Visitors can feel the culture the moment they walk in the door to your offices. Worth £193 billion annually to the UK economy, face-to-face business remains king, so how can UK business owners make every visit to their organisation memorable for the right reasons?
The old saying rings true, ‘It takes over 100 good impressions to make up for one bad one.’ As CEOs who’ve climbed the careers ranks know, you can never make a first impression twice. And that goes for every single visitor, each taking a view of an organisation within split seconds of entering its reception area.
The office lobby speaks volumes about a business, sending out a powerful message about a company’s identity, and, according to experts, can be influenced by subtle design choices. Biophilic design guru Oliver Heath (most recently known for his contributions to the BBC’s DIY SOS series), works with organisations to apply biophilic principals to their offices, maximising natural light, views onto nature, the use of natural textures and patterns, materials and colours plus the incorporation of recuperative spaces.
Biophilic design techniques can aid cognitive recuperation and have a positive physiological impact on heart rate, blood pressure and the sympathetic nervous system. “This helps visitors to feel calm and relaxed enabling them to communicate effectively and interact with staff in a positive manner,” says Heath.
So why is bringing about a state of calm, so important? Citing our increasingly hectic lives as an example, Heath explains how the lobby can be used to great effect to counter the hectic commutes faced by many. Often a commute involves high levels of concentration, cramped unnatural environments (buses/tube) and stressful interactions with traffic, other commuters and the city generally. “It’s important to create a lobby which enables occupants to recuperate from all this, regaining cognitive function and energy levels,” he says. “By implementing a biophilic approach, we can create restorative spaces in which to take a breath before starting the working day,” he adds.
London’s premier catering provider Vacherin’s front of house expert, Natalie Joyce agrees: adding that space and light utilisation is crucial. “Use natural light as much as possible to reduce the need for power-draining artificial light,” she says. “Design spaces that ease the flow of visitors quickly to avoid queues, invest in thermal glass to keep heat in during the winter months and out during summer, position working spaces near large windows to optimise natural light and airflow, to name a few,” she adds.
The lobby is also a company’s first opportunity to demonstrate how efficiently and professionally the business operates. Certainly, no-one likes to be kept waiting, for that last restaurant table, that all important call back, and certainly not when arriving for an important meeting. Gregory Blondeau, Founder of Proxyclick, agrees, adding that forward-thinking CEOs are now combining the latest visitor management technology (e.g. an app on an iPad for people to check themselves in), with first-class front of house staff to ensure that the check-in and wait process is as smooth as possible.
To create great rapport and relationships, we must make clients feel welcome in our premises, adds Blondeau. “Long queues in reception, repeated requests for ID and security escorts through entry barriers are jarring experiences, and it doesn’t have to be that way.” He explains that many organisations are now taking a leap further, integrating entire smart systems that bring together a visitor check-in app for arrival, automated gate systems for controlled access, and even meeting room management and catering, to create the ultimate, streamlined visitor experience.
Adding to this streamlined visitor experience, Heath notes that that way-finding is important to help visitors avoid the feelings of discomfort and anxiety associated with disorientation. He advocates creating natural signposts with green walls, water features or plants and even using biomimetic carpets to mimic natural patterns and form pathways through the office.
Service with a smile
So, how important is the human element in a corporate welcome? After all, reception staff are likely to be the first point of contact that visitors will have with a company.
“People are ‘wired’ for human contact and no technology can replace that personal touch,” says Blondeau. He is keen to stress that smart technologies such as visitor management are designed to replace tasks, not people. “By automating the more menial tasks that can consume a receptionist’s time, we are freeing them to focus on true hospitality,” he says. “Why have a receptionist taking name and number plate details for check-in, when they could spend their time providing guests with their favourite beverage or helping them log on to the wi-fi?” he questions. He believes the mixture of technology and people will ensure that the entire experience will become more personalised and enable companies to extend a proper warm welcome to guests.
Biophilic design techniques within a lobby space can also help to keep permanent staff in a relaxed, optimistic and positive state of mind and body, adds Heath. Exposure to plants has been shown to increase productivity by 6% and creativity by 15%. “In creating an environment which allows a receptionist to feel good and work effectively, they will communicate more positively and create a much more enjoyable experience for visitors,” says Heath.
So, what’s the most important piece of advice our experts have for business owners keen to make improvements to their visitor experience?
Heath: Consider design, not just as an extrinsic opportunity to express brand identity, but also as an intrinsic opportunity to improve health and wellbeing. After all, as research demonstrates 90% of typical business operating costs are in staff salaries and benefits so the potential is huge. When people are less stressed and fully energised, they’re in a far more positive and optimistic state – a better state to interact with others and focus on the work at hand.
Blondeau: Get talking to your front desk staff and HR about where they can add the most value to the visitor experience and streamline the role. If their time is consumed by simple tasks that could be automated, consider technological solutions to free them up to focus on high quality, personalised service.
Joyce: Personalisation. No-one wants to be welcomed into a bland space with no character. Reflecting your company’s brand and ethos into your space and design is of paramount importance for making a lasting impression on visitors. Make it bespoke, make it bold, and ultimately – make sure it works!
Gregory Blondeau is Founder of Proxyclick, creators of a powerful, cloud-based check-in app.
Natalie Joyce is Manager for entrée, Vacherin’s reception and concierge service.
Oliver Heath is a Sustainable Architecture and Interior Design Expert, Oliver Heath Design.