Upgrade your reception area: Set the stage to impress

Remember how hard you worked when you needed to make a great first impression? A job or college interview, a first date, meeting the parents? No detail was too small. These days, In the office, it’s not just that special someone you need to make an impression on. It’s everyone who comes in the door. And you have maybe five seconds to do it.

We’re talking, of course, about the reception area. In those crucial first moments, you need to set the tone for your visitors and employees and make them feel comfortable, welcome, and excited to be there. How can you accomplish so much, so fast? Places, everyone: we’re about to visit the Reception Area Theater.

Set the stage for a great visitor experience

When you have a lot of marks to hit in record time, you need the right combination of design, technology, hospitality, and good, old-fashioned showmanship. It’s much like the first few moments of a play or movie. Audiences need to know where they are, what kind of place it is, and they set their expectations based on that. To create a great visitor experience, you need an understanding of the story you want to tell about your company. Are you warm and friendly? Or sleek and tech-savvy? Design your reception area to project a clear message.

Many companies today are eager to show their visitors that they’re on the cutting edge of technology and up-to-the-minute with the world. Silicon Valley boasts some of the most futuristic lobbies in the world. A lot of designs include video walls, recessed lighting, monochromatic themes, and paperless, tech-driven solutions, like a sign-in app or biometric security.

At SalesForce World Headquarters in San Francisco, for example, the reception area features the longest continuous 4K video screen in the United States. Salesforce uses it to create an atmosphere of grand waterfalls, California redwood forests, and modern art studies on an enormous scale. Everything about it says ‘big’ and ‘impressive,’ and the message is impossible to miss.

But your visitor experience doesn’t have to be breathtaking to be memorable. Box, a cloud media company in Los Altos, California, boasts an experience designed to capture young imaginations. Its peppy color scheme of sky blue and yellow puts visitors and employees in a positive, hopeful mood. Employees can enter the lobby from the offices above through a massive, adult-sized playground slide. How’s that for a first impression?

Tell a story: Tie the visitor experience to the brand

All good theater tells a story, and the tale your company should promote is your brand. Workplace management software company OfficeSpace reminds its clients: "Since the reception area will often be (visitors’) first real-world interaction with your brand, it’ll play a significant role in the overall image that you create." The company recommends infusing the brand into the visitor experience—decorating with corporate colors, playing company videos on overhead screens, putting the logo front and center, and dropping not-so-subtle hints about your core values everywhere you can.

At the headquarters of Evernote, whose cloud-based app promotes workplace collaboration from anywhere, telling a story of creative spontaneity is vital. The front desk in the lobby there contains a full, professional espresso bar and bistro tables. The message is simple. You can work together even when you decide to grab a cup of coffee. It’s a nice perk, goes a long way in the area of hospitality, it’s an unforgettable visitor experience, and very much on brand.

Dress the part: Let the details do the talking

The front desk area at Yelp has a similar example. Their airy and comfortable lobby features jars upon jars of brightly colored candy against a neutral-toned background. This sweet form of storytelling sends guests home understanding the company’s vision. There are so many choices out there; you only need to reach in and grab your favorite.

You don’t need a colossal lobby—or budget—to create a memorable front-desk show. Small tweaks can make a big difference in the impression you make. Think about the seating area in the reception area. Is it cozy, comfortable, and modern? And more importantly, is there enough seating? OfficeSpace recommends studying the traffic patterns and understanding how people move in and out of the reception area. Making a few changes, like adding seat groupings (branded with your company colors), relevant literature, quick access to guest Wi-Fi, and a safe place for umbrellas and coats help break the ice.

Hotel-style hospitality makes a great impression, too. Some companies keep bottles of cold water or a coffee station at the ready to serve guests upon arrival. Others send visitors home with goodie bags filled with healthy snacks and inexpensive company swag. Branded chocolates and mints help sooth job interviewees’ nerves. Such little touches tell every visitor that you appreciate them. A paperless sign-in app demonstrates that your company cares about the environment and using technology to preserve it.

It’s not just visitors who need to be impressed by the front desk. Employees, too, need to feel a sense of pride and belonging as they walk in and out. "There is a trend toward reception areas with a residential tone so that clients feel welcomed," said Heather Conard, Workplace Solutions Manager at Rightsize, a nationwide office interiors firm. "You also want to provide an environment that employees find comforting as they walk into the office." Since the reception area may have the only relaxing furniture employees have access to all day, it should be a place that makes them feel at home.

People are the most memorable part of the visitor experience

Once you have set your stage and you’re telling the story you want to tell, populate it with the right actors. Front desk staff should be mindful of the role they play in creating a positive visitor experience. Friendly faces, helpful personalities, and a real interest in people are the most vital traits your staff should possess.

In return, however, the company should recognize their importance. Make sure your front-desk staff has everything they need to do the job you need them to do. See that their area is efficiently designed, that they have access to the technology they need. They’re the ones who make or break the visitor experience, and feedback from them will give you the best insight.

Whether you go with big changes or small, the alterations you make today will further your brand and provide a memorable visitor experience to everyone who comes through the door. Your company deserves a standing ovation—make sure your reception area is a top performer.