What do you get when you mix elements of the Western culture with that of the East in designing an office space?

In the case of Beam Suntory, a Japanese-American premium spirits company, you get the simplicity of the Japanese culture with a traditional twist of American - the coziness of natural elements, such as water and wood in a comfortable work space, harmonised with the open-concept culture emanating from the West.

In this exclusive with Human Resources Online, Ilja Rijnen, HR Director, Asia Pacific & Global Travel Retail, tells Priya Sunil all about the inspiration behind this concept ahead of the official opening this afternoon (Tuesday, 17 September).

Q What spurred your company’s decision to create this office concept?

Being a business with the unique power of 'East-meets-West', we wanted our culture to come alive in every step of the design.

Our design is further built up around harmony, ensō (Buddhist for circle, gathering, coming together), and Japanese simplicity with American tradition.

At Beam Suntory, our mission is: 'Inspiring human connections' and so in our office, you will find many creative working spaces for people to meet, share ideas, get together, and connect, including a great bar and lounge.

Our company's commitment to our vision, 'Growing for Good', includes a commitment to protecting water and the environment, and you see this show up in our office design in terms of motifs, carpets, colours – which are all very natural.


Q How does creating such a workplace help with the company culture?

Culture, unlike values, is something that develops and evolves over time as it sits in the behaviours and customs of its inhabitants, our employees.

With this new office space, our aim is to bring to life our East-meets-West culture.. Our values and guiding principles  are displayed on our pillars and through our meeting spaces.

The design is in line with the ensō concept: many places to come together and share ideas, it is a very open and inviting space, homely and warm, yet challenging to new ideas.

We have carefully thought about the environment created so we can also accommodate to the different needs of our employees.

Along with open spaces  we have high work tables, lower tables with comfortable chairs or couches, and so much more. You will also find places with products and innovations on display (these displays are created by our own marketing team and will be changed regularly).


Q Does having an engaging office space help improve productivity, and why?

Absolutely, though it is an ingredient of a larger approach – we strongly believe that the driver of great business outcomes sits in a mix of people's knowledge, their mindset and their behaviours.

Whilst knowledge is something that can be learnt in a formal way through communication and meetings, we believe that people's mindset and behaviour is created by one's perception of their environment, how this relates to them and their role, and how this is reinforced by the leadership.

Having a place where people feel at home, feel inspired to give their best, to connect with others around them, where they like to spend their work time does help a great deal in driving productivity.

The other parts are driven by an understanding of what success means from a company's point of view and how the individual connects to this, as well as reinforcement through work procedures and leadership. We call this 'Workforce-culture alignment' translated into office design.


Q What advice would you give other companies that are planning on redecorating their offices?

Our office move and design was not a mere redecorating of our office but a total review of what our company means, understanding the longer-term strategy and how culture can help drive this. Afterwards, connecting these insights to a design that can evoke this.

My advice would be, before jumping to solutions (i.e. the office redesign), take enough time to understand the above elements of culture, behaviours and knowledge you want to reinforce as part of your company's purpose and strategy.

A second advice is to ensure enough time, resources, and alignment on the approach: we have taken almost one-and-a-half years to form a committee of employees from various parts of the business who have been part of design and the look and feel of the office.

In such a team you need people that can influence, advise, creatively brainstorm, and people that can represent the organisation.

For the final design, we partnered with a great external agency, who have not only helped us with the solution but also challenged our thinking further to bring it to life in a fantastic way, that took it even beyond our imagination!


Photos / Beam Suntory