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What Apple can teach us about proving the ROI of your office

image of office from outside
The Robin Team
Published on

The new Apple Park campus is nothing short of breathtaking. But it’s price tag is upwards of $5 billion. Will it all be worth it?

Employees at Apple’s new spaceship-style office are nearly all moved in: riding free bicycles to get around the two miles of paths on campus, sitting at Dutch custom-designed 18ft tables for open work, and charging up their iPhones with renewable energy. And while there are some headaches -- literally, from employees walking into the pristine glass walls -- it seems that their return on investment is in the works as Apple is expected to become the first $1 trillion US company as early as late 2018.

Outside of the financial ROI, there is a bigger picture at play in the design and construction of Apple’s latest office. “We’re amortizing this in an entirely different way,” chief design officer Jony Ive has said.“We don’t measure this in terms of numbers of people. We think about it in terms of the future. The goal was to create an experience and an environment that felt like a reflection of who we are as a company. This is our home, and everything we make in the future is going to start here.”Apple isn’t the only company looking at new offices or renovations through a few different lenses.

While companies will always need to prove an ROI on a new office space, the returns can come in the form of retention, productivity, and brand impact, much like Apple’s experience in Cupertino.We gathered the stories of a few companies, including the tech behemoth, to try and determine the best formula for the ROI of new offices.

How Apple uses their office as an expectation for their products, services, and legacy

Apple has been a luminary brand from day one, with a fearless leader in Steve Jobs taking the company to the next level with each and every product launch. And in the last few years of his life, he devoted much of his time to developing an office experience that he likely would not even see come to fruition. That context alone helps frame the mindset for what Apple Park means to the brand and its employees.In unison, current CEO Tim Cook knew that Apple Park had to prop up, support, and inspire employees for years to come in their quest for the next great tech product.

“Could we have cut a corner here or there? It wouldn’t have been Apple. And it wouldn’t have sent the message to everybody working here every day that detail matters, that care matters.” (via Steven Levy for Wired). So while the level of detail may seem extravagant to some, including shareholders, the backdrop of the office matches the context from which the next iThing will be born. One example lies in the wood chosen to construct the interior of the office, which had to be a specific type of maple and only the heartwood, found at the center of the tree. The same sort of sourcing comes into play with the latest iPhone, Apple Watch, or iMac.

Apple Park Visitor Center Wooden Roof

In the Wired article, Steven Levy says to Jony Ives, “This might be a stupid question, but why do you need a four-story glass door?” and Ives responds, “Well, it depends how you define need, doesn’t it?” And clearly, Apple determines their needs through a different set of standards. After all, says Ives, “The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk. The value is not what went into the building. It’s what will come out.”And while Apple may be at an extreme end of the spectrum in terms of bringing their brand to life through their office space, other companies are using similar philosophies.

How agencies Cramer and Barbarian optimize their office spaces

Apple’s not alone; many companies are investing in office space. Boston suburbs based Cramer and Manhattan headquartered Barbarian are two agencies proving their office worth a few times over. And while budgets may be slightly smaller than the Steve Jobs’ workplace brainchild, all three offices aim to recruit and retain top talent, incite productivity and grow the bottom line, and market the brand, product, and services to their customers.

“There is now pressure to prove the ROI of building a new office or improving the space you’re already in,” says Brent Turner, Senior Vice President of Solutions for the global brand experience agency, Cramer. “This pressure is leading to new approaches to deliver value from these investments in two strategic areas. Office spaces are becoming cultural-drivers for a brand’s future products and services as well as assets for their external marketing efforts.”

Office Snapshots Cramer Offices Norwood Lobby Bar

Cramer seems to be practicing what they preach, with their latest office renovation complete in 2017 featuring a bright and unique space that encourages client engagement. From awe-inspiring office tours to in-depth working meetings, Cramer wants to merge the client experience with that of their own employees. After all, it will be a team effort to get a project completed.

Office Snapshots Cramer Offices Norwood Conference Room

“The office is part of your brand statement,” Turner said. “How we work, and how our culture and studios bring clients into our work, is critical to the success of our projects. Clients demand to be part of the process. And when they come and visit, we want them to quickly see and feel the unique tenor that we’ve designed into how we work.”Barbarian takes the return on investment one step further, tapping into the meeting room analytics to continually hone how the office is used.

They added cork walls to some of their conference rooms after learning that employees prefer to meet in rooms already decked out with cork. Barbarian also brought their collaborative efforts to life more literally, with a massive “desk” that runs through their entire office. This winding desk then creates cozy tunnel-like meeting spaces that give prospective clients and others a glimpse of what inspires them to do their best work.

Architect Mag CWA Barbarian Group Superdesk

And they haven’t lost sight of the financial results. Chester Nielsen, an associate at Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWA) who worked on the original design, says Barbarian has, “gotten everything that they have needed out of this project. Part of their recent success [is a result of] the workplace.”

How your company can calculate the ROI of your office space

There are a number of ways to analyze how an office space is working for a group of employees, but borrowing from Apple, Cramer, and Barbarian, it’s helpful to focus on the new office’s impact on retention, productivity, and the brand. This could easily be tracked via surveys, observation, and advocacy groups once employees are moved in.

  • Retention: Are employees not only intrigued by the office space during the interview process but staying at the company for extended periods of time? In other words, are the office attributes just a shiny object at first glance but then useless afterward, or are they amenities that are used every single day?
  • Productivity: Are employees able to move around the office to find spaces that fit their needs at the moment? Do employees feel like they are more creatively inspired and can accomplish collaborative projects with ease due to the meeting space availability, proximity to certain colleagues, and group tools like whiteboards? And while this isn’t the be-all-end-all, has the bottom line increased?
  • BrandDo employees feel like the office ladders back to the core brand principles? Do clients have a thorough understanding of the brand, product, and services after walking through the space?

At the end of the day, don’t get caught up in the minute details that happen to be someone’s passion project for the new office. It’s about the overall picture and the major takeaways that will actually retain talent, produce creative results, and showcase the brand. Sometimes, like Barbarian, that can take the form of one integral and yet massive addition to the office. With all this talk of new offices, are you packing up soon? We can help you figure out the right office size & office space per employee.

Two people walking and talking in an office

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