office premises

Office premises as organizational promoter

Survey suggests non-profits overlook opportunity to let their space tell their story
Thursday, March 24, 2016
By Peter Davies and Matthew Johnson

Office premises are generally viewed as a necessary expense. Rarely do non-profit organizations look upon their premises as a vehicle to promote their identity, culture and purpose.

The results of a recent Colliers survey of more than 50 non-profit organizations throughout the Greater Toronto Area affirm this. The survey explored identity — what office space says about an organization — as one of its key themes.

The survey asked leaders in the non-profit sector what first impression they would like their office space to make. Answers varied, but responses such as “efficient,” “modest,” “professional,” “warm,” “inviting” and “welcoming” were most common.

These adjectives illustrate the intricate relationship between identity and financial accountability. And while the survey focused specifically on the non-profit sector, many of its lessons apply equally to the for-profit sector.

Viewing office space as an opportunity to invest in the organization and its people, rather than as a cost, carries benefits that go well beyond the balance sheet. Office space can be an asset for engaging with stakeholders, promoting external brand and identity, a reflection of the culture, and also a helpful tool to attract and retain highly valued employees.

It’s common to find oneself in a client or prospect’s office, about to meet with a highly educated individual mandated with the stewardship of a major organization, while surrounded with fraying carpets, tired furniture and headache-inducing lights. This is not an ideal work environment, let alone a space inspiring employees to produce at their highest capacity on a daily basis.

While not easily measured, the impact that a less-than-ideal work environment can have on talented workers can be significant. It can also send an instant negative message to any prospective employee, volunteer or donor/funder who takes a seat in reception.

Imagine instead walking through the doors of a non-profit organization and, without speaking to anyone, immediately becoming familiar with its recent successes, ongoing projects and even being able to see and read testimonials from individuals positively affected by its work. Now think about the individual who has absorbed all of that positive messaging going into their appointment.

Be it a prospective new hire, donor, funder or volunteer, by the time that individual sits down with whomever he or she is meeting, it is likely that that individual will have a positive outlook on the organization and its culture.  Also think about the longtime employee, volunteer, board member or other stakeholder and the value of that same messaging in reaffirming all the positive reasons they stay actively engaged in helping the organization thrive.

Colliers’ benchmarking survey suggests organizations may be missing this opportunity. Responses showed that alignment with identity ranked eighth out of 10 reasons why an organization would choose to lease in a particular building. Organizations aren’t giving consideration to their brand/culture as often as they should.

What’s more, introducing messaging into a space that drives home the organization’s identity and promotes the good work being done in the field can generate significant benefits, at an insignificant cost. One example of a low-cost measure would be the big screen in Plan Canada’s reception that walks through its projects and initiatives. Another example is a Toronto sales office where, with a walk down the hall, past the boardrooms and into a meeting room, visitors learn where the company was founded, its major acquisitions, its current sponsorships and its currently featured brands.

So what should an organization do now? Employees and stakeholders are the most important asset of any organization, so ask them for their thoughts on the environment where they spend the vast majority of their waking hours.

At the very least, such a survey will provide stakeholders with a sense that their opinion matters and is important to the organization’s leadership. What is more likely to occur is that the organization’s leadership will learn of a few simple changes to the workplace design that will improve the culture and productivity.

Peter Davies and Matt Johnson are vice presidents and co-chairs of Colliers Not-for-Profit Advisory Group. They can be reached at and; Twitter: @ColliersNFP. .

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