Do You Trust Your Employees? Your Office Might Be Telling Them Otherwise. Workers are real people, not robots. Physical workplaces should reflect this.

By Brian Krenke

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Good Brigade | Getty Images

You don't have to be a management guru to know that companies perform better when employees and managers trust one other.

Related: The Open-Office Concept Is Dead

The data back up this seemingly obvious intuition -- and then some. Metrics on trust make up two-thirds of the criteria Fortune magazine uses in its list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For." Those companies post average annual returns that are triple those of the S&P 500.

Of course there are plenty of ways to foster trust at work, from company retreats to transparent decision-making processes. But one strategy that's often overlooked is thoughtful workplace design. Office layouts that build trust give employees control over their workspaces -- and allow them to dictate how and where they'll do their best work.

Yet, despite this obvious observation, the existing workplace status quo is one of extremes. All too often, people end up isolated in cubicle farms or drowned out in the din of an open office.

It doesn't have to be that way: Research from architectural firm Gensler showed that it doesn't matter whether a workplace is open or closed; an office will boost productivity if it's designed to meet employees' specific needs.

Here is a list describing some of those needs:

1. Privacy: Give employees some, even if that doesn't involve a corner office.

Consider the need for privacy. No one wants to disturb a roomful of colleagues with a loud phone call -- or meet with a client in front of an audience.

It's not feasible to give every employee a private office. But managers can find a happy medium for employees seeking privacy. Some companies are doing this by reviving a relic of the past -- a "phone booth" of sorts.

Microsoft, for example, recently scattered soundproof glass-paneled rooms throughout its Seattle headquarters. Workers use them to complete all sorts of tasks that require concentration and quiet, from client phone calls to writing code.

Related: The Perfect Work Environment Has To Be One That Does Not Feel Like, Well, Work

These phone booths are popular among workers because they add privacy and minimize self-consciousness. But they also let managers show that they trust their team to stay on task, no matter where they're working.

2. Feeling "at home": Make employees feel that way, even while at work.

Other firms are signaling their trust in their workers by making them feel more at home. Airbnb executives modeled their company's headquarters after real apartments listed on its website. The company encourages employees to do their work everywhere from an inviting living room sofa to a bustling kitchen counter, depending on the nature of their tasks.

3. Taking the lead: Let employees take the lead on workplace design.

Employers can further use design to signal the trust they have in their workers by empowering those workers to create their own workspaces.

That doesn't mean arming everyone in the office with a paint roller and sledgehammer. But an element as seemingly small as furniture can give employees that feeling of freedom and control.

Forward-thinking employers are doing just that. Before designing its new Milwaukee headquarters, our client Northwestern Mutual interviewed its employees and found they wanted workspaces they could move and control. Our team at KI engineered the resulting system, called Tattoo.

Rather than picking up their belongings and moving to a conference room, Northwestern Mutual employees can now roll desks together for an impromptu team meeting. One team member might slide over a moveable wall and use it as a whiteboard for a brainstorming session. Northwestern Mutual executive Cal Schattschneider said the new design allows "people to work their best, wherever that may be."

4. You care: Show employees you care about their interests outside of work.

Flexible furniture pieces with multiple uses can also communicate to employees that their employers care about their lives outside the office. Consider a stool that doubles as a storage locker. It makes an impromptu conversation easier -- and gives a worker somewhere to stash her gym bag so she can get to yoga class on time.

By letting employees take charge of their environment, executives do more than build trust and community. They save money, too.

Employers tend to like open offices in part because they appear less expensive; one room has the space for a lot of people. But when teams can rearrange their workspaces on the fly, employers don't have to call facilities or foot the bill for a massive renovation, which can quickly add up to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

Related: Office Design? You Need to Do These 3 Things To Reduce Employee Distractions.

The overall message here? Workers are real people, not robots. They have specific, human needs. By designing physical workspaces that allow the human beings who occupy them to dictate their layout, managers can show they truly understand their employees -- and forge trust and community in the process.

Wavy Line
Brian Krenke


Brian Krenke is CEO of global furniture manufacturer KI. Krenke joined KI in 1991 as a sales engineer and has held various senior leadership roles at the company. He was named CEO in May 2019. KI manufactures innovative furniture and moveable wall system solutions for education, health care, government, and corporate markets. 


Editor's Pick

'Catastrophic': Here's What You Should Know About the Debt Ceiling Crisis — And How a Default Could Impact Your Business
I Helped Grow 4 Unicorns Over 10 Years That Generated $18 Billion in Online Revenues. Here's What I've Learned.
Want to Break Bad Habits and Supercharge Your Business? Use This Technique.
Don't Have Any Clients But Need Customer Testimonials? Follow These 3 Tricks To Boost Your Rep.
Why Are Some Wines More Expensive Than Others? A Top Winemaker Gives a Full-Bodied Explanation.

Related Topics

Business News

'All Hell Is Going to Break Loose': Barbara Corcoran Issues Warning About Real Estate Market, Interest Rates

The "Shark Tank" star appeared on FOX Business' "The Clayman Countdown" this week.

Money & Finance

3 Ways to Create Multiple (Big) Streams of Income

Here are three ways to create multiple streams of income. These strategies require effort and resources but offer significant financial potential.


The Real Reason Why The Return to Office Movement is Failing is Revealed in New Study

There is a vivid sign of the disconnect between employees and their workplace, a glaring indication that companies need to revise their scripts to improve their hybrid and remote work policies.

Business Solutions

Enjoy All the Adobe Creative Cloud Apps for Just $29.99 for Three Months

Master Photoshop and all of Adobe's other Creative Cloud apps for a record low price.


Stop Lying to Your Team — And Yourself. Try Radical Honesty Instead.

We often lie to ourselves and others thinking we're doing everyone a favor or that it doesn't really matter. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Science & Technology

How to Make a QR Code in 5 Simple Steps

Need to know how to make a QR code for your business but not sure where to start? Check out this step-by-step breakdown for more info.