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.

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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Multiple Minds Are Better Than One

How Density Builds Better Ideas in the Workplace

March 16, 2021

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This is the third 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 focuscollaborate, learn, socialize and rest. This post was co-authored by Kelly Griffin and Ryan Mullenix. 

 

“Problems cannot be solved with more of the same thinking that created them.” ― Albert Einstein 

If innovation is the backbone of the creative economy, ideas are its lifeblood. The ability to productively come together with colleagues — to brainstorm, review and provide feedback on ideas that help solve problems — is essential. However, today’s problems are incredibly complex. They are often broad, imprecise and incomplete. Therefore, finding the right solution requires a process that not only includes different areas of expertise but, just as importantly, individual preferences. As a result, it can be challenging to effectively work together to generate impactful insights — and to build and expand on new thinking.

Bringing people together in the right way can help spur creative growth. Humans are innately social beings. This “herd” mentality carries over from pre-historic times when our social groups allowed us to thrive as a species. In modern times, a plethora of studies show that diversity improves creativity and performance by up to 35%, while density increases innovation, especially in urban populations.

In the post-pandemic world, there isn’t time to wait for corner office ideas. Ideas must be encouraged to come from anyone, anytime. In the workplace, design strategies can help improve these connections both in-person and remotely to build teamwork, trust and emotional intelligence such that organizations and society at large can flourish and be ready for what’s next. Below are three ways to nurture innovative ideas in the workplace.

Recognize that working together can take different forms.
Organizations, teams and individuals require multiple levels of teamwork depending on the industry, role or company culture. To start, it can be helpful to identify why teams come together in the first place. Collaboration is a very loose term. Define the ideal outcomes for these efforts, then review how much time is typically needed, including frequency: Is it for a few hours a day, a couple of times a week, several days a month?

Teamwork typically is structured in three different ways:

  • Long-term team sessions. This entails groups working together over an extended period of time, from initial idea generation and strategy development to production. These teams often know each other well, so consider how a virtual network can enable new voices to offer insights at the appropriate moments.
  • Formal interactions. This type of group work frequently includes activities such as report-outs, information sharing and formal meetings with colleagues or customers. Given the rote aspect of this engagement, sharing information in advance will enable the interaction to be more of a discussion that leads to active problem solving.
  • Quick touch bases. This encompasses a range of informal dialogue, from those serendipitous moments in the hallway that lead to unexpected ideas, to planned coffee breaks to discuss work strategy. Teams working remotely or in hybrid modes will be at risk of losing this critical impromptu dialog. Reflect on how important this mode is to ideation to determine ways to overcome this potential detriment.

Regardless of the cadence and duration, it is important to foster open communication to create a groundwork that enables creative and connective work. Transparency, awareness, and visual expression of processes and outcomes are crucial elements.

Observe where group creativity and empathy flourish best.
As various means of team engagement take shape, reflect on and discuss how in-person and remote employees engage in teamwork. What makes working together more successful in one instance and less so in another?

A tailored environment can allow team members to improve upon ideas, while also giving and receiving constructive feedback. Strategies to enhance teamwork can include reverse mentoring, affect labeling (putting feelings into words) and theory of mind (understanding what others are feeling).

Design spaces and behaviors that enhance and align group work.
While many organizations continue to work remotely during Covid-19, when the pandemic ends, new hybrid in-person and remote teamwork are likely to become the norm. This may mean learning new ways of working and building new habits. Here are a few design frameworks to boost team synergy.

  • Embrace a hybrid work mode. As social creatures, nuanced body language and facial expressions are a key part of communication, which is fundamental to group work. Yet this can be a challenge over Zoom. Humans hear 25% of what is said and retain half of that — the rest is picked up in body language. The office can help “build muscles” for employees to come together. Design strategies that integrate technology in an intuitive way can support hybrid in-person and remote work more effectively so team members are aligned. Digital walls and platforms are quickly being adopted for brainstorming sessions, so consider the visibility and acoustics to such spaces for remote workers. Live-streaming can not only enable an awareness of ideation in the office, but if placed properly, it can also provide a casual yet important glimpse of fellow co-workers — and a reminder to connect with them. In addition, by determining how in-person space will be used, many offices can do away with rigid, formal conference room tables and instead offer comfortable furniture to encourage gathering and build cohesion.
  • Consider interstitial zones. Transition or “in-between” spaces between meeting rooms and individual work areas can help enhance the knowledge and ideas shared before teams come together, as well as in the moments afterward. Warm-up and cool-down areas connected to group spaces can help colleagues prepare and assimilate thinking. These areas are best when adjacent to the “beaten path” but furnished for shorter, stand-up conversations. As important as this informal sharing is, be aware that those who are remote may miss out on these critical divergent and convergent moments. As basic as it may sound, develop protocols for how to communicate these in-between outcomes.
  • Create systems to manage time well. Effective teamwork builds in ample time to develop ideas, process thoughts and solve problems with colleagues. To create a balance between group work and individual tasks, it can be helpful to schedule collaborative bursts in 60- to 75-minute segments, with five- or ten- minute breaks in between. Digital panels outside and inside conference rooms can communicate group schedules, and even include a countdown on how much meeting time has passed, while reminding teams to take breaks. Also, acknowledging that contributions to these sessions will vary based on individual location and preference for engagement ensure multiple modes of sharing are possible, as well as cadences that allow for processing and follow-up.
  • Enhance access and views to nature. Numerous studies show that nature, both real and simulated, improves wellbeing and productivity by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Outdoor cabanas equipped with digital technology can create new ways for distributed employees to work together. Interior spaces can also benefit from the positive effects of greenery, from team booths with green planting screens that add privacy to digital displays in conference rooms that showcase nature scenes. Furnished with soft seating, these indoor and outdoor spaces can also serve as informal touchpoints that break down barriers, ease the flow of conversations and build trust. The in-person office must offer benefits that employees don’t have in their remote setting. A diverse, welcoming and nature-laden environment that is energized by colleagues is a great start.

In Summary
Working together productively is a critical component of knowledge exchange and idea generation. Knowledge workers require focus to internalize information and transform it into new strategies, and they also need collaboration with a diverse group of colleagues to advance ideas into truly innovative solutions. The physical environment is a key enabler to help encourage these behaviors, supporting a process that helps people openly create, improve, and refine ideas. Design strategies that help people come together — even when apart — can help teams harness these ideas for an even greater purpose.

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Focus in the Workplace

How to Support Individuals and Teams for Success

February 17, 2021

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This is the second 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 Alyson Erwin.

 

One of the most valuable assets in the creative economy is the ability to focus — to deeply concentrate and immerse oneself on a task at hand — and have the time to do so. Yet as new information and data is produced, disseminated and shared 24/7 — and an infinite array of technology makes people more connected than ever before — carving out the time to focus can be a challenge. Interruptions and distractions decrease productivity. Studies show that after an interruption, it can take an average of 25 minutes to refocus, and multi-tasking is bad for the brain.

To help achieve the ideal mental state for heightened creativity, innovation and productivity, one of the most critical factors is having the right space for focus work. While the pandemic has shown the benefits of focused work at home (with potentially fewer interruptions and more choices about where to focus), as employees return to the office, the workplace can utilize a design framework to support focus work so people can make the most of their time. Below are three ways to optimize this essential work mode.

Define the amount and type of focus work needed.
First, determine the percentage of focus work needed for employees, departments and the organization as a whole. In some businesses, such as accounting firms, many people conduct a majority of work heads-down. Yet other fields, such as IT, require more time for collaborative activities. Note that focus work encompasses a variety of tasks: at one end is more routine and repetitive- work that requires concentration and accuracy (for example, data input) and at the other is creative flow-oriented focus work such as drafting a presentation or developing a strategy.

Focus work can also be solo-oriented or team-based. Individual focus work is typical for roles such as a software developer, financial analyst or mechanical engineer. Yet focus work can also be conducted as a group, where multiple people are creating or producing deliverables in real time. For instance, this could be in a workshop session, common in creative fields like entertainment and advertising. It can also be a quiet group study zone: these spaces are typically found in libraries.

Group focus is distinct from traditional collaboration, which is more interactive and broadly includes conversations, planning discussions, debate and critiques. Group focus is required when a team is working together to solve a specific problem or are working toward a deadline and would benefit from no distractions or interruptions. Workplaces that enable a full spectrum of focus work can boost productivity and innovation for individuals and teams.

Identify areas that could be repurposed or created for focus work.
Next, it can be helpful to evaluate the existing spaces in which focus work occurs. Where are employees most productive, and what are the elements that make that space successful? Do focus workers always need to present in the office? How can staff adapt offsite? Answers to these questions can help pinpoint opportunities to redefine and build focus space.

Focus activities should take place in areas away from distractions, so individuals, teams and companies can foster healthy focus habits for solid chunks of time, ideally in 50 to 90 minute chunks. Spaces that eliminate and reduce interruptions from technology, smartphones, and other people, can set the foundation for successful focus work so new ideas can be developed and implemented. Read on for a few ideas below.

Implement strategies to heighten focus work.
To tailor environments for focus work, it can be helpful to consider different planning and design elements, such as location, acoustics, adaptability and access. Below are a few attributes to consider.

  • Consider where singular and group focus work should take place. How much real estate for focus work is needed? Are there several locations that can serve different types of focus work, or one or two core spaces that can flex for different focus mode requirements? Consider visibility and accessibility and how this might this shift for solo and group focus modes. In observations of employee work patterns, individuals will travel far from their desk and team’s space for focus work, while teams like to conduct group focus sessions in the immediate vicinity.
  • Seamlessly enable people to check distractions at the door. Create a space that is irresistibly welcoming and energizing, where focus time is sacred and acknowledged. Areas for focus work should reduce visual and acoustic interruptions: this could include additional acoustical dampening, as well as comfortable, inviting furniture like couches and lounge chairs, soft floor coverings and flowing drapes. If available, face furniture toward views of green space and natural light to help boost mood and productivity. Even the ability to have music piped in, from soothing nature sounds to upbeat rock-and-roll anthems, can help set the right tone.
  • Develop responsive problem-solving and “thought” zones. To help staff foster creativity and ideas as a group, flexible innovation-hubs can enable people to come together for distinct bursts of problem-solving in a way that is productive and engaged for each team member. This means providing enough personal space for each person to feel comfortable, but not crowded. Customizable elements, such as dimmable lighting and temperature controls can adapt spaces to different team members’ needs. Movable partitions can allow space to expand or contract as needed, while adjustable ceiling heights can be tailored to the task at hand: research shows lower ceiling heights support route tasks while higher ceilings foster creative work.
  • Indicate availability. The ability to easily reserve focus areas online and/or through a smart keypad immediately outside a space can facilitate and streamline planned and impromptu sessions. It can also be helpful to indicate when focus sessions are underway, perhaps through a red light at the threshold that turns on when the space is in use and changes to green when the space is available.

In Summary
The design of physical space is just one part of the picture. Organizations can build cultures that embrace focus work and recognize how integral this work mode is to create knowledge and generate insights. This can be accomplished by setting aside specific times each day for people to be “off stage,” effectively giving them permission to create the conditions they need to concentrate. In a hyperconnected world that runs on innovation, the right space for focus work can kickstart the foundation of creativity. The above strategies offer guidelines to help modify and develop these spaces in the workplace, while boosting staff agency, so focus work is maximized for employees and teams returning to the workplace following the pandemic.

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Focus, Collaborate, Learn, Socialize and Rest

How Five Work Modes Can Redefine the Return to the Workplace

January 14, 2021

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a six-part series that outlines a framework for five different work modes. Subsequent posts will explore a single work mode in greater depth.

This post initially appeared on CoreNet Global.

While the pandemic alters how and where we work, employees still need to create new ideas and advance the work of their organizations. The physical workplace they return to will look a lot different, likely providing them with more agency to move between different types of work and the settings in which to complete them.

For knowledge workers, teams and organizations to flourish in a post-pandemic world, work environments must nurture the ability to focus, collaborate, learn, socialize and rest. These five work modes can provide a balanced framework for increased creativity, health and productivity for organizations pursuing knowledge work. To help bring people back to the office and strategically deploy investments, it is critical to identify these work modes and also understand how organizations and design can shift to accommodate them.

Origins of Work Modes
Different modes of work originated within the fields of knowledge management and creation. In the 1990s, organization experts Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi identified four knowledge-building activities that drive business innovations. These include socialization, externalization, combination and internalization. The most innovative companies, they argued, combine these work modes to launch a continuous cycle of knowledge.

Outside of business management, organizations have adapted and augmented these work modes with social science studies and research findings to apply them to the changing nature of work. They’ve also been able to utilize a set of tools — including the physical work environment — to enable their success.

For over a decade, we have crafted our workplaces to enable the modes of work critical to knowledge creation — focus, collaborate, learn and socialize. Based on recent research and the information it reveals about what humans need to be successful, we propose an additional work mode — rest. While the original four are critical to developing new ideas and sharing knowledge, the fifth enables individual reflection and further clarification of ideas and concepts that benefit the shared knowledge of teams and organizations.

Below is a look at the five key modes that organizations and companies can promote in the transition back to the physical office, not just for improved innovation, but for wellness too.

Focus
Create zones for distraction-free work that power company success on an individual, team and organizational level across distributed environments, from the workplace to the home office.

Focus work — what we typically think of as heads down or solo work — is a core element of most knowledge work. This work is essential to efficiently absorb and process complex pieces of information so it can be effectively used. It is the “super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy,” writes Georgetown professor Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work. Focus work encompasses tasks such as contemplation, strategizing, research and idea-generation. Think of jobs such as the coder, the accountant, and the writer.

Central to focus work are spaces that enable the ability to concentrate without interruption for chunks of time. Two factors can help unlock successful focus work: physical separation that offers a quiet zone and the ability to control the environment.

In conversations with clients, including tech companies like Google, employees are known to wander far to find the best place for heads-down work. At the company’s office in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, a variety of home-like focused work areas are integrated throughout. There are booths near windows, darkened lounges, a library room, private seating niches and more, so staff can easily find a place for the right level of seclusion if needed.

Collaborate
Offer places that harness team synergy and serendipity to drive creativity and innovation.

Collaboration — working with others — is required to advance ideas and is the backbone of the world’s most innovative companies. Critical to an organization’s success, it fosters creativity, increases bigger-picture thinking and aligns team goals. Most important, it expands initial ideas by welcoming a diversity of perspectives. Collaboration involves discussion, active listening, brainstorming and co-creation. Almost every knowledge worker collaborates in their work, although certain creativity-driven roles employ collaboration more than others, such as consulting, human resources and media.

As we may see more heads-down work completed at home after the coronavirus, workplaces that provide a range of easily accessible and inviting areas for collaboration is key. This could include flexible spaces for 1:1 touch bases and small team huddles to larger tech-equipped places for strategy sessions. Dedicated team areas situated near work stations can provide a hybrid digital-analogue space to collaborate. These areas could feature tactile digital walls for brainstorming and project check-ins, as well as space for teammates to pin up posters and leave behind analogue messages. Equipped with video cameras, remote team members could video conference in, and collaborate in real-time on the digital wall with distributed teams.

Yet as much as it is essential to offer areas that facilitate planned collaboration, enabling serendipitous moments are critical too. At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, staff shared how before the pandemic they loved standing in line at the foundation’s café: they said it was wonderful to not only catch up with friends, but a perfect opportunity to exchange “half-baked” work ideas with colleagues.

Learn
Create spaces that celebrate mentorship and learning across all levels of an organization to improve business performance and growth.

Lifelong learning and mentorship are essential at all stages of life, but especially at work for the acquisition, transfer and application of ideas. Learning expands perspectives to help individuals, teams and companies grow so they can rapidly adapt to changing circumstances and deliver high-impact services and products. Learning includes activities such as training-by-doing, conversations with advocates and group lectures. It can also encompass unintentional connections with colleagues or even overheard conversations, which are nearly impossible to have at home on Zoom calls. To foster learning, organizations must provide effective environments in tandem with the right policies and practices.

It’s essential to create workplace conditions that make learning a priority and a positive experience so knowledge can be easily shared. Offices can provide opportunities to accommodate pop-up learning moments, library-like reading nooks and multi-purpose rooms that change with ease to support different learning environments. Learning spaces can also provide a place to remove everyone from the demands of their day-to-day work to immerse themselves in new information and new ideas.

Organizations can also foster greater knowledge by opening themselves up to the community. Classrooms in office buildings and corporate campuses can help activate underutilized retail space both during the day and evening via partnerships with outside organizations like community colleges. As learning is active and adults learn by doing, providing places that offer a balance of instruction and application enables the development of new skills.

At the F5 Networks headquarters, a 28-story continuous stair spirals up through the tower to heighten connections between employees, clients and visitors. It encourages unique opportunities for them to more easily interact and informally exchange knowledge, exponentially expanding the sphere of learning to colleagues across floors and departments (and to even get in some brain-stimulating and stress-reducing exercise!).

Socialize
Foster opportunities to build culture and social connections through environments that grow trust, meaningful work and mental wellness.

People feel less stressed and happier with more high-quality relationships at work, which helps foster risk-taking and innovation. We think the areas where social capital — the social bonds and shared values that enable trust and teamwork — is formed, is evolving. Before the coronavirus, the office as a shared physical space became an increasingly important place to build social cohesion and meaningful connections.

The pandemic is challenging work relationships, with social distancing hindering our ability to gather in shared spaces. In a post-pandemic world, workplaces that allow for formal and informal socializing can set the groundwork for stronger collaboration, learning and compassion, which in turn can drive greater creativity and wellness. This could include café areas where staff can gather around the kitchen during meal prep to niches facing windows with comfortable couches for casual conversations. Yet socializing is also about connections outside an organization. Welcoming ground level amenity spaces can draw the community inside and employees out of the office to intermix. Public spaces, like art galleries, cafes and outdoor lounges, can also be dispersed throughout office buildings and campuses to better facilitate social opportunities.

When the renovated headquarters of a coffeehouse company opened, the former CEO noted that the design of the new interior space seamlessly reflected the culture and human connection-focused mission of their organization. Before the coronavirus, staff relayed how much they enjoyed discovering new places to sit and connect with colleagues, especially in the multi-tiered lobby, which allows for unique intersections between employees and the public.

Rest
Provide purposeful spaces for respite, engagement and positive distractions that encourage relaxation so people can let their minds wander.

Working smarter, not longer, may be the key to better performance. Numerous studies show rest is essential to creativity and productivity, and as such, it must be considered an essential work mode too. A short break — ideally every 90 minutes — is helpful to reduce work errors, improve productivity and prevent burnout. In addition, a 26-minute nap can dramatically improve alertness by 54% and performance by 34%, a NASA study found. Rest can also take the form of other deep breaks, like daydreaming, walking and mindful meditation.

It is helpful to create policies and appropriate spaces — from simple to more advanced — to encourage rest when needed. Calm, peaceful areas in the workplace away from digital screens can enable rest so staff can better reflect and absorb ideas, skills and knowledge. This can range from cozy high-backed chairs in a quiet corner with restorative nature elements to full-fledged napping rooms with gentle circadian lighting, cooler temperatures and sound-reducing features.

Rest is an important component to the Google work experience. In their South Lake Union workplace, a relaxing jellyfish lounge with dimmed lighting provides a peaceful place to rest, while a dedicated nap station and a “treehouse” lit via circadian lighting help mitigate Seattle’s darkwinter days.

In Summary
Organizations that incorporate these five modes — focus, collaborate, learn, socialize and rest — into their work environments may achieve greater innovation and wellness. As the pandemic accelerates these modes in different types of settings, it’s crucial we apply these insights to help shape a real estate and workplace strategy now and for the future so we can enable the best work experience possible.

A workplace can help support a company’s business goals by fostering greater knowledge-sharing, and as a result, set staff up for success on an individual and team level. The time is ripe to plan, experiment and try something new.

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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 socialmedia@nbbj.com.

Banner image courtesy Adobe Stock.

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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 socialmedia@nbbj.com.

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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.

Focus-Ability-and-Noise-Level

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.

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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.

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