I’ve always been a big fan of using buildings to communicate. As we all know, words make up only a small fraction of what we communicate, the rest comes from body language, facial expressions, behaviours etc. But buildings also communicate and we shouldn’t ignore the impact they can have on getting a message across. I’ve seen this work really well … and really badly. I remember ages ago visiting the UK HQ of Microsoft and I was struck by how well they used the building to communicate. They had touch-screen information points in communal areas, huge hanging banners, posters created by staff on the walls, games rooms, innovation spaces, funky meeting rooms … all neatly and subtly adorned with the corporate message. I got a feel for the company just waiting in reception. On the other hand, I also remember a time when I visited the old Marks & Spencer HQ in London. Now, we all have a perception of M&S as clean, high quality, light and modern. But this old building was stuffy, dirty and noisy. I sat in reception and all I could smell was cigarette smoke (it was next door to the smoking room) and there was a misspelt hand-written scrap of paper on the wall saying “All visitors must report to recepton” (their spelling, not mine!). The walls were grey and there was nothing to read or look at. As a visitor, the building was giving me a completely different message to the one I had as a customer.
The reason I raise this is because I’ve been reading about what the office of the future will look like. According to a recent feature on the BBC News website, we’ll soon have intelligent buildings with sensors built into the walls so that when you walk into the office, your workspace starts preparing itself for your arrival. The environment is automatically adjusted for your taste – heat, light, ambience etc and your office will transform itself into an “expressive medium” just for you. Digital walls will show the latest news and information, tailored for your needs and responsive to your touch. You’ll even have edible walls. Yes you read that right … edible walls, so even your lunch will be waiting for you when you go to work! Seriously though, we communicators should really think carefully about buildings as a channel – from the naming of meeting rooms to the placement of interactive screens, from pictures on the walls to banners on the ceiling.
A really creative example of using a building to communicate is the work being done by the excellent John Clifford, senior internal communicator at Pitney Bowes in Hatfield. Following the relocation of 450 staff to a new business park, John is using the history of the site to bring the office to life and build engagement. Picking up on the fact that the business park is a redevelopment of the old De Havilland aircraft factory, John is using the ‘spirit of innovation and adventure’ theme to inspire and motivate colleagues. Meetings rooms have been named after classic fighter aircraft, photos and information adorn the walls and there’s even some Hollywood glamour with links to Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine. John hopes to run presentations and set up an exhibition area in the building as part of the company’s culture forum – all part of evoking the history and atmosphere of the building to reinforce modern day business messages and values. That’s creative communication in action.
If you use your building to communicate, why not tell us about it by posting a reply above?