The art of corporate culture

Artwork spruces up walls, sets tone for ‘inspirational’ office
By Philippe Burton
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/25/2014

Companies big and small are shifting to open-concept offices. Aimia, a Montreal-based global loyalty company, recently made the shift in its Toronto office and it has experienced the positive effects an open office can have on promoting collaboration, building a unified culture and, ultimately, employee satisfaction.

As the company grew and evolved, it became apparent the former Toronto location — at the Air Canada Centre — didn’t accommodate its needs or appropriately reflect the vibrancy of the new brand, which was changed from Groupe Aeroplan to Aimia in late 2011.

Its goal is to inspire brands to build lasting and meaningful relationships with customers, and it needed an environment that was equally as inspirational.

Once the new space was found, things moved quickly, with employees involved throughout the process to weigh in on some key elements of their future office.

When the space was found, Aimia formed a real estate committee of employees from different departments to provide ongoing input and to help communicate key elements of the move. The company held visioning sessions with a number of employees at all levels to develop the guiding principles that would influence the design of the space.

For example, there was a strong desire from employees to create an environment with ample natural light and a feeling of openness. In addition, multiple breakout spaces were required throughout the office for spontaneous and informal meetings. Employees also wanted a space they could be proud of when hosting clients and other visitors.

People are affected on a number of levels by their workplace environment. A sense of ownership and empowerment over workspaces has been shown to contribute to psychological comfort, a sense of belonging and even commitment to an organization, according to Jacqueline Visher, a professor at the University of Montreal and author of Workspace Strategies: Environment as a Tool for Work.

In January 2013, the office was ready and Aimia moved into the new space. A survey conducted with employees a few months later found 97 per cent were proud of their new offices and gave a thumbs up to the natural light, open environment and collaborative spaces.

New visitors continue to comment on the beauty and originality of the space.

Office as art gallery

While Aimia is in the business of loyalty, its community-based initiatives have always included a deep commitment to arts and culture. The organization has a longstanding partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) which includes the co-creation of the Aimia/AGO Photography Prize.

So it was only fitting the office walls be adorned with artwork from those initiatives. As with the office design, employees were involved in choosing the artwork from the prize finallists, as well as a selection of contemporary art from Canadian galleries and independent Canadian artists.

“We look toward artists to blaze new trails, provide new ways of looking at the world and connect communities through their unifying vision. Our new space gives shape and substance to what we stand for as a company. Not only is it a strong representation of Aimia’s culture, but it underscores the way we work and collaborate. The design reflects the energy of our culture, our values as an organization, as well our brand,” said Canadian president and CEO Vince Timpano in a booklet produced in conjunction with the AGO to showcase Aimia’s new art collection.

The new office supports the notion that workspaces are not merely enhanced by the presence of art but employees are inspired by the creativity that surrounds them. This inspiration cultivates an atmosphere of inquisitiveness, promotes dialogue and encourages progress.

For companies focused on innovation, the need to inspire new concepts and solutions is crucial to business success.

The new Toronto office space worked so well, it is being used as a template for Aimia’s new Montreal office.

In April, the company will open Aimia Tower in Montreal and the design will reflect the same principles of the Toronto office, with significant influence from employees along the way. Aimia’s offices in London, U.K., and Minneapolis have also introduced similar designs — with the end goal a highly engaged, winning environment.

As many companies begin to employ office design as not simply a functional background but a significant and active element in shaping their brand identity and attracting and retaining the best employees, they have also begun to re-evaluate its potential for creating a productive environment.

The rationale is happy employees are more engaged, motivated and reliable and in times of intense competition, a strong team could become a company’s greatest asset.

Philippe Burton is vice-president of people, culture and corporate reputation at Aimia Canada. For more information, visit www.aimia.ca.

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