
Often, products are specified which are not suitable to the local market and need to be adapted or respecified to tie in locally. It is important to get the adaptations right, as the way in which we perceive and use space is a vital and culturally variable dimension. Examples of differences are air, noise, and lighting, as well as the way we build offices.
At the same time, establishing a theme throughout offices worldwide is also necessary so that a global thread is maintained and reinforced. Whether I walk into the Johannesburg office or the New York office, I need to feel in touch with the brand I work for and be able to relate to my international colleagues.
To get this right, understanding the local culture and drawing upon the strengths in each location helps organisations to build a corporate culture that works around the world. Culture deeply affects how people communicate with one another, how private they are and how they collaborate at work.
By getting office design to complement it, globalisation can be extended and encouraged – which has a positive impact on both individuals and companies. Indeed, globalisation can expand one’s knowledge and learnership, as you are continually meeting with foreign colleagues and interacting on an international level.
Lastly, it is critical for workers to feel safe and comfortable in their environments and within the companies they work for.The only way this level of comfort can be established is for their unique cultural needs to be met and respected.
Today’s globalised and interconnected economy also requires extensive knowledge of the markets in which businesses operate. Understanding how the cultural issues translate into the workspace helps organisations to fully leverage the physical environment to enhance both worker satisfaction and productivity.