Who Let the Dogs In?

As people head back to the office, a look at how workplaces can better accommodate four-legged friends.

April 20, 2021

Interior Designer, NBBJ

This post initially appeared in OnOffice Magazine

One of the most significant social outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic is a rise in dog ownership. Many benefit from having pets keep them company while working from home, but what happens when more employees start to return to the office?

Prior to the pandemic, ‘bring your dog to work day’ was a regular occurrence for companies like Amazon and pet subscription company BARK. Now with the vaccine roll-out underway and an expected increase in companies trying to accommodate new pets, we outline design ideas to help with this transition.

First and foremost, it’s important to consider height. Workplaces that prioritize amenities for employees can also do so for dogs, just placed a bit lower. Looking at a kitchenette, for example, one strategy is to design integrated water bowls into islands at ’dog-drinking’ levels. This designates a specific, contained area for water bowls that is easy for four-legged friends to use.

Respite, collaboration, and informal meeting spaces are now a staple in workplaces. It is important to design these areas with dogs in mind. An example is the ‘amenity bar’ at BARK’s Columbus, Ohio, office. This feature allows employees to curl up in a nook and work on their laptop, with lower lounge areas for their dog to climb in nearby.

For meeting rooms with glass partitions, it’s easy for dogs to get distracted by movement and other activity happening outside. One design strategy is to add a frosted or opaque film at ground or dog height to alleviate pup distractions. This film is normally specified at human seated eye height but by extending this to be lower, both humans and dogs are accounted for.


For pup-friendly offices, provide locations to hang dog leashes. With dogs being accident-prone throughout the day, it’s common for dog-inhabited offices to enforce a leash rule to help alleviate this issue and any additional distractions pups may cause. Place these leash hooks near desk space to help employees focus on work while properly looking out for their pooch.

When working from home, dogs follow their owners around. To ensure the owner is able to work productively at the office, furniture systems can be selected that include not only desks, but also built-in lounge chairs. So, while a dog-owner works, their furry friend can lounge beside them.

Some companies have upward of 1 dog for every 10 employees in the office on any given day. To ensure appropriate maintenance, source materials that are impervious, bleach-cleanable, removable, and washable. Hard flooring products on the market can maintain desired aesthetics but with the durability to withstand liquids penetrating the surface.

Additionally, when sourcing upholstery for millwork and furniture items, look at adding Nanotex and Crypton technology to the textiles. This treatment blocks liquids from seeping through the surface without compromising the comfort of textiles. As a bonus, these coatings are also stain, bacteria and wrinkle-resistant.

If topical solutions alone aren’t enough, when designing lounge spaces, make sure any upholstered item is removable. This allows for a quick wash or easy replacement.

When employees are stuck working like a dog, there needs to be a dedicated space for dogs to play within the office. One example is a ‘pup play area’ equipped with platforms and integrated tunnels where dogs can run. For more rowdy pups, be sure to strategically locate a co-working zone nearby so the owner is free to work while keeping an eye on their dog. These co-working zones double as a workspace to alleviate a large number of people in an open office post pandemic.

Allowing for an outdoor dog park or adjacent green space when looking for the perfect tenant lease is fundamental when dogs are in the workplace. This outdoor space is a good way to let pups get out in their natural habitat, play with other canines and release energy without having to go too far.

Additionally, the outdoor dog park is just as beneficial for people as it is for dogs. The pandemic has escalated the time humans spend outdoors; a silver-lining to general wellbeing. Research from NBBJ’s Applied Research Fellowship Program with developmental molecular biologist Dr. John Medina shows that healthy individuals are more engaged and empowered, which in turn has a direct impact on their overall performance at work. When transitioning back into the office, it is good practice to keep a similar, healthy routine. Space should make you (and your dog) move. Who doesn’t love a classic game of Go Fetch?

It may be a dog-eat-dog world, but designing a successful workplace for pandemic pups has direct employee benefit: it can potentially boost office morale, attract and retain top talent, foster community and entice employees back into the office while reducing stress levels. With happiness-boosting oxytocin levels elevated by the presence of animals, they are arguably the cutest addition of wellbeing in the workplace. So, design with dogs in mind, not an afterthought. It’s officially time to throw out the “no dogs allowed” signs.

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America’s Shadow Pandemic

Here’s How To Design Now For The Behavioral Health Crisis Ahead

April 12, 2021

Healthcare Partner, NBBJ

This post initially appeared on Forbes. It was co-authored by Ryan Hullinger and Sarah Markovitz.

The past year forced healthcare and design professionals to quickly reimagine hospitals in order to meet the influx of patients with Covid-19. But far less attention has been paid to the shadow behavioral health pandemic. That’s why healthcare systems should start planning now to integrate best practices in design so the physical spaces are well-equipped to provide patients with the support they need.

While the coronavirus pandemic has taken an unprecedented physical toll on millions, the resulting social isolation, economic uncertainty and other context-related stressors have also led to a dramatic increase in behavioral conditions including depression, anxiety, isolation, PTSD, eating disorders and substance abuse, as well as rising levels of self-harm and suicidal ideation. This can be seen across nearly every segment of American society, but it’s especially pronounced among children and young people, BIPOC persons, essential and frontline workers, caregivers, and those with preexisting psychiatric conditions.

Reimagine behavioral health design to plan for patient surges
When providers, architects and builders collaborate to respond to rapidly evolving healthcare needs, a lot can happen. Look no further than the Covid-19 crisis, where we quickly built field hospitals, triage tents, drive-through testing and vaccination facilities. Just as we’ve worked to meet the surge in demand for physical care, we now need to ask ourselves, how will healthcare design teams proactively respond to the pending surge in behavioral healthcare need?

One idea is to adapt the flexible field hospital approach that allowed us to significantly expand care capacity at the height of the pandemic for use in behavioral health care delivery. By leveraging the latest innovations in pre-fabricated and ‘pop up’ architecture, we could deploy community-responsive and integrated behavioral health clinics in and near schools, workplaces, retail spaces and places of worship. This approach is flexible, scalable and transportable, giving us an opportunity to expand behavioral healthcare access in underserved communities – both in low income urban areas and in rural areas that often don’t have access to specialty care.

And there are opportunities to design these surge spaces in a way that addresses the other major behavioral health challenge – a shortage of qualified practitioners and specialists – through design layouts that maximize caregiver sightlines and by integrating advancements in telehealth with in-person, physical support space. This reimagination of behavioral healthcare ‘surge’ spaces gives us an opportunity to redesign the experience – destigmatizing treatment, bringing it closer to where people live and work and removing as many barriers as possible.

Rethink emergency room space
A sobering trend over the course of the pandemic has been an uptick in suicidal ideation, attempted suicide and self-harm requiring emergency mental health treatment.

According to a recent report from the CDC, ”through most of 2020, the proportion of pediatric emergency admissions for mental problems, like panic and anxiety, was up by 24 percent for young children and 31 percent for adolescents compared to the previous year.” Hospitals from Philadelphia to Anchorage are reporting their concerns over the rise in patients of all ages coming to the emergency department for urgent behavioral health support.

But traditional emergency departments were not designed to care for behavioral health patients well. They often lack appropriate dedicated space and because of inefficiencies, can be more expensive as well. This insufficient behavioral health bed capacity can mean that patients can spend days waiting for placement in a proper care environment.

Healthcare organizations like Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, are working to fill the gap. Nationwide Children’s opened a new nine-story pavilion just before the pandemic in 2020 that includes a dedicated psychiatric crisis department. This functions like an emergency room, but it was designed from the ground up for children experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis. As well as a youth crisis stabilization unit, in which treatment is provided by a multi-disciplinary behavioral health team consisting of a care coordinator, clinicians, psychiatrists, nurses, and specialists in family support and therapeutic recreation – all working together to address the core needs of pediatric patients.

Seeing this amplified need, Massachusetts General Hospital worked with design and construction teams to expedite the completion of a new behavioral health emergency department during the pandemic. Recognizing that behavioral health patients were both a bottleneck in the emergency department and that their experience was sub-optimal, they built a separate section where patients can be cared for appropriately while waiting for bed placement, allowing them to begin treatment with trained staff, rest privately, and if they are able, to leave their private, safe rooms and socialize in a small lounge space overseen by nursing staff.

What is good for patients is good for providers
Beyond serving the industry with better capacity to deal with behavioral health surge events, there is also the issue of longer-term care. Even before the pandemic, designers and behavioral health administrators were working together to guide a sea change in the look, feel and approach of treatment spaces such as residential care programs – one that is a vast departure from the cold and clinical environments we typically associate with mental health institutions. And these shifts have proven even more critical in the pandemic.

Employee burnout within behavioral health fields was alarmingly high before 2020 (at a rate of up to 40%). This past year has magnified the challenges for our frontline workers facing the current mental health epidemic; staff who themselves are dealing with stress, isolation from loved ones, increased patient load, concerns about getting sick, and often having to act as surrogate family members for their patients.

Design strategies responsive to the latest research on the impact of our physical environment on the brain can improve well-being and outcomes for both patients and for the staff guiding their recovery.

  • Designing with nature: Incorporating views or courtyards, walking paths and outdoor gardens — has been shown to reduce stress and improve patient outcomes. Daylight and fresh air also promote recovery from depression and bipolar disorders.
  • Bringing in amenities allowing for active engagement: At both the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohana Montage Health in Monterey, CA, amenities like centralized gyms and sporting facilities and gardens for growing fruit and vegetables help reduce stress and elevate a sense of competency and control.
  • Minimize noise where possible: Care should be taken to minimize ambient noise, as doing so has been shown to decrease stress levels. This can be accomplished through material and layout considerations, such as placing seclusion rooms or other potentially noisy spaces outside the main corridors, dayrooms and therapy areas.
  • Focus on lighting: Poor sleep quality is associated with a slew of behavioral health issues Integrate best practices in lighting healthcare settings for optimal well-being. These strategies include the use of daylighting wherever possible, allowing for high light levels in the early part of the day, and shifting color temperature, table-mounted lighting and dimming lights to low levels in the couple of hours before bedtime.

While the prevalence of mental and behavioral health challenges has existed in society long before the pandemic and will exist well-after, the past year has cast an intense spotlight on our need to create appropriate space for treatment and care. This requires balancing short and long-term thinking and planning – developing immediate design solutions to scale-up care while investing in expanding access and care in communities in a way that normalizes care.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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There’s a Pandemic-Driven Learning Deficit

How Design Can Support Lifelong Learning at Work

March 31, 2021

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a six-part series on five different work modes. The first piece outlined a framework for each work mode, while subsequent posts explore a single work mode in greater depth — including focus, collaborate, learn, socialize and rest.

This post was co-authored by Kelly Griffin and Andrea Vanecko.

Learning is essential to the growth of individuals and organizations. As society evolves faster than ever before, the ability for companies to stay relevant rests in part on new attitudes toward learning beyond employees’ formal education. The coronavirus has also created a deficit of learning across companies that work from home. This virtual format lacks the richness of unique in-person learning moments in the workplace — for example, when colleagues work side-by-side or overhear conversations.

At the same time, a generational tsunami is impacting organizations and businesses. Generation Z — those born between 1996 and 2010 — will become a quarter of the workforce in just a few years. For Gen Z, learning opportunities are one of the top two factors important to building trust with employers. Maximizing learning opportunities can help attract this incoming workforce.


To better support learning, the workplace can enhance educational opportunities so when employees return once Covid-19 recedes, work is more effective, empowering and meaningful. Below are three ways organizations can employ design and design thinking to stimulate new learning outcomes.

Acknowledge that vehicles for learning are varied and diverse.
Learning in the workplace can take many forms. But first, understand why learning is needed. Is it to develop a solution, bring new practices and processes to how work gets done or gain a new skill? Then, consider four key learning modes:

  • Mentorships. One of the most valuable forms of hands-on learning is to develop a close working relationship with another individual in the workplace. It can provide a host of benefits for both the mentor and mentee, from building a network to expanding perspectives on an issue.
  • Networks. Another avenue of learning is to stay informed of the latest news, happenings and updates through colleagues. Opportunities to build formal and informal networks are incredible sources of fresh insights, different perspective and new ideas.
  • Partnerships. Learning opportunities can also expand outside an organization’s walls. Developing ties with other organizations, nonprofits or consultants can provide unique ways to close knowledge gaps and even beta test out new initiatives.
  • Whole-life Learning. By providing the space for employees to expand their repertoire of life skills and hobbies — organizations can only strengthen their commitment to and knowledge in the workplace.


Engage in best practices for successful learning.
As learning is unique for everyone, consider what matters most to your employees and organization. What can learning help achieve? How can people grow and better contribute to their organization? Opportunities to personalize the learning experience in the workplace can boost its value for employees, teams and organizations. To help tailor knowledge experiences, it may be helpful to survey employees’ preferred learning styles. But above all, consider the importance of fostering choice and agency, so employees are empowered to learn and have access to the right tools when they come back to the office.


Create spaces that foster an open learning environment.
The pandemic has both escalated and challenged the need for learning. To help employees, teams, and organizations more effectively gain new skills and knowledge, design strategies can help enhance learning opportunities in the office. A range of environments can support the ways people absorb information and also provide a fertile environment for those all-important in-person face-to-face learning moments, from overheard discussions to impromptu hallway conversations. Below are a few ways the office can support knowledge exchange.

  • Consider formal and informal learning opportunities. As learning can happen anywhere, a range of environments for formal and informal learning can help organizations support key knowledge-building moments across teams and departments. For instance, an atrium with large stadium-style steps that double as seating can transform a pass-through space into a dedicated area for lectures, presentations and talks. Meanwhile, a continuous stair, as seen in F5 Networks’ headquarters, which spirals up 28 stories, can provide unique spaces for employees to exchange knowledge as they casually connect in social spaces along the way, overhear conversations and even get some brain-boosting exercise. On the more informal end, office kitchenettes with large islands can create opportunities for impromptu group learning sessions. Booths in window-lined hallways can offer convenient spots for discussions between mentors and mentees, while also providing opportunities for colleagues passing by to join the conversation.
  • Offer spaces for group and individual learning. Some people learn best by listening, while others learn best by observing. In addition, introverts and extroverts learn differently too. Welcoming “learning rooms” with comfortable chairs, movable tables, digital whiteboards and dimmable lighting can support more social learning activities, such as group discussions and debates. Furthermore, dedicated spaces for cohort learning, such as “knowledge huts” can provide areas for teams to regularly learn together over an extended period of time. Ideally, these would be located in a new environment, filled with unique and atypical experiences, to help imprint the learning and knowledge gain. For introverts, library-like reading nooks can provide the perfect place to review the latest research report, work alongside a peer, or meet with a colleague one-on-one. More formal learning centers with multi-purpose rooms, breakout spaces and places to gather around food, can support a range of learners and breakout sessions. No matter the size, these spaces should be free of distractions and interruptions, so employees can effectively absorb new knowledge.
  • Build internal and external learning environments. Organizations can also enhance information exchange — as well as their network and brand — by opening their workplace up to the community. Underutilized ground floor retail space can be repurposed into popup classrooms or “maker spaces” for course partnerships with nearby academic or nonprofit institutions. For example, a culinary school can use an organization’s space to teach a weekly course on how to prepare nutritious meals, while a local “mobile” library can provide literacy resources for children in the neighborhood. In addition, co-working “learning lounges” can offer unique opportunities for employees from different organizations (and freelancers) to learn by working alongside one another.

In Summary
Knowledge can come from anyone and anywhere. The idea that people end their formal years of education knowing everything that is needed for an entire career is no longer valid. Yet harnessing and encouraging learning moments at work, from mentorship to upskilling, can be a challenge, particularly during the pandemic. By opening the workplace up to a diversity of talent, skills and experiences, the office environment can enhance a range of in-person learning activities so organizations can flourish, increase innovation and foster wellbeing in a post-pandemic world. The workplace needs to provide space — literally and figuratively — where people can continue to seek knowledge, pursue their curiosities and apply them to the work they do every day.

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