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Companies Ramping Up Workplace Branding Amid Rise of Hybrid Offices

Successful branding is a huge part of the success of the leaders in almost every industry. Creating a unique identity is part of defining an organization’s values, personality, and position in the market. Companies use branding as a long-term strategy to create consistency and emotional attachment and to influence future purchasing decisions. Creative branding takes the concept even further. It’s about using creative and often innovative techniques to communicate these values and personality to outsiders and to reinforce them to employees. While real estate has never been big on branding, a few companies have started doing it more. In co-working spaces in particular, which function more as a consumer product than a traditional office lease, property firms are being faced with the need to think more about branding. Creative branding has become especially important for companies as competition for talent has become more heated and companies are trying everything they can to get workers back to the workplace more frequently. 

Office tenants looking for creative branding in their space often have a team of architects, interior designers, and manufacturers that partner on the project. The kinds of things focused on in a creative branding project combine materials, light, colors, shapes, art, and graphic design, among others. For example, Moss, a branded environments partner, manufactures the fabrics, graphics, signage, and other features of an office branding strategy. Moss recently teamed up with design studio Media-Objectives and architect Valerio Dewalt Train in designing Glassdoor’s Chicago office. For Glassdoor, one of the country’s leading job listing and review sites, the idea was to create an office environment that reflected the company’s vision and values, which center on community, according to Moss. That meant literally putting those values on a wall of the office, where Moss installed wooden letters spelling out Glassdoor’s four core values on top of circular wood panels filled with moss and concrete. Unique features included Chicago skyline murals by local artists and curved walls and edges. 

A look at the design inside Glassdoor’s Chicago office. Image courtesy of Moss

More than just conveying the values and vision of a company, creative branding can mean distinct experiences for employees and visitors. At Campari America’s headquarters, the office includes a number of bars meant to immerse both staff and clients in the Italian liqueur’s long legacy, offering them a chance to see (and try) the company’s different products. The idea behind adding bars to the office was to allow guests to “see themselves” in the Campari brand, according to Gensler, the firm behind the HQ design. “By manifesting a brand’s vision and values within the workplace, employees understand the company’s soul, connect with its purpose, and become its champions,” said Laura Gralnick, a strategy director at global design firm Gensler.

Branding can be a little different in a co-working space. After all, the co-working operator is a brand itself. But a lot of large co-working companies do allow tenants to go all out in branding their spaces. “Since the beginning, it’s always been important to us for our customers to put their imprint on the space they are taking,” said Ryan Simonetti, the CEO & co-founder of co-working operator Convene, which has 40 locations between the U.S. and the UK. “One of our design principles is ‘It’s your brand, not ours.’” Customers of Convene partake in a full design consultation after signing a lease contract and can work with Convene’s team on customizing their space and making it feel “fully like their brand” within their suite. That can include painting, furniture, art, and even outside the suite in hallway corridors. 

Though Convene has always allowed its customers to brand their space in whatever way they see fit, Simonetti said the practice has definitely kicked up a level since people began returning to the office post-pandemic. Maybe the biggest trend to emerge lately in creative branding is happening in meetings and events held in co-working spaces, where companies are increasingly creating fully immersible experiences. Digital screens are a big part of the trend, with some spaces using full video walls, projection technology, and adhesive graphics. “If there’s a surface that can be covered physically or digitally, it’s happening,” Simonetti said. 

Branding at a recent event in a Convene space. Image courtesy of Convene

A stronger focus on branding makes sense in the current environment. After the pandemic experience, when offices were empty and colleagues got used to attending meetings over Zoom, a lot of companies have sought to bring workers back to the office by pointing to the importance of in-person collaboration and company culture. Many company leaders argued that colleagues working together remotely couldn’t match the quality of work done together in the same physical place and that company culture would suffer as workers would feel less connected. With fewer workers in the office on a regular basis, that could also mean less exposure to whatever visuals and experiential branding a company has created in the workplace. “I think now that companies, especially as they embrace more hybrid and less of their own space and outsource to third party operators, maintaining that feeling of ownership of experience is really, really important,” Simonetti said. 

Creative branding in the workplace certainly isn’t new, but the experience of the pandemic and the resulting growth in hybrid and remote work has led companies to focus on how their employees experience the office. The bigger focus on branding is also forcing property firms to think about how their clients are seeking to brand their space and how it fits into their own brand. Strong branding can help companies reinforce their core values and tell a story about who they are to employees, visitors, and the outside world. Companies are doing this through the use of color palettes, logos, and posting their core values and keywords in creative ways throughout the workplace. But they’re also finding new and innovative ways for people to connect with their brand through more distinct, immersive experiences. In a time when workers have the upper hand, creative branding can help a company stand out from the crowd in attracting new employees and retaining the workers they have. 

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