How office design can shape your company culture

Explore the different types of company cultures that exist within most organisations today and gain a deeper understanding of how office design can influence your company’s work culture.

Although most of the elements that make up a company’s office culture are not tangible, research suggests that elements such as: interior design, architecture and even furniture can provide a tangible way to support – or even change – an organisation’s culture.

However, before presenting how office design can be used to stimulate a company’s office culture, we must first understand the different types of cultures that exist within most organisations.

The 3 major culture types

According to studies from the scientists at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron, the majority of organizational cultures can be grouped into three main types: Clan, Adhocracy and Hierarchy.

Hierarchy Culture

This approach to organizational culture is widely adopted by companies whose main objective is to generate an efficient, consistent and predictable output. Here, lines are clearly established between employees and departments in order to divide responsibilities and authority. Often, a hierarchical culture values rules, authority, standardization and accountability above all else.

Clan Culture

Organizations that adopt a Clan Culture operate according to a set of shared values and act based on a sense of “we-ness”. This type of work environment has a familial quality, which is in direct contrast to the hierarchical culture described above. Typically, managers within these organizations strive to empower employees while also establishing their commitment to the company through cross-collaboration and employee involvement programs.

The Adhocracy Culture

This type of organization is the most responsive to the hyper turbulent, ever- accelerating conditions that increasingly typify the organisational world of this century.

The strategic assumptions of this office culture are founded in innovation and a belief that pioneering initiatives will lead to success. Therefore, management’s main objective is to foster entrepreneurship, creativity and activity amongst employees.

Unlike hierarchical organizations, adhocracies do not have centralized power or authoritative relationships. Instead, power flows from individual to individual or from task team to task team, depending on what problem is being addressed.

Clearly, each type of culture strives to promote a different kind of employee output - and therefore requires a distinctive office design. As visualized in our graphic below, each of the various types of office cultures can be supported by a distinctive layout for common areas, meeting spaces and individual workspaces.


Fixed environments can support hierarchical cultures

Fostering a hierarchical culture, which focuses on internal procedures, standardization and bureaucratic communication flows, requires a completely different workspace layout than those focused on stimulating collaboration and innovation.

The design of an office can support a company’s hierarchical culture by creating spaces that allow individuals to focus on tasks and meeting the deadlines without distractions from surrounding peers. Furniture can be used to provide a sense of stability and increase the capacity of individuals within a space.

In this circumstance, conference rooms and break rooms may be the only areas in which employees come together to interact.

Clan cultures desire spaces that support teamwork

An office designed around a Clan Culture must support team building, demonstrate flexibility and exhibit a concern for people. Therefore, smaller footprints will be allocated to the individual than the team and workstation panel heights will be lower, if not non-existent. This will help teams to interact effectively with one another.

Adhocracy calls for a playful office environment

Adhocracy culture focuses on creativity and the design must include a focus on constructing a flexible environment with breakout spaces that help stimulate creativity. Additionally, these office environments should also provide employees with a space to do something that is not directly related to work.

Therefore, creating fun breakout spaces where employees can entirely “break away” from their work is a key. This could include office features such as: a pool table, Ping-Pong table or nap area, where an employee’s imagination can thrive.

In the end, remember that there is no “one-size fits all” approach to office design and all company cultures are different. No culture is as concrete as examples above, but spending time understanding the office cultures that exist within your organization can help you shape the craft a workplace that’s designed for success.

Learn more about how to best work with workplace management by downloading our Vision 2020 White Book New Ways of Working – The workplace of the future.