Chesterfields or surfboards

Is your office decor a help or a hindrance for your business?

When you next refurbish your office, or relocate to a new one, make sure you take the time to create an atmosphere that makes your target clients feel comfortable and relaxed. Often, advisers take a rather formulaic approach to furnishing their office and, depending on your client-type, this can have a negative effect on your clients and your business.

Thinking carefully about what type of person makes up the bulk of your target market will help you create a more welcoming and relaxed environment that can help put clients at ease and make them more open and trusting.

Small changes in the office environment can make a big difference to the success of your business. In this article, we discuss some innovative approaches that you should consider when it is time for an office refurbishment.

Alignment of perceived values

Your office says a lot about you, your business and your approach. Having clients believe that their values are aligned with yours is a very effective way of initially attracting and then retaining clients. You can accidentally alienate clients if there is any incongruence between your behaviour and how your office looks as clients have a keen sense of inauthenticity.

Priming

Some interesting research  has shown how everyday business objects, like a briefcase and a fountain pen can have significant sub-conscious effects on the behaviour of people. When business objects were placed in an office the research subjects became significantly more competitive and less cooperative when they were given certain tasks. The presence of the business objects altered their behaviour. A business-focused frame of mind is not what you want when you are meeting clients, especially for the first time, when you are trying to build trust and confidence. You want them to feel comfortable, collaborative and partnership-focused.

Is your office a help or hindrance?

So, what are the different types of office? We now consider how the characteristics of your target clients should influence your office furnishings and d├ęcor.

Target client type: Age 60s and 70s =
office type: traditional

This is the chesterfield-type office, it should be painted in darker colours with a solid wooden desk. You may opt for certificates of achievement on the wall and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War nestling on the bookshelf. Sporting memorabilia is optional.

These types of client expect to see evidence of your qualifications and probably expect quite a structured and formal meeting. Some older clients may not be as conservative. In these situations, you should adapt and perhaps come out from behind the desk.

Client type: Age 40s and 50s =
office type: wooden kitchen table

This type of office is aiming to remove some of the more obvious props of financial advisers, so a large desk that creates a barrier is removed in favour of a wooden kitchen table or desk. This makes clients feel like they are having a conversation rather than undergoing an examination. Pictures on the wall should be aspirational. These could include exotic destinations, yachts or motor vehicles. Sporting memorabilia is also optional – just make sure you know enough about sport so you don’t get caught out if the subject comes up.

Client type: Age 20s and 30s =
office type: co-working space
Funky colours, beanbags, comfy sofas and lots of screens. Free wi-fi is a must, as is providing refreshments from a large communal fridge or bar. These types of clients will expect your technology to be advanced. You should demonstrate the various ways that clients can interact with you, as they will probably expect to be able to use several channels. Surfboards can work well in this type of office but try to feature evidence of community involvement rather than aspirational images. Minimise business-related objects.  

Mix it up, if you can

Some advisers, who have enough space, choose to create different types of office. One could be more traditional and the other could have a more relaxed atmosphere.

Next time you refurbish your office, think carefully about what your office is saying about you and be cautious about placing too many business-related objects in it – as you never know, and nor do your clients, how much of a negative effect it could be having on your relationship.

1 Material priming: The influence of mundane physical objects on situational construal and competitive behavioural choice. Kay, Wheeler, Bargh and Ross, 2004.