In PLASTARC’s most recent webinar, “Workplace Transformation 101: Scaling from Pilot to Portfolio,” panelists discussed the frameworks and methodologies they use to design workplaces that meet the demands of a highly diverse, newly hybrid workforce. As we discussed in the previous webinar, every aspect of the design process is predicated on a clearly defined “workplace why;” in order to find the direction they seek, organizations must first be willing (and know how) to ask the right questions. The only way to reach that evolutionary state, panelists agreed, is by first articulating what specific quantitative and qualitative goals a workplace should aim to accomplish.
The panel, facilitated by PLASTARC’s socialspatial designer, Amy Rosen, included Dave Rhoads, who has created workplaces at companies such as Google, WeWork, Saltmine, and Intercom; Suzanne Carlson, who currently works as the interior design principal in the New York office of NBBJ, a global architecture firm; and Brian Coogan, the director of digital services at Ethos Engineering. In an animated discussion, the four presented their original ideas on how to leverage tools and data sources to holistically evaluate those factors that are core to the workplace experience.
When working to bring employees back into the NBBJ office, Carlson found that the isolation of remote work has left people longing for a place where they can celebrate the creative craft that originally drew them to their profession. People need a space other than home where they can gather and exchange ideas, while getting their hands dirty. So while many architecture companies were downsizing their materials libraries and model shops to reflect an increasingly remote workforce, NBBJ actually quadrupled the footprint of their collaborative spaces. This solution reinvigorated a company culture that had been dampened by the recent rise of remote work. Our polling results from the webinar reinforced Carlson’s outlook – about 54% of attendees responded that opportunities to collaborate are what most significantly impact their desire to work in the office.
But even though an approach might work for one company or department, Rhoads noted, by no means should we assume that it would work for another. “No space, location, or team is exactly the same,” he said, and this is why a thorough, data-driven research approach to any workplace redesign is imperative. In order to drive value for the rest of the organization, the workplace should present the exact diversity of space-types and applications that will enable its constituents to complete their work as effectively as possible.” Once again, our poll backed this up: about 67% of respondents said that diversity and optionality were the most important characteristics of an office environment. But in the process of piloting solutions, Rhoads said, companies must be prepared to fail. Striking the perfect balance takes time, but when equipped with the right metrics, each failure can teach us just as much as each success.
Determining what metrics and data sets to use in the research process is no small order. In a world where users set the terms of engagement, organizations must reverse-engineer their spaces to ensure that all elements of the office – including construction, technologies, and social/behavioral structures – align with the needs and values of both the organization and its employees. This means that companies should consider priorities that may at first seem only tangentially related to a company’s bottom line. Sustainability, for instance, has become a central concern for any workplace. “People are very conscious about their own branding,” Coogan asserted, “and they won’t work with organizations or go to spaces that they feel are detrimental to the planet.” What matters as organizations ask these questions is that their hypotheses are clearly defined, so that it’s easy for them to identify and test the data structures that a pilot is studying. In the case of Ethos Engineering, several technologies, including building sensors, were used to transform its office into “a living lab.” This metaphor resonated with Rosen, whose work at PLASTARC has always leveraged the scientific method in pilot design.
The “living lab” analogy was also one of many that panelists used to personify the workspace. “We think about how it breathes, how it behaves, how people can activate or inhabit a space, and how their use of it can change how it functions and feels,” Rosen remarked. In order to unify the disparate but interwoven factors of architecture, technology, and culture into a singular design, it’s helpful to see the building as one dynamic, animate body that can evolve with the times.
A clear precedent for dramatic and unexpected change has already been set. This webinar’s poll suggested that the average worker went from working remotely for about one day per week pre-COVID, to over two days per week since officially returning to the office. The panelists agreed: to prepare for whatever shifts the future holds, design teams must continue re-evaluating and articulating their workplace why, while using data-driven research to make sure that the office they’ve created – from the technology to the space-types and policies – are giving workers everything they need to elevate the organization. To that end, other industries may be able to take some tips from the hospitality, retail and higher ed playbooks. Join PLASTARC on May 11 for our next webinar, as we discuss how we can redesign offices to accommodate a number of collaborative and solidary tasks—something these three industries have long been practicing.