Kelly Griffin

Kelly Griffin

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ
Kelly is a workplace strategist and designer at NBBJ. With more than 20 years of experience in the industry, Kelly’s in-depth research into current workplace strategies and their impact on performance has helped her design transformative workplaces for Google, Amgen, Boeing, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Russell Investments and others.

Is Your Post-Coronavirus Workplace Planning Focused on Fear or Growth?

Organizations Should Keep These Three Responses in Mind When Strategizing Their Return to the Workplace

April 24, 2020

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Kelly Griffin, Andrew Lazarow and Samuel Liberant.

For more than 100 years, neurologists have been looking at the ways stress can pull us out of our comfort zones and free us to achieve at higher levels. But what does one do when that source of stress is a pandemic? Weeks into the worldwide shutdown in response to COVID-19, many organizations are asking themselves, When can we get back to normal? What will the new normal be? These are understandable questions; however, it’s important for organizations to reflect on how they’re reacting before bringing employees back to the office or making changes about future policies or office design.


The Three Zones

An organization’s response to crisis typically falls into three zones, through which one may move sequentially, almost like the grieving process.

  1. The Fear Zone
    The “Fear Zone” is a reactionary phase in which an organization follows impulses. The Fear Zone is a stance of loss aversion, an attempt to mitigate a painful situation as quickly as possible. This is a common mindset, as it is human to seek comfort. We are built to develop routines, and the emotion of fear may often direct our actions. Importantly, this is usually a temporary place that can be an enabler of change and an improved mindset.
  2. The Learning Zone
    Next is the “Learning Zone,” when an organization develops new confidence that enables reflection on thoughts and reactions. The Learning Zone is a time of increased awareness, not only introspectively but also of how others respond to the situation. The organization gains new skills and experiences that allow it to deal with challenges and problems.
  3. The Growth Zone
    Finally, in the “Growth Zone,” an organization is empowered to make swift decisions in support of a greater purpose. Now that it is more resilient and comfortable with being uncomfortable, it asks how to grow from it, how it will be affected going forward, and to whom it might reach out for help. An indicator of being in this zone is a new mindset, characterized by acting with immediacy after reflection. Performing at this level, the organization is free to see new goals and objectives, or new solutions to existing objectives.


What the Three Zones Mean for the Workplace

An organization in the Fear Zone will focus on immediate mitigation and attempt to return to its comfort zone as quickly as possible. While this response is understandable, even necessary, in the early stages of a crisis, an organization that never progresses beyond the Fear Zone can make short-sighted decisions. For instance, responding to the coronavirus threat by tearing out workstations and putting everyone in 8’x8′ cubicles with high partitions, thus undermining everything we know about the importance of daylight and human connections to personal health and organizational performance. Or by installing infrared fever monitors, which are of limited effectiveness when anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of people can transmit the disease while exhibiting no symptoms.

When an organization moves from the Fear Zone to the Learning Zone, it is working hard to make itself better. It begins asking, either internally or with the help of experts, the questions that spur reflection: What is your underlying vision as an organization? How can you remain authentic to that vision amidst changing circumstances? What is critical to your work, and to our basic need as humans to be social? What makes your staff feel valued even through this moment?

Finally, in the Growth Zone, the crisis becomes an opportunity for an organization either to confirm its purpose or to question and refine it further. Most organizations will say yes, their vision and purpose continue to be relevant, but it’s a powerful question to ask, because it serves as a reminder of who you are and what you stand for. It puts a crisis in perspective and allows an organization to align around a meaningful, intentional path forward, regardless of whether or not it reveals immediate design solutions. This renewed purpose can also be used to refine ideas — or potential design decisions — developed in the Learning Zone.

Everyone starts in the Fear Zone, but the sooner an organization can access what’s true to itself, the faster it can move into the Growth Zone and physicalize the changes it needs to make.


Potential Implications

Potential changes to collaborative vs. focused work locations
Organizations in the Growth Zone will reflect on what worked and what did not work in their response to COVID-19, and will take the opportunity to connect those lessons to their purpose and social sustainability before driving to real estate outcomes. An important task is not to solve problems but to explore possibilities. Maybe an organization will permanently locate 50% of its workforce in the office and 50% at home. Or maybe the office becomes a more social environment with fewer desks and more support for team-based collaborative interactions, while the home becomes a place for more focused work. Regardless, successful organizations will engage in a purposeful, growth-minded dialogue about what best supports their vision.

Potential changes to protocols and operations
Nor will we solve all the problems of COVID-19 through physical changes alone. There will always be pinch points where people gather — and potentially spread a contagious illness — in elevators, in restrooms, by the coffeemaker or in conference rooms. Journey mapping — helping people understand all their touch points on the way back to work — can reveal changes to protocols and operations that mitigate those pinch points, perhaps by opening up stairs and limiting the number of people in an elevator. Perhaps an organization will hire a barista so there aren’t dozens of employees’ hands touching the coffee pot and sugar packets. Perhaps when colleagues brainstorm together they wear masks or bring their own set of markers to the conference room. The point is to ask what an organization needs to fundamentally achieve its mission while eliminating the touch points that pose a potential threat — primarily in the short term, but potentially for the long term as well.

Potential changes to emphasize wellbeing and social connection
For many of us in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, our world has narrowed to two questions: Will I get sick? And how can I cope with isolation? For many organizations, their response to COVID-19 may double down on those two issues, wellbeing and social connection, which we already knew were vital to the health and performance of both individuals and organizations. Perhaps we’ll create more environments incorporate nature, encourage movement and connect people to each other to boost employee health and performance and each organization’s triple-bottom-line.


What People and Organizations Should Do in Response to COVID-19

  1. Notice where you are.
  2. Pause and give space for reflection.
  3. Allow yourself to pursue an intentional journey of greater purpose with a renewed sense of spirit, commitment and engagement.

As yet, no one knows for certain whether the coronavirus pandemic will be forgotten quickly — because unlike a natural disaster like a flood or volcanic eruption, it leaves behind no dramatic physical evidence — or whether it will spur major societal changes. Either way, once the immediate threat passes, an organization’s long-term challenges and goals will continue to exist, and those who are able to align around their vision will be the ones most positioned for success.


How are you and your organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at

Banner image courtesy Adobe Stock.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

An Unintended Experiment

How Remote Work Is Changing the Workplace as a Result of the Coronavirus Outbreak

April 20, 2020

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Low utilization rates in the office, access to top talent, improved virtual collaboration tools and opportunities for staff flexibility are long-held drivers for organizations to consider work-from-home strategies. Since many of us are now weeks into a “stay at home” order, this is the first time we’ve all been given a chance to try it for ourselves. If you considered a remote-work strategy before COVID-19, this moment becomes an unexpected opportunity to learn what works for your organization.

When we return to our offices, our workplace strategies will expand beyond the typical office or campus. They will include hundreds of extra remote work sites and leverage office locations for their highest value — to bring people together. In the meantime, we can learn from our current experience and bring these benefits back to the office. Here are a couple of ideas to think about:

Deeper Connections 

Strong personal relationships are critical to effective teams. Thanks to video conferencing, we now have an unexpected window into our colleagues’ lives. Having a child or a pet wander across a screen gives us more insight into who they are and helps us build deeper connections. We can embrace these unexpected, personal moments to build relationships that go beyond the current state, and carry them with us even after we return to the workplace. Today, we can practice our virtual interactive skills by shifting a face-to-face breakfast meeting to a virtual coffee to stay connected over the things that usually bring us together.

Adapting Culture

It’s also important to consider whether your culture is ready for this kind of change longer-term after the peak of the coronavirus has passed. So much of organizational culture is defined by face-to-face interactions, how people react in a crisis, and how they build trust with their colleagues. While each organization is unique, there are some key considerations.

  1. Have your teams been able to turn to each other for support, working together to meet the needs of the business?
  2. Have managers been able to let go and enable teams to perform their work without in-person monitoring?
  3. Have you been able to share stories and celebrate how people have shown up for each other despite the current disruption?

Ideally, this moment is bringing out the best of your teams and is showing that your culture can thrive and be ready for more intentional remote work.

An Evolving Workplace

Finally, this is an unexpected opportunity to think about the workplace itself. The definition of a real estate portfolio may evolve beyond a single office location or a campus to a collection of sites — including people’s homes that are supported by a real estate team in close collaboration with people and technology teams. We may consider our offices as more of an organizational hub or “passthrough model,” shifting toward more effective group space. If most of our work can happen at home, we will be drawn to the office for the social interactions and the energy we derive from when we feel like we are a part of something — and can tangibly see the direct impact our efforts have on others. In addition, being given the choice of where to work matters too. When we can expand our range of workplace options beyond only those in a traditional office, we can work where we are most productive.

Despite our resilience, and how quickly many of us have adopted to a work-from-home approach, there are still things we miss and can’t wait to get back to soon: the daily, unplanned interactions with our colleagues; the ability to effortlessly build on ideas and brainstorm as a team in one room; the unexpected insight that forms when running into someone you don’t normally work with on a regular basis. Furthermore, we benefit from a change in scenery — from selecting spaces that align with our mood and the type of work to be done — that isn’t always available within the limited real estate we have at home. And while we may approach a room full of people with some trepidation in the future, we are still social animals that rely on human contact for survival. Although the future is uncertain, it’s important to use this time to consider what’s right for your organization.


How are you and your organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

Building a Workplace? Do the Math.

Statistical Analysis Can Lead to Healthier, Happier, More Productive Work

December 4, 2014

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

This post was co-authored by Timothy Deak, a social strategist at NBBJ.

We have intuitions about the human experience that we use to inform design. For instance, we’ve always known that daylight is important. Exposure to the appropriate spectrum of light throughout the day enhances health and well-being, immune responses and productivity. But who knew that you could directly show that something like daylight in the workplace positively affects an employee’s perception of well-being? Using detailed surveys and statistical analysis — most recently of our own company and a large consulting firm — we can validate those intuitions with concrete evidence.

Converting raw data about the workplace into design-validating evidence requires statistical savvy. Using SPSS, a powerful statistics program, we can compare different variables (like daylight and well-being) to see whether there is a correlation between them. On top of that, we can determine through regression analysis how much one variable (like the ability to focus) can be explained by others (like acoustical privacy and access to restful places.) With statistical software, we can safely say the observations don’t result from random chance — they’re likely caused by the variables we’ve identified:

Well-being: A regression analysis of our internal survey data shows that half of all possible responses to people’s sense of well-being at work can be explained by access to a task lamp and satisfaction with their ability to focus. What’s more, the ability to find a space to suit one’s work and one’s satisfaction with access to daylight are both positively correlated with well-being. If we were to offer every employee a task lamp, improved access to daylight and a broader diversity of workplaces, the model suggests that people’s well-being could be much improved.


Surveys indicate that as employees’ satisfaction with noise levels increases, so does their satisfaction with their ability to focus (trend line with data points omitted; click to enlarge).

Ability to Focus: The internal survey shows that one-third of all possible responses to an employee’s ability to focus can be explained by access to restful places and acoustical privacy. Correlations from the consulting company survey show that as satisfaction with noise level improves:

    1. People take less time to work away from their desk to concentrate, and
    2. The ability to focus increases.

This provides strong statistical evidence that people’s perceptions about noise impact their ability to focus — and suggest that we ought to design our spaces to accommodate this perception.

Collaboration: We’ve built statistical models to identify the factors that contribute to informal collaboration. The consulting company survey shows that two factors — one, the ability to share information and, two, having access to people who can help — account for sixty percent of people’s sense of effective informal collaboration. In turn, seeing one’s team, knowing about team activities and having the ability to work across teams contribute greatly to an employee’s ability to find people who can help.

We’ve always sensed that certain factors are important to a productive workplace. Now, our ability to directly tie those factors to specific outcomes means we can design a workplace for maximum impact.

Image courtesy of M.Kemal/Flickr.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

Learning on the Job

The Workplace of the Future Is Here, and It Looks Like College

December 2, 2013

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

So much of the world of work is changing: technology enables ultimate flexibility, mobility, and connectivity; younger workers don’t aspire to the same rewards that the corner office represented for their parents; and key team members may not even be employees, but rather cherished partners that come together as needed to tackle a particular problem. With the confluence of forces enabling a real change in the way we work, the corporate office — and the world of Dilbert it evokes — is a thing of the past.

For one, the repetitive tasks that once made up the majority of someone’s workday can be sent offshore for less cost, or taken over completely by technology. The work that remains is all about innovation and ideas, most of which is better accomplished together. The future office won’t be about housing people and their furniture, but about creating communities that enable teams to do their best work.

Consider a knowledge worker’s typical day. So much of what she does is about moving fluidly between multiple work modes: collaborating with others, building social connections, and solitary transactional or focused work. The office can evolve to be a great place for supporting multiple work modes, providing technology that connects teams and instilling the culture that is critical to an organization’s success. There has been a lot of conversation about where people are most successful in getting their work done. While the coffeehouse down the street provides the kind of background noise that makes us feel more focused and creative, it doesn’t necessarily provide all the tools or space we need. We’re learning that choice and variety matter. A workplace that focuses on the tools, meeting places, and social spaces that help teams work productively, with less priority on individual spaces, aligns better with the evolution of work. The workplace becomes the place where people can connect with the culture and behaviors that leadership believes are needed for success.

While these changes may seem at times overwhelming, we already have a perfect model for them: education. Learning is changing as much as work is. Rather than sitting in a dark lecture hall, trying to absorb information from a single voice, students are encouraged to work in small teams to solve a problem. The student union has become the perfect place for the new way of learning. In addition to food and coffee, play and fitness areas, it also provides a variety of lounges and focused work spaces that accommodate the multiple work modes of project-based teams. The student union even fulfills a much needed resource for everything on student loans, club meeting spaces and concierge services for navigating the campus. Easy to access and open to everyone, it provides the resources that places of individual work — dorm rooms, coffee shops and study carrels — can’t accommodate. And to a younger generation educated to solve problems as a group, the workplace of today could feel like a hindrance to the way they learned to work.

The transition can be hard, especially for older generations caught in the middle of change and shifting expectations. But as our economy evolves, as technology improves our ability to work together across distance and time, and as a younger generation accustomed to mobility represents up to 40% of the workplace, the office will catch up — ready to support the work, the culture and the behaviors organizations need to thrive.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

Follow nbbX