11/03/2020 • 5 min read

5 Space Designs for Human Connection

How one law firm enhances their employees’ sense of belonging

by Haworth, Inc.

Can you put a value on a feeling? Specifically, can you put a value on the feeling of belonging at work? The answer is yes—and the value might surprise you.

People with a sense of belonging are more productive, more motivated, and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential, according to an article in Harvard Business Review that points to research from the Center for Talent Innovation.

A sense of belonging also has measurable benefits for the bottom line. Behavioral scientists at BetterUp conducted a study of the role of belonging and concluded that it’s good for business. They found that high levels of belonging were linked to the following:

  • 56% increase in job performance
  • 50% drop in turnover risk
  • 75% reduction in sick days

Plus, employees with high levels of workplace belonging are more willing to recommend their company to others.

One way employers can enhance feelings of belonging is through design. Recently, we worked with the law firm Warner Norcross + Judd to create a space for their staff of 296. Warner’s new office reflects the evolving workspace trend as a hub for different ways to work, while providing places where people connect and collaborate. Five space designs—that can be adapted for nearly any workplace environment—enhance Warner’s culture and support staff well-being, including their sense of belonging.

1. Community Spaces

A top priority for Warner was to include spaces in the new design that support community—for both the firm and their community. They accomplished this by creating a large welcoming space that serves multiple purposes.

Warner’s office occupies the top five floors of a high-rise in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan across the street from the courthouse. The top floor serves as a reception area for visiting clients and attorneys, and includes a place for relaxed conversation in lounge seating by a fireplace.

A favorite place for both staff and visitors is the rooftop patio. Accessible from the reception area, the patio provides a place where:

  • Employees relax and connect with the outdoors
  • Attorneys entertain clients with an expansive view of the skyline
  • The firm and local organizations host small or large gatherings

Socializing—among staff or as part of an event—often means serving food, and Warner took this into consideration. A large cafeteria provides a place for employees to prepare and eat meals. When there’s a group to feed, caterers have access to refrigerators and ovens, so they can serve anything from breakfast and luncheons to happy hours and formal dinners. In the cafeteria, booths and a variety of large and small tables provide places where people gather informally.

This variety of spaces—reception, patio, lounge, and cafeteria—provides ample opportunity for building community and creates a place where people feel like they belong.

2. Social Spaces

The design of Warner’s new office takes into account that humans are made to operate rhythmically, to move between activity and rest. Multiple spaces foster social connections and support well-being for employees and guests, including:

  • A community lounge where people can relax, socialize, or work
  • Coffee nooks on each floor that provide impromptu opportunities to connect with others
  • A stairway that connects all five floors and encourages people to move about, leading to serendipitous encounters

A sense of belonging naturally comes about in defined social spaces where people regularly connect, converse, share ideas, and rest.

3. Neighborhoods

In a departure from traditional law firm organization where there is a 1:1 ratio of attorneys to support staff, Warner adopted a new approach. They created neighborhoods of support teams of two or four legal assistants.

Staff in each neighborhood cross-train so they can assist multiple attorneys and keep work flowing efficiently. If one support person is overloaded or out of the office, the attorneys can turn to the others. In addition to boosting efficiency, teams build better camaraderie, collaborate more, and share more ideas.

4. Hoteling Spaces

In addition to its corporate law office in Grand Rapids, Warner has seven offices across Michigan. On a regular basis, attorneys travel from these offices to work at the Grand Rapids office. To support visiting attorneys and guests, Warner built dedicated hoteling spaces, with everything they need to work comfortably. These spaces provide:

  • Access to Wi-Fi and power for charging devices
  • Height-adjustable workstations so users can change posture throughout the day
  • Privacy and places for confidential phone conversations and focus work

The dedicated hoteling spaces, plus access to the office’s community and social spaces, make visiting attorneys and guests feel welcome and valued—two factors that give them a sense of belonging.

5. Conference and Training Rooms

Warner’s team needed a variety of meeting rooms—large and small—for conferences and training. These rooms were designed for communication and comfort. Office seating is designed for total body support, with chairs that provide advanced back support and edgeless seats. People remain comfortable even when sitting for long periods.

Advanced video technology allows people off-site to join remotely. This is especially important for connecting with Warner’s seven other offices across Michigan. Staff describe the video experience as feeling like those on screen are actually in the room. Geography no longer hinders human connection, thanks to technology.

Thoughtful Design Drives Success

We know that when given the choice, people are drawn to the places that make them feel their best and most productive. They want to interact face-to-face with others; these interactions build relationships and support collaboration. Thoughtful design that makes people feel like they belong is design that drives success.

Discover more about designing for human connection. Check out our Warner Norcross + Judd case study.


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