Open vs. Closed

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Open vs. Closed

The debate is binary.

Recently, there have been a couple of scientific studies that suggest that open office environments negatively impact job satisfaction1 and employee collaboration2. These studies were conducted by scientific professionals within their respective fields. The first finds a negative correlation between job satisfaction and office size among a population of 271 Swedish real estate agents. The second report includes two studies of 50-100 employees from separate organizations and concludes that open offices reduce the volume of face-to-face interaction, and by extension – collaboration. While each study warrants a deep reading and response from the scientific community, it should be noted that both studies were conducted using a small sample-size. It would be unscientific to extrapolate and over-generalize these findings without further analysis and debate. That said, these studies have stirred up quite a bit of conversation3 and controversy4 on the merits of the open office by interested if non-scientific third parties.

Design embraces complexity.

At BHDP, we are not in the business of evaluating the veracity of scientific studies. We are in the business of designing environments and experiences that support the objectives of our clients. We do not subscribe to a simplistic reduction of ‘open’ vs. ‘closed.’ People are more complicated than that, and human systems – more complex. In the face of this complexity, we rely on a Design Process that takes into account the goals, aspirations, and key performance metrics of our clients. We do so in an open, inclusive, and balanced manner, weighing not just the social and cultural implications of the designs we render, but also the business factors at play in design decisions. Our work is specific to our clients’ needs, and each project is tailored accordingly. Variations exist from client to client, business unit to business unit, and individual to individual. Our job is to take those variations into account and develop unique places that operate for our clients across multiple scales.

So, which is it? Neither.

The prevailing theory on what ‘works’ in workplace design is:

  • recognize that organizations have unique needs at all scales
  • engage with end users to understand and contextualize design problems
  • provide a variety of spaces that enable autonomy and choice
  • support the increasingly agile nature of individuals and teams
  • reinforce business processes and streamline communications
  • delight and inspire people by designing engaging experiences
  • enable innovation through social cohesion, collaborative competition, and individual reflection
  • consider the health, wellness, and well-being of employees, customers, and communities alike

Design is not binary. Professional strategists and designers must take into account a host of often competing and contradictory priorities. We do so on behalf of the clients we serve and the people they rely on. It’s who we are.


1. Otterbring, T., Pareigis, J., Wästlund, E., Makrygiannis, A., & Lindström, A. (in press). The relationship between office type and job satisfaction: Testing a multiple mediation model through ease of interaction and wellbeing. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health.

2. Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration373Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

3. Stoltz, Adam. “Bring Back Cubicles?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Jan. 2015,

4. Burkus, David. “Why Your Open Office Workspace Doesn’t Work.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 June 2016,

Making Sense of Brand Loyalty

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“Target!… I smell Target!”

So that’s how we ended both Whiteboard Sessions at this year’s CGA Strategic Conference in Palm Springs, with serval participants exclaiming the same result. It’s a testament to the power of our sensory perceptions and how they are an under-leveraged tool in developing in-store brand experiences. But now that you know the end of the two sessions – “that the shoe fits,” – how about starting from the beginning.

For the customer, brand experiences occur at each engagement – whether online or offline. This means marketing teams are challenged with consistently delivering on brand promise – aligning the right message with the corresponding customer segment and channel.

If experiences are about the current sum-total of the memory (and feelings) about each interchange, then positive engagements build loyalty. And it’s by utilizing all five senses that brick-and-mortar retailers have the advantage of building deeper, longer-lasting, multi-layered, loyalty-building memories.

What is a Brand Promise?

Going around the table, we gathered everyone’s explanation of a brand promise: “At our company we talk about it as ‘the brands you a looking for at a great value and at a convenient, easy-to-shop store,’” was the first response and we immediately debated if this one was strong enough to have an impact on the customer. “But we can all claim that. Shouldn’t a brand promise be more ownable?” We switched gears, and asked “As a retailer, …”

What is Ownable?

Before the internet, a retailer could rely on five different brand promises that could differentiate itself from their competition.

The more a retailer-owned these spaces, the greater the share of heart and mind of the consumer they owned.

Location: Location is a matter of convenience. The downtown, main-street shopfront was the original convenience, but as customers moved to the suburbs, retailers began to group themselves together in malls. Within our group discussion, We all agreed that online shopping has changed the advantage of location, and now stores are tackling this third shift in consumer behavior by offering their own online and delivery options. Brick-and-mortar retailers can own location by offering immediate in-store pick-up where Amazon does not offer two-hour delivery.

Price: For years, Walmart has set the pace for competitive pricing, and new outsider Aldi has been looking to take a share of that perception. However, our group also noted that through free shipping retailers can remain competitive. The downside is that free shipping may not be sustainable. “It’s the venture capitalists funding free shipping, and at some point, the online retailer will need to be profitable without it.”

Quality: We defined quality as the durability and freshness of goods. While consumable and center-store brand quality (and sourcing) are the same, quality of private label products and freshness have the potential to set brick-and-mortar retailers apart. As one leader in our group shared, “About 15 percent of center store has migrated to online, while produce remains at less than 1 percent. So, we push messaging out about owning ‘fresh.’”

Selection: The superstores used to own selection, and before that, it was department stores. The endless aisle of the online retailers now surpasses both. “We no longer own selection, online does, but what we do own is fresh selection. More important than that, we figured out that we own our point of view, where we select and curate our offerings to match the needs of our shoppers.”

Service: Our group agreed that service is best represented by people, the one-on-one engagements at the store level – something online retailers can’t touch. We debated that same-day delivery may be perceived as a service by some shoppers, but online could not match the face-to-face expertise, helpfulness, or the simple things such as a warm smile and friendly in-person “hello”.

What are the Basics?

Think of the “basics” as the minimum requirements to well-run business. Our list included the following spread across a wall of sticky notes:

Quality, safety, clean, helpful, friendly, freshness, easy to shop, and knowledgeable staff showed up immediately on almost every note card. We also discussed other ideas with deeper meanings in today’s digital age – personalized service, in-stock items, quality brands and products, and inspiration.

“We see these as the retail-101 ‘givens’ that every guest expects from their shopping experience. If we don’t deliver these well, she’s going to go somewhere else or online to shop.”

Then, someone jumped in with an impactful data point, “I recently saw a statistic that If a customer does not find what they are looking for in store, they will first ask an associate. If the product still can’t be found, they will then drive to another of the retailer’s stores to get the item. If still not there, they will look for it at a nearby competitor’s store, and if still can’t find it, they will out of frustration buy it on Amazon. The data indicated that 26 percent of Amazon Prime users in this scenario that end up buying online, never visit the store to buy that particular item again.” The room went silent.

Can We Get Back to Our Senses?

So after discussing what a brand promise is, what makes it ownable, and how delivering on the basics are a requirement, we jumped into our sensory exercise.

“What are the retail brands that deliver an in-store experience that customers claim not just to like, but to love?”

To start the conversation, we boldly wrote, SUBARU, on the wall. As an example, Subaru is one of these beloved brands that consumers have identified as worthy of their loyalty and admiration. “I have a Subaru. I love the Subaru brand because they have a ‘go-anywhere’ attitude. They are practical, safe and they last a long time. Many times, I have had other Subaru owners ask me ‘Don’t you just love your Subaru?’ It’s strange but true.”

Subaru is one of the top loyalty-satisfaction brands and has some of the highest amount word-of-mouth and social media impressions.

The company gives people what they want. Here are some other brands that rise to the same level: Nordstrom, Costco Wholesale, REI, HomeGoods and Whole Foods.

To get back to where we started, to tie the session back to the goal of understanding the importance of leveraging our senses to build brand loyalty, we reviewed the five senses and how each might relate back to space: Sight – color, design, and lighting; Sound – music, voices and greetings; Touch – textures, flooring, and door handles; Taste – food, samples, and restaurants; and Smell – food, product scents and perfume.

What Are the Sensory Elements of Your Favorite Store?

We each grabbed another index card as we began deciding how best to describe our favorite store by only using a description from each of our senses. We gathered up all the cards and tacked them to the wall.

A randomly picked card contained the following, “See: treasure, hear: people, touch: stuff as you walk in, taste: samples, smell: not a good smell, rubber. We close our eyes as it is read again “Treasure, People, Stuff, Samples, and Rubber. Which brand is it?”

“Costco?” asked a vice president of merchandising.

The chief operating officer sitting next to him confirms “You’re right. That was my card.”

We then proceeded through a few more of the cards. Each time at least two of us shouted out the correct answer. It’s amazing how we can all get a clear picture of the store with just the five senses, in fact, a few brands we figured out with just four senses described.

Which Sense Gave You the Clearest Impression?

It was unanimous. Smell evoked the strongest connections to brand. Everyone could instantly recall a personal story tied directly to a smell. For some, this might not be surprising as smell is closely related to memory.

As a powerful proof point, one of our group members shared the following anecdote:

“I know a guy who’s one of the ‘noses’ (the people who create scents). He told us a story about the Wynn Casino’s effort to leverage scent to build higher brand loyalty. He developed a branded scent, exclusive to the new Wynn Casino in Las Vegas, to be used in the high roller areas. Every time someone one won big, an extra blast on the scent filled the immediate area.

“When the VIP guests left to return home, they received a basket of toiletries, soaps, and shampoos all scented with the same perfume. The intent was that when a guest used the soaps and shampoos, they would remember how much fun they had on their last visit to the casino. It worked. VIP guest returns went up by double digits.”

Can You Identify a Store by Just its Smell?

If our five senses determine how we perceive the world, brick-and-mortar businesses should plan experiential moments that leverage all the power of our senses to create a brand impression. This is where physical retail has the most significant advantage over online. And since there are millions of combinations, each retailer can deliver a brand promise that is memorable — an impression beyond location, quality, price, selection, and service.

So now we are back to where this article started and the session ended. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and clear your mind.

Imagine the combination of two smells, the first is coffee… smell the rich aroma of a fresh, dark brew. Now slowly add to that the rich buttery smell of freshly popped popcorn. Blend the two together…

“Target!… I smell Target!”

Originally published in California Grocer, Issue 6 2018

Behavior By Design: Agile At Scale

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Agile Office

Balancing Individual preferences and team priorities

The core challenge in almost all workplace renovation projects is to strike the right balance among individual preferences, team priorities, and the constraints presented by the building. Individuals are habitual. They resolve uncertainty and complexity in their work by seeking out the harbor of predictability, wherever they can find it. This means the vast majority of American workers prefers workplace settings that are conducive to their own particular shade of certainty. Similarly, employees rely on the steadiness and dependability of their teammates to balance the workload and keep the business moving forward. Employees need to know where their teammates are, what they are working on, and when they are going to deliver. The success and stability of the business depend on this information.

What happens, then, when the direction shifts and the business demands change? Something has to give.

The Dow Chemical Story

That was the challenge Dow faced when renovating 27,000 square feet of existing office space to accommodate 250 people located on its Midland, MI campus. Reflecting on the start of the project, Paul Kline, Information Systems Global Director of Employee Experience Services, stated, “We brought together teams from a dozen different parts of Dow, including IT and business process organizations. Most came from a variety of office or cubicle workspaces with a heavy reliance on meeting rooms and audio conferencing for collaboration.” Rather than refresh the new space by replicating the sorts of environments people were accustomed to, Kline and the team recognized that the future workplace would look nothing like workplaces of the past. “One of the primary objectives of the project was to bring work groups that were spread across multiple sites and buildings together in a single location to allow for greater collaboration across teams to drive more innovative ideas and solutions,” said Paul Barbeau, Real Estate Strategy and Facility Development Director

Early concepts illustrate the proximity of team spaces to individual work surfaces and the amount of area dedicated to shared program.

BHDP led the Dow team through a series of visioning sessions, interviews, and focus groups. As a result, an overarching organizing concept emerged. Kline says, “Our vision for the project was to create a vibrant, agile workspace at scale that we could use for project-based teams. We wanted a workspace that would increase collaboration and knowledge sharing within and across teams and enable faster delivery of solutions.” In short, the team needed a space that embraced the principles of agile development, scaled to the size of the organization.

Since the publication of the Agile Manifesto in the early-2000’s, much has been written about “agile” development – a contrasting workflow to the preceding “waterfall” development model previously practiced in the IT industry. Typically, the agile development model relies on a series of successive scrums and sprints, the rapid release of working prototypes, continuous testing and refining of these prototypes, the welcoming of changes in requirements no matter how late in the process, and the uninterrupted flow of information among members of the project team.

Many IT teams have embraced this model, and it is not uncommon to find teams of 8-12 employees working together in a dedicated project room that can be at times energetic and frenetic, and at other times quiet and focused. Dow endeavored to scale the behaviors of these project teams to meet the demands of the business. The design team accomplished this by breaking down the program into more manageable neighborhoods, isolated by a series of closed and open support spaces.

Kline states, “Creating an agile workspace at scale was challenging. The floor holds 250 people, so breaking it up into four neighborhoods created a nice balance between open and focused. At this scale, a significant amount of floor space was freed up from the reduction of space dedicated to each individual. This collective free space was used for a large community area for social activities, a ‘garage’ where we can close the overhead door and run loud design thinking workshops, and a ‘library’ quiet zone where there is drop-in seating for focused work.” The end result of this innovative design resolved the conflicting priorities for both individual- and team-based work and delivered free area back to the business to create an inviting sense of place.

Design development refined initial concepts, and focused on scaling key elements of the agile program.

The Results of the New Design

The design team organized the floor into four neighborhoods of 60-65 people. Each neighborhood is comprised of a set of bench-style workstations encircling a team space at the center. The heart of each neighborhood, the team space, consists of a variety of loose furniture, shared storage, and mobile whiteboards that can be rearranged to create enclaves for more intimate conversations within the open environment. Alternatively, these settings can also support stand-up sessions with the entire neighborhood at key points within the project delivery. Barbeau says, “It’s been inspiring to see how the space has been a catalyst to build a stronger culture. The teams have held several team building activities in the new space: friendly ping-pong tournaments, a putt-putt golf competition to benefit local charities, and Guest DJ Thursdays.”

At the perimeter of each neighborhood is a suite of enclosed break-out spaces to support teleconferences, virtual information display, and white-boarding. These project rooms accommodate 1-4 people and are suitably scaled to the program. In addition, the designers included two traditional 12-person conference rooms but noted that preference for these sorts of environments is being replaced by smaller meetings and open collaboration in the team spaces.

To support the needs for heads-down time, BHDP included a set of enclosed focus rooms, two semi-enclosed focus nooks, and a narrow, linear library at the perimeter. Each of these spaces offers unique furniture settings and lighting, and the library is positioned along the exterior glazing to offer users ample natural light and views.

People enter the space alongside the hub of the program—a community space and an innovation space linked by a sliding garage door. These spaces are positioned at the corner of the building, adjacent to vertical circulation and views, but separated from the neighborhoods to minimize the spillover of noise from free-wheeling innovation sessions.

Agile Design

The community hub doubles as a break and break-out space and is connected to the innovation center by sliding overhead garage doors.

Culture Shift

Ultimately, the yardstick by which a project should be measured is whether it is impacting business performance. Barbeau states, “We conducted post-occupancy feedback sessions 90 days after the teams moved in. One of the most consistent comments from employees was that the new environment allows colleagues to connect with each other to collaborate and develop solutions much quicker.” Adds Kline, “We are seeing new behaviors around quick in-person discussions, ad-hoc brainstorming, and more social interactions. We are achieving the increased collaboration and knowledge sharing that were parts of our objectives, but we haven’t yet measured if this is translating into faster delivery of solutions. In our post-occupancy survey, we scored above US and company averages on most dimensions.” So, while changes in the space have not yet translated to top-line performance metrics, the bottom line is that occupants are pleased with the space. “The two most common descriptors we hear are ‘light’ and ‘energetic’. The combination of natural light with an open layout makes a big impact in the feel of the workspace. The level of movement and interaction create a high sense of energy for everyone.”

In the spirit of agile development, Kline and the team embraced the need to continuously tinker with the environment. In response to concerns about the balance of focus and interaction, Kline continues, “We need to continue to reduce the amount of distractions for people trying to focus, so we’re running workshops with our teams to see how we can raise awareness of and adjust our behaviors while keeping the same level of energy.”

Agile by Design

Ultimately, in order to design for people, designers have to design with people. The future workplace is less about the mathematical composition of ordered units and more about embracing the messier parts of human behavior that foster rich connections and deliver breakthrough ideas. Creating this shift demands relinquishing outmoded ideas and steering in to the mess. As exemplified by Dow, the future looks a lot like the embodiment of the agile principles in space.

Part 6 of 6. Check out parts one, two, three, four, and five of the series.

By Drew Suszko and Dominic Iacobucci

Originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Designing Workplaces Engineered For Innovation

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Companies have long focused on fostering collaboration among employees, envisioning it as a solution to lagging innovation. To that end, architects have designed more and more open workspaces, where employees now easily and frequently interact. But it turns out that while this enhanced collaboration has improved bottom line results, it hasn’t necessarily generated the new ideas that mark truly innovative companies.

In a quest to best understand how to design for innovation in the modern workplace, we convened leaders of more than 40 companies for a series of roundtable discussions. Participants spanned diverse industries, but they all sought the same things: strong company culture, less hierarchy, and — most of all — innovation.

The discussions led to an in-depth study by a sponsored research fellow, and the findings suggest innovative cultures require three things: definition, delivery, and design.

Defining Innovation

What constitutes innovation to each organization is unique, because each organization in and of itself is unique. Some strive to be market leaders; others are happy to be strong challengers. Thinking of innovation as a spectrum, and asking yourself what kind of innovation your organization is seeking to create should be the first step. As polio vaccine discoverer and historic innovator Jonas Salk has said, “Find the right questions. You don’t invent the answers, you reveal the answers.”

Workplace Innovation

Creating a culture of experimentation requires access to tool and technology that encourage innovation. (© Keith Isaacs Photo)

Do you need to catch up to competition, maintain your lead or completely shake up your industry? Consider where your organization falls among these four waypoints.

Iteration: Incremental change to an existing product or process. Iteration moves the needle, helping you catch up to the status quo in your market. There’s typically little risk involved for a company, since other organizations have already paved the way.

Evolution: Significant change to an existing product or process. Evolution can help a company maintain its standing among competitors, and the risk is low to moderate because it builds on an existing product or process. You’ll find that you need to better leverage your smartest workers and their research.

Revolution: Something new or a historic change to a product or process. This is where you create memories. A revolutionary change can set a market on its ear, establishing your company as the frontrunner that inspires others. There is certainly greater risk but also potential for greater reward. Like Thomas Edison’s light bulb, these are the innovations people remember.

Disruption: Something new that creates an entirely different market. If Edison’s light bulb was revolutionary change, disruption was when early humans first harnessed fire. This is the level of innovation that companies dream of but rarely strive toward. Beyond memorable, it becomes a significant point in human history.

Delivering Innovation

Now that you’ve defined the level of innovation you’re seeking, it’s time to determine how your staff delivers the ideas and products. Keeping in mind the need to be as self-aware as possible, perform a review of your company’s culture and markets. The goal is to identify your innovators, the people who develop the ideas; your inventors, who turn those ideas into products and services; and your end users, without whom there is no need for innovation. Thinking about your team and your larger customer universe in this way also exposes opportunities to fill skills gaps, develop training programs and empower employees to be truly creative and entrepreneurial while meeting real-world needs.

Innovative workspaces are comfortable and flexible, and should allow for individual work and group work. (© Keith Isaacs Photo)

The Innovators: “I have an idea.” From Henry Ford to Elon Musk, innovators display curiosity, creativity, passion and technical knowledge. Yet it’s hard to see their fingerprints on the finished products, because a small army of talented people take their inspiration and turn it into a creation.

The Inventors: “I know how to do that.” Without inventors bringing an idea to reality, the innovator’s idea is simply a notion. Successful innovators fill their skills gaps with experts and knowledge workers. Behaviorally, inventors share traits with innovators like curiosity and drive. Together, they become champions of a shared vision.

The End-users: “I can use that.” Acknowledging the role of end users is key, as they ultimately determine whether a neat idea brought to life will be embraced and result in profitable returns. Knowing when to invest in innovation based on market research combined with a keen instinct about consumer desires is critical.

Designing For Innovation

While researching innovators, BHDP also spent time studying their workplaces. From Menlo Park to Google, there are similarities, including strong infrastructure, a lack of silos around skilled workers and cultures of experimentation. The goal is for the workplace to encourage innovation and enable people to be efficient and effective. Consider the following:


Inventors working as a team to develop the next innovative idea.

Tools and Technology: Infrastructure allo ws modern employees to work, communicate and collaborate efficiently and effectively. Keeping tools and technology updated is critical — slowdowns can demotivate employees, halting innovation entirely.


Skills-based Knowledge workers:When groups become isolated in their expertise, they begin to protect that expertise rather than share it. Merging skills-based groups for projects creates a freshness in every initiative that allows for diversity of thought and expertise, building an environment of mentoring and sharing.

Culture Of Experimentation: Fear of failure keeps most organizations inching forward instead of taking giant leaps. Innovative companies have cultures that recognize failure as a signpost on the path to discovery. As Elon Musk says, “If things are not failing, you’re not innovating enough.”

So what type of physical space works best? Three models rise to the top.

Skunk Works®: First used by Lockheed Martin in 1943, this establishes a team of innovators who are physically separated from the rest of the organization. Free from hierarchical, process-driven cultures, they can achieve outstanding results.

Innovation Centers: While these aren’t isolated like Skunk Works models, they are a unique space inside the general operation to allow workers to think in new ways. For example, the formal and structured meeting room is exchanged for a casual space surrounded by the tools and technology needed to innovate and invent.

Embedded Innovation: The most daunting of all, embedded innovation is a full change to your workplace in a bid to permanently create an innovative culture at all levels. This can be challenging for hierarchical, process-driven companies because it requires disruptive change. For this to work, there must be a shared vision within that company that permeates all levels.

The Way Forward

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to infuse innovation into your organization. To get started, ask questions. How can we define innovation? Who will deliver it? How can we design our workplaces to foster it? A deeper exploration of your organizational culture, work processes and expertise will help you find the answers.


Originally published in Facility Executive.

Behavior By Design: Building Community

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Anchored by a mammoth poured-in-place concrete desk, the lobby tells the Messer story to visitors and employees alike.

Behavior is not a linear equation

Space is a tool that can be used subtly and successfully to shift the behaviors of individuals, alter the cultures of organizations, and beneficially impact the bottom line. It’s trickle-up economics—the notion that organizational performance is the collective product of individual experiences. That said, people are complex creatures and design must consider a bewildering number of complicated variables. As a result, there is no linear equation for using space to steer behavior. Rather, real estate is but one of the dials leaders can turn to alter the workplace experience.

The theme of this series is to demonstrate the impact that space has on organizational behavior. In the first article, it was posited that the attitudes and actions of the workforce, set within the context of the built environment, provide a compelling source of design inspiration irrespective of external factors. In the second, we identified a number of circumstances that have shifted the way people work and altered the expectations of the workforce. In the third, there was further identification of the macroscopic forces that drive change in the workplace—from emerging technology, to labor markets, to new work processes and the demand for new types of environments. The fourth went deep, drawing on recent advances in behavioral economics, to understand the mechanisms by which people make decisions.

Elements of construction are on full display, which serve as both an education tool and a reminder of the work in the field.

In this, the fifth article, an actual example that demonstrates and reinforces how shifting organizational behavior undergirded the entirety of the design challenge is highlighted.

From drab to dynamic

Messer Construction Co. is an employee-owned commercial construction company that performs work in the communities it serves. Although the company has expanded over 80-plus years to include ten locations across the Midwest and Southeast, Messer calls Cincinnati, Ohio home. Until recently, the company’s corporate functions were housed in an outdated, drab, and somewhat byzantine building, north of the city. Having recently completed projects in the rapidly developing central business district, Messer took three patient years to locate the perfect site for a new facility on a highly visible edge of downtown Cincinnati. On the decision to build at this particular location, CEO and Chairman of the Board Tom Keckeis states, “This is a double down into the city. It’s more centrally located, it has great access and it’s the size we need for what we want to do.” What Messer wanted to do was leverage its deep history in the craft of construction, to make a bold statement about the future workplace.

At the heart, it’s about community

For Messer, the project begins and ends with the community. The building is prominently sited along the I-75 corridor, one of the nation’s vital north-south arteries. States Keckeis on the location of the new building, “This area is redeveloping. We want to be a part of it.” The “it” he is referring to is the rapid redevelopment of areas adjacent to the central business district in downtown Cincinnati. By placing the building in a highly visible location, on the doorstep of the city, Messer claimed a visible place alongside other leading organizations in the city. Said Bethany Smith, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications, “This building– the way that it’s laid out and our 360-degree views of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky–really connects us to the community as a whole.”

Messer’s commitment to the neighborhood is both real and substantive. Since 1990, the company has invested more than $21 million into its local communities. The company has both a thriving economic inclusion program and a dedication to workforce diversity. It hires locally, and the design features an immersive lobby that tells the Messer story, using a variety of graphic elements. Upon entering the space, a new hire has an immediate understanding of the legacy of the company, its purpose, and its long-standing values. Sonya Walton, Director of Economic Inclusion for Messer, puts it well, “I think a part of our story and our heritage is who we are within the community. We are right in the heart of the community. We are a part of it, and so I think when you come here you see instantly that our company is a community inside this building. We are learning. We are growing with each other. Messer is the fabric of this community.”

Natural light permeates a space that is both simple and subtle, encouraging people to interact with each other.

Narrative details

The space also features a deeper story. In the center of the lobby sits a massive concrete desk, which was poured in place by the Messer craft force. It is one of the many design elements that explicitly, yet subtly, indicates what Messer does. “One of our goals was to make sure that the building itself spoke to as the work we do as contractors,” says Tim Steigerwald, President. “It’s really important because most of the people who work for Messer don’t work under this roof. They are out on job sites, building every day, and we value the building process. We call ourselves builders.” Every design element in the building is an opportunity to illustrate the construction process. As such, the design team made a conscious effort to use features in the space to underscore Messer’s mission. “There is a blend of industrial, concrete, and wood systems that showcase us as builders and not just construction managers,” says Aaron Foulk, Building Systems Executive.”

Behavioral change begets cultural transformation

Companies exist at points along their own evolutionary trajectories. Prior to building the new facility, Messer’s corporate functions were isolated from the city and from each other. Employees worked in small clusters and closed offices, connected by a meandering sequence of hallway passages. Few had access to natural light and almost all were sequestered within their respective job functions. The place lacked any real sense of atmosphere and most certainly did not exude the buzzing community that leadership envisioned. In outlining the goals for the new building, leadership underscored the importance of collaboration amongst disciplines, both within the facility and extending beyond to the field.


The new design features a variety of places for people to come together and collaborate at different scales. Will Johnson, Sales Support Executive, reflects on the change, “I think the culture is really reflected in the fact that we now have all of this space to collaborate. Before, in our old building, we were very siloed. So, now that we have this much space and we have these dedicated areas that are specifically for us to come and collaborate and interact with one another – I feel like it creates a better workflow for a lot of people,” says Johnson. Consider also that Messer’s workforce is not limited to this facility. Instead, the lion’s share of Messer’s workforce is out in the field, staffed on projects for months, even years at a time. Likewise, when tradesmen and contractors come into the home office, they have a completely different set of needs. As such, the headquarters operates as a sort of chapter house, with flexible environments for people to occupy over limited periods of time. Commenting on the relationship between the workers in the field and the support staff in the headquarters, Smith says, “Everybody wants to come here, and we have seen an increase in collaboration between the headquarters and the field as a result.”

Crafting an authentic experience

In the end, Messer succeeded in crafting an authentic workplace experience. The space goes beyond simply communicating who Messer is. It illustrates what Messer does. The response has been dramatic. The Messer team distributed a survey at key points along the project–six months before the move, three months before the move, and six months post-move. The workforce wholeheartedly agrees that the space is efficiently organized, supports collaboration, inspires creativity, and enhances Messer’s ability to deliver world-class services. Reflecting upon the old office space after six months in the new space, similar scores for the prior space plummeted. People simply had to experience the new environment to understand it.


Originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Behavior By Design: Two Schools Of Thought

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People have evolved to read subtle cues in our environments. Funky art, ample light, access to nature, and museum-quality art indicate to clients that this is not your typical law firm.

“Buildings are easy – some steel, some concrete, some glass… but, then you add people…”  — Jim Donnelly, Principal Emeritus, BHDP


For the past two decades, organizations have embraced a community-oriented approach to workplace design. Conventional offices from the 1960s to the dawn of the Millennium placed a premium on the periphery of the building, while people labored their entire careers in the dark recesses of conditioned boxes for a sliver of light they could call their own. These architectural designs reinforced rigid, hierarchical cultures that were ill prepared for the pace of the future. In the 21st century, as market disruption toppled many industry titans, the demise of corporate America’s old business model was replaced with a demand for community, innovation, and speed. Today, workspaces reflect these ideals—open, unstructured, and airy, on the one hand, and dense, noisy, and distracting on the other. Open space or closed? Collaborative or private? Extroverted or Introverted? As Donnelly suggests, buildings are easy. People? Not so much.

Two schools of thought

If spaces truly shape or, at a minimum, reinforce human behavior, then it should be possible to design work environments to achieve a set of predetermined outcomes. To accomplish that goal, two schools of thinking have emerged in the design and delivery of the contemporary workplace: 1) tell them what they get, or 2) let them choose what they want. Both schools have embraced leadership engagement, employee input, and the application of change management practices to ease the population as it moves from the present tense into an unpredictable future.

With “tell them what they get,” the hope is to achieve alignment with the company. Design is delivered by edict where the end-users don’t participate. It is a remnant of the corporate world’s hierarchical past. The other option of “let them choose what they want” seeks engagement in pursuit of user insight and is indicative of the communal present. Here the design team embraces input but tends to resolve the problem of competing preference by creating “activity settings” in which to work. Exceptional design can emerge from both.

Human neuroscience and the way people behave is a product of millions of years of evolution in natural habitats.

There’s a problem though. The first school tends to be authoritarian and rigid. It gets what it expects and no more. The second is egalitarian, capricious, and susceptible to consensus rather than innovation. It seeks stasis in its own flawed way. Both schools of thought have developed in response to the problem at hand: designing places for people to work. There are those who work together and those who work solo, but the fact remains that both groups will reside under the same roof. This is the heart of the issue. Each employee comes with a set of preferences. Preferences set against a series of options determine choices. Choices made repeatedly result in a set of conditioned, predictable behaviors.


Behavioral economists suggest that people have two cognitive systems for selecting a preference. The first system is highly aware and rational. It is employed when uncertainty prevails and weighing the options seems like the wisest choice. Choosing which college to attend would use this method. System number two is what one might call the well-worn road, sticking with what is comfortable and familiar. This is used to decide routine actions like what to eat for breakfast. It is this system that determines most behavior.

Technology impacts behavior, which impacts design

With the rise of global commerce and mobile technology, the problem has become more complex. In the office of the past, one’s immediate surroundings dictated their environment and resulting behavior. Now, many employees interact with associates they’ll never meet. They’re also given glimpses of places they’ll never see in person. This influence by the external environment has shifted the nature of behavior insofar as it is a function of attitudes, actions, and experiences. Becoming aware of what else is out there instigates behavior that reflects this expanded awareness. In the last article many of these forces were explored, including shifts in communication patterns, labor markets, organizational structures, and delivery processes. This article turns inward and embraces people for what they are—emotional beings trying to rationalize choices that are often economically irrational.

Architects and economists

Architects and economists alike have tried their hands at predicting human behavior by using models under given sets of conditions. In the architectural sense, models are abstractions of physical conditions that assume away the imperfections and intolerances of practical consideration. The benefit of architectural models is that they allow for rapid exploration of options. The downfall is that models reduce the greatest variable—people—to immobile plastic figurines. Similarly, economic models underestimate the variability of their populations. People within economic models are set to operate in their best self-interest to maximize their own utility. If that term “utility” seems confusing, it is by design. It reduces the diversity of human preference to a generic, plastic figure.

Over the last forty years, however, a new school of economic thinking has emerged: behavioral economics. Lead by Daniel Kahneman and, more recently, Nobel prizewinner Richard Thaler, these industrial pioneers have embraced the irrational aspects of human decision-making. It seems people aren’t the predictable models of behavior one might think. It suggests that a third school of thought may fill in the cavernous gap between “tell them what they get,” and “give them what they want.”


Since the brain has both passive and active modes, spaces can communicate intent using a variety of suggestions – some more literal than others.

Homer Simpson and the path of least resistance

Behavioral economics takes people for what they are: human beings. Sometimes they are rational actors who consider the short- and long-term ramifications of each option available to them and then act accordingly. However, this is rare. Instead, people trust their instincts and experiences as they navigate the world. Human behaviors are often equated to being a function of people’s actions and attitudes. The reality is it’s more complicated than that. People also hold a certain set of expectations and rely on their own experiences to guide their decision-making. They do this to reduce the degree of uncertainty in their lives because it makes things easier and more predictable. Generally speaking, people like easy. Thaler and Sunstein characterize this sort of behavior by using Homer Simpson as the mascot for short-term gratification. In other words, the path of least resistance seems to become the popular choice.

Also, predictability is boring and not always ideal. Instead, many constantly seek out novel experiences to augment those immediately available. Reading books, watching movies, chatting with strangers, or surfing the Internet provide experiences that expand the set of options available. In the past, novelty came at a premium. But in today’s on-demand world, it’s basically free and much easier to access.

Design for people

Being collectively aware of what is possible elsewhere has put pressure on what is expected from the practicalities of the workplace. In the here and now, “predictable” and “novel” undeniably are at odds with one another. As people’s behavior becomes increasingly difficult to predict, designing for behavior becomes more challenging. Office workers are more aware of the options available to them and might act differently tomorrow as a result. It throws “design by edict” right out the window. It’s the responsibility of workplace designers to narrow the options to those that will sustain individuals and organizations alike, consistently and durably. Fortunately, there’s a third option of “suggest what they might do.” Don’t tell them what they want and don’t flood them with options. Instead, nudge them in a predetermined direction.

The first step to delivering on behavioral change is providing people with a wider range of options. The second step is suggesting how those options might meet different needs, and encouraging people to take advantage of them accordingly.

From the evolving discipline of behavioral economic thought, a litany of terms has emerged to describe the way that well-intentioned designers, planners, policy-makers, business people, and politicians might nudge human behavior in a particular direction. Sometimes, it’s called “choice architecture.” Other times, the practice is referred to as “libertarian paternalism.” Regardless, the premise is that designers can use subtle design cues to influence human behavior in a predetermined direction.

The new alternative

Within the context of workplace design, behavioral economics presents an alternative to the two prevailing modes of design: by decree in the first and by committee in the second. It acknowledges that people will behave in irrational ways that might be to the detriment of themselves, others, and the organization. In response, it takes people for the unpredictable human beings they are, and endeavors to limit the set of choices at hand to enable people to act in the interest of both themselves and the organization.


Originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Workplace Analytics: How To Mine Big Data To Add Organizational Value

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For corporate real estate and facility management professionals, workplace analytics help identify the best use for space for the organization to operate effectively.


Workplace Analytics

These are complex times for corporate real estate and facility management professionals. Continually advancing technology produces a massive amount of data, but a nagging question remains: Is all of it being mined for the optimal benefit of the organization’s facilities? At a conceptual level, corporate real estate and facility management data focuses on the measurement of people activity within a workspace, but that function barely scratches the surface. The rise of workplace analytics provides corporate real estate and facility management professionals with an invaluable tool for calculating the best use of space for the business to operate at maximum effectiveness. The challenge is that many corporations are reluctant to commit to the use of sophisticated workplace analytics. While the reasons vary, they leave corporate real estate and facility management specialists on the sidelines and in a state of what some of them refer to as “intrigue.”

One reason is management’s apprehension about investing in applications that, in some cases, may be viewed by personnel as an invasion of privacy and a litigation threat. An example is the deployment of sensors throughout the workspace to provide data on how busy a particular area has been, who has worked there, for how long, and when the space is inactive. Management should be most concerned about the latter. Yet, unless corporate real estate and facility management personnel are provided with analytics to ferret out and apply the most relevant data, the corporation is wasting one of its valuable assets and, in some cases, losing money on workspace that could be used more effectively.

Emerging Technologies

The traditional role of the corporate real estate or facility management professional has been to manage the organization or corporation’s real estate portfolios because real estate was considered a fixed cost or, at best, a depreciating asset. Unwittingly, organizations acted on the inaccurate premise that physical space, once established, was unchangeable in terms of costs. One reason may have been the low-tech measurement of space usage — for example, clipboard-carrying individuals who counted people in and out of the space. Eventually, the counting process progressed somewhat with the use of badge swipes and infrared technology. Also, companies began relying on programs such as Outlook, which were an improvement but presented their own limitations. In this case, ease of use and capabilities were either unavailable or not updated. Outlook was also found to be time consuming — something technology is supposed to alleviate.

Technology in general and analytics, in particular, are playing a major role in the changing attitudes of corporate real estate and facility management professionals and their understanding optimal space use. Development of sophisticated analytical programs spurred a corporate real estate and facility management teams to put greater emphasis on crafting strategic planning for best use of the organization’s assets. Among the first to recognize the importance of analytical programs were logistics and banking organizations, which have access to enormous amounts of data. In these high-transaction environments, numbers crunching and the resulting data are applied to decision making, such as credit and risk management and cost analysis that includes operational efficiency and inventory control.

It did not take long for the power of analytics to be applied to the domain of corporate real estate and facility management and change the focus of workspace usage from perception to reality. Instead of low-tech measurement, corporate real estate and facility management professionals with access to workplace analytical platforms can tap into concrete data. This real-world information shows how each space or asset performs. In turn, it enables management to make sound programming decisions.

From Place-Based to People-Based Analytics

The development of place-based analytics is important in the corporate real estate and facility management environment. That’s because it clearly defines how space is utilized at a particular time. Just as important, the data provides corporate real estate and facility management with an accurate picture of where people are and when they use or require a particular space. Also, place-based becomes people-based when the analytics reveal patterns and trends in the way people meet with each other. Here, organizations can rely on integrated platforms with practically limitless potential. One example is the capability to promptly and efficiently facilitate meetings in terms of location, space availability, timeliness, and occupancy.

The unnecessary expense of time that had been required to allocate the proper space for the work to function is unacceptable. Workspace is a strategic asset that requires cost-efficiency for maximum functionality. A seemingly simple desire to select a suite of spaces to support meetings may be costing the company unnecessarily without data analytics to justify the decision. A better alternative is to focus on agile strategies that leverage the right amount of space for each purpose. It’s data-based analytical programming for the best usage of space as warranted.

Understanding the Benefits of Workplace Analytics

The advantage of a sophisticated analytical platform is its presentation of several approaches to collecting and analyzing data. One of the most effective in the context of maximizing the use of space is the placement of sensors throughout the office environment. The sensors collect data, which is transmitted to a network and subsequently to a massive database in the form of a veritable warehouse of information consisting of millions of data points. A second database performs calculations on, tabulates, and processes the data. From there, processed bits and bytes, in volumes too large for human comprehension, move to a web-based analytics platform.

The vital difference is immediacy. Instead of dealing with data usage that is compiled over a lengthy time period, sometimes several months, the sensors record and send data minute by minute, ensuring a decision-making process based on current information.

Key metrics, along with dynamic visualization tools, such as charts and graphs created through the software platform, take the volume of information and condense it. In this way a corporate real estate or facility management expert can either make or recommend decisions to management supported by the data.

Much of this data focus revolves around the Building Internet of Things (IoT), the collective terminology applied to sensors, software, and other items of connectivity for the exchange of data waiting to be harnessed. In a 2016 report, Deloitte Consulting noted that “the CRE industry is perhaps uniquely positioned to implement the technology using IoT-enabled building management systems to make building performance more efficient and … sensor-generated data to enhance building user experience.” In the same report, Deloitte projects the compound growth rate of nearly 79 percent in the use worldwide of IoT sensor deployments by CRE, amounting to 1.2 billion by the year 2020.

The value of CRE data is a “game-changer” in facilities management. Now organizations can optimize their portfolios through platforms unavailable only a few years ago. Previously inaccessible data helps organizations arrive at more informed conclusions — for example, when to consolidate and when to promote a different strategy for a specific site. It is a unique, if not revolutionary, way to analyze how work flows through a space and how usage of that space may impact operating costs and return on investment.

Another important benefit of place-based analytics is the positive impact on the workforce. Leveraging data from the sensors and other Building IoT components improves employee satisfaction and retention. Users report productivity improvement in the workplace environment.

One example is a large consumer-products company in the Southeast that was planning to invest in an addition to its global headquarters to complement a full-scale renovation of the existing space. The company focused on usage patterns of its collaboration spaces, believing that increasing and enhancing the experience of collaborating with colleagues would contribute to both increased employee engagement and enhanced business results. Following installation of remote monitoring devices in all of the dedicated collaboration spaces and collection of 16.5 million data points, an analytical software application determined that people were meeting in smaller groups and many of the larger spaces were never fully utilized. Ultimately, place-based analytics enabled right-sizing and rebalancing the facility for optimal interactions.

3 Concerns About Data Analytics

Data analytics are value drivers for efficient and cost-effective use of workspace and personnel on a daily basis. Yet some organizations are reluctant to adopt and leverage this technology, especially those with medium or smaller-sized companies as clients. Usually their apprehension is based on one or more of the following concerns:

Concern #1: Analytics are too expensive.

If there is one constant about technology, it is that costs decline with each advance or refinement regardless of the application. Business Insider, in an article on this very subject, concluded “as technology gets more advanced, prices drop and products get better.” The only exceptions according to the publication are “cable, satellite TV and radio service.”

Concern #2: Leadership will not buy in to the value proposition.

Here again, the data shows analytics are value drivers capable of significantly reducing operating costs and increasing ROI. To prove the point, corporate real estate and facility management professionals need only access their search engines for numerous case studies of successful corporate and commercial use of workplace analytics.

Concern #3: Employees fear an analytics-based Big Brother surveillance.

Of the three fears, this one requires the most up-front explanation prior to initiation. Nothing can be more damaging to morale and retention rates than a perception that the company uses analytics to spy on personnel. A clearly-defined system of data governance along with collaborative discussions with employees may help ease those concerns.

To achieve optimal results, corporate management needs to work closely with its corporate real estate and facility management specialists on the issue of costs versus ROI. Equally important is to ensure those professionals, whether in-house or outsourced, have the background and training to fully navigate and leverage the data. It is incumbent upon the company to develop comprehensive policies on usage and data management and to stay on point to accomplish desired outcomes.

Data analytics are a vital tool for assessing the value and best use of office space. Data-based results present a clear picture detailing cost-effectiveness, optimal use of workplace and personnel and, of course, the ROI for making these changes a reality.

Informed Decisions

Workplace analytics are the foundation for corporate real estate and facility management credibility with findings and analysis to help executive management make informed decisions on every aspect of office space. Maintaining and profiting from an agile office capable of adjusting with minimal cost and effort are no longer futuristic visionary possibilities. Thanks to sophisticated programs and their ability to leverage the data, they are realities that merit serious consideration.

It may not be accurate to simply conclude that analytics have changed the traditional office environment. Instead, it is more likely that analytics are bringing an end to the traditional workplace as we know it.


Originally published in FacilitiesNet.


Future Forward Visions

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Future of Work


Future of Work

Picturing the workplace of the future has always been part of the facility manager’s job, but it’s never been more challenging than it is today. Technology that affects the workplace is advancing at a rapid pace—sometimes reflecting changes in society, sometimes actually driving those changes. With employment patterns evolving as well, there’s no guarantee that today’s state-of-the-art workplace will still be relevant five, 10 or 15 years from now.

An innovative partnership between the University of Cincinnati, BHDP Architecture and several other businesses is endeavoring to meet this challenge through “The Future of Work”—a series of “studio” type classes for students majoring in architecture, sociology, engineering, and design. Creative thinking is a key requirement for these college students, who are just starting to enter the workplace.

No one wants to design grand plans for office buildings that soon will be obsolete. “The Future of Work” is a fresh way to tackle that issue while focusing on the people who’ll work in those buildings, not just the structures themselves.

Designing for the future poses a conundrum for organizations and architects. For example, how many office plans used to prioritize tech features such as Wi-Fi or technology-centric rooms? Now, however, it’s the norm. Additionally, designers must think about how to create smart facilities that provide information, connect people, support the Internet of Things, and eventually support virtual and augmented reality applications.

The University of Cincinnati students were urged to create visions of the future, then design workplaces responding to specific aspects of those visions. The result: Thought-provoking projects that just might jump-start facilities managers’ creative ideas about the future.

An open-ended approach

This year’s spring semester architecture studio was the fifth in the “Future of Work” series. It drew impetus from Frank Lloyd Wright’s statement that the architect must be a “prophet” of sorts.

Why involve college students in such a lofty endeavor? At this stage, they are relatively free of bias about workplace design. Yet all 16 students in this class were seniors who’ve already had job experience in several workplace environments through the University of Cincinnati’s cooperative education program. Also, creative problem-solving is an integral part of training for all architecture students.

Topics were not assigned. Rather, an open-ended approach allowed students to tackle subjects in which they have a passionate personal interest. The program aimed to balance brainstorming with real-world observation. For example, students toured several Cincinnati-area workplaces representing a range of approaches, including a technology analytics company, a bank with a forward-looking innovation center, several sites with co-working environments, and a brewery whose innovative workspace includes a conference and meeting area.

Working in two-person teams, students pursued topics ranging from the quotidian details of workplace life, to climate change, and to global trends such as employee displacement and urban reinvention. Here are some highlights (with quotations from their presentations):


New ways of thinking about design

Envisioning tomorrow’s workplaces was an eye-opening experience for the students who eventually will be designing and working in them.

Shoshanna Sidell, 21, saw her exploration of the superblock system as a way to accommodate urban populations. “My idea of working within a superblock system incorporates well with the idea of developing the growth of cities,” she said, and would “foster a sharing culture in a walkable urban space.”

For Jonah Pruitt, 21, an interest in adaptive reuse had its roots in childhood memories of helping his family remodel a 100-year-old house. He sees the process of adapting existing buildings for new uses as providing a sense of solidarity with their surrounding communities—an alternative to the process of displacement that is a concern in many urban areas around the world. “Workplaces of the future will need to be flexible and agile, while maintaining the trust and goodwill of communities where they are located to ensure the best quality of life,” he said.

Evan Schlenk, 22, was interested in long-distance communication strategies that would work for a solar generating farm and offices for a major energy company. “My proposal reorganizes a traditional office around an augmented reality hub,” he said. “This hub allows for 3-D interaction between designers and engineers located in different offices. It allows for collaboration traditionally reserved for face-to-face interaction to take place between people working remotely.”

Srimoyee Sinha, 21, wanted to address the monotony of the typical workspace, and at the same time encourage collaboration. Her brainstorm was movable pods—on casters so they roll around. “When the need of collaboration arises, one can just move their pod to attach themselves to the person or persons they are trying to collaborate with,” she said.

Hannah Johnson, 22, delved into ideas for using technology to bring people together, rather than isolate them. “Overall the experience has been different from anything I have done so far in my school career,” she said. “Trying to plan for the future, you begin to realize that everyone has a different idea of what the future could be. It is a matter of taking pieces of several ideas to really get an idea of what the future could be.”

Takeaway Considerations

While students’ ideas varied widely, several themes emerged as primary topics for the future of work.

The human experience of work—and life—is a central concern for designers and is continually evolving. Workplaces of the future should include “technology-free” spaces to provide comfort and allow for the occasional disconnection from an overly connected world and more opportunities for stimuli provided by the natural world. These spaces should be considered especially for work that requires concentration as well as team collaboration that is focused on innovation and problem-solving.

Tactics for adaptability, always vital to business success, will become even more important amid rapid changes in technology and society. Another key trend already coming into play involves changing modes and patterns of transportation. These will require new solutions for design, security, collaboration and connectivity.

Trends such as mergers and acquisitions, as well as disruptive technologies and companies, spotlight the need for effective strategies as businesses grow, shrink, adapt and change at a quicker, dizzying pace.

Worksite technology increasingly will be immersive, with a mesh between the virtual and physical worlds. Example: A white-box workspace can be augmented with colors and patterns to suit the individual, or become a framework for walking through a virtual world.

Companies will need to become ever more concerned with societal trends and the communities in which they reside, becoming leaders and agents of change. The need for support amenities will remain constant; however, there will be a shift toward supporting an entire community, not just a single organization.

Adaptive reuse issues will be particularly relevant in urban areas where there are underutilized buildings and space, said Michael Rogovin, a University of Cincinnati adjunct professor and “Future of Work” instructor. It will be important to ask whether it is possible to adapt existing structures instead of building new ones.

Facility managers will have to balance the usual concerns about cost with the need to be concierges of sorts, focused on creating experiences and opportunities that promote productivity.  Efficiency and effectiveness must be balanced with both employee and customer experience. The current thinking of dollars spent per square foot of office space needs to shift to dollars spent per employee, with a focus on intelligent, intentional design that creates diversity and sense of place.

For instance, considering circadian lighting might seem esoteric, and installing live greenery might add to maintenance tasks. But the impact on people’s work experience should not be underestimated, even though maintaining these types of systems is more complicated for a facility manager.

“Bringing nature indoors could be as minor as providing small houseplants at workspaces, all the way up to greenhouse-like indoor environments,” Rogovin said. “The upside is direct engagement with plant life; however, there is an increased cost to upkeep.”

Other strategies to provide exposure to nature can be built into facility or structure design, he noted, such as windows with a view and courtyard spaces. Even a digital display showing natural scenes, or the use of natural sounds as white noise, might provide positive effects with less maintenance required.

It’s not always simple to predict how global and societal trends will shape work environments. However, facility managers can be key players in creating competitive advantages that propel their companies forward. It makes sense to take a fresh look at how workplaces could change to accommodate societal changes, environmental factors, and human experience through different ways of working.


Originally published in FMJ magazine.


SEGD Experience Minneapolis

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SEGD Experience Minneapolis


The Society for Experiential Graphic Design, or SEGD, is a diverse “community of professionals who plan, design, and build experiences that connect people to place. SEGD is made up of graphic and information designers, fabricators, architects, exhibition designers, technology integrators, interaction designers, brand strategists, students, wayfinding specialists, teachers, and others who have a hand in shaping content-rich, experiential spaces.” SEGD hosts a conference annually, bringing together professionals in the EGD community to discuss, learn, collaborate, and inspire each other. This gathering is the only of its type, catering specifically to the experiential graphic design community. The three-day event focuses on inspiration and education, with a combination of hands-on workshops, design tours, summits, networking socials, thought leadership sessions and tradeshows.

Each year the conference is in a different city and BHDP has had the opportunity to send delegates for the last five years. This year, Grania and Jessie were granted the opportunity to attend as part of BHDP’s Experiential Graphics team. SEGD Experience Minneapolis, as the conference is titled, took place on June 7th through 9th based in Minneapolis but with tours and sessions all over the Twin Cities.

The conference evolves each year as speakers and moderators are chosen from professionals in the area, as well as lead designers in the EGD field. The culture of the city is captured in both the presentations and tours of prominent landmarks. Every year you can expect to be inspired, talk to top vendors in the country, learn about the new technology advancements in the field, and network with new colleagues. Below are just of few of the takeaways we gathered from our time in Minneapolis.

Customer Centric Experience:

One of the first speakers was Tanya Dressen, the vice president of the Minnesota Vikings. Tanya was as engaging as she was knowledgeable about her team and the new stadium. The repeated phrase during her presentation was “design decisions were based on our fans;” the stadium really embodies what it means to cultivate a customer-centric experience. For example, the landscaping and public space around the stadium were designed so that families could enjoy picnics in the large, two-block park in front of the stadium while tailgaters could get rowdy in a separate area, allowing both types of fans to feel included in the gameday spirit. The entryway into the stadium celebrates Vikings tradition as well as their consumers with an iconic Viking ship, with the deck made from bricks donated by fans.

The architecture of the stadium had three main considerations: the Scandinavian heritage of the city, the climate of the Twin Cities, and the geographic location of the stadium itself. The design reflects Norwegian ties with strong lines and a sloping roof. The roof slopes front to back and side to side to prevent snow buildup. The shape of the stadium as a whole fits nicely into the skyline of Minneapolis and has become an iconic landmark for the Twin Cities.

Some of the challenges the design team faced when branding the stadium stemmed from logos that had little bearing on football or the average consumer. How do you incorporate multiple non-sports logos into a football stadium? Their solutions proved very unique. One brand sponsored a large public art piece on the grounds outside of the entry. The art represented connectivity and unity in the community, once again considering their gameday patrons’ experience. Another brand sponsored a living wall, with changeable greenery. A third was a beautiful blue chandelier that represented water and connected to the company’s purpose.

Another way the team connected with the community was through a public art program in which local artists were chosen to create galleries throughout the space. The curated areas are enjoyed by fans and reflect the diverse culture in the region with all types and styles of art represented.

Creating Community:

One of the tours we had the opportunity to attend was through Surly Brewing’s new taproom and brewing facility. The designer, architect, brewer, and creative director led the tour and each provided unique perspectives on design decisions in the space. The land the brewery was built on was an industrial wasteland, and the brewery hoped to provide a beacon to the Twin Cities community and encourage growth in the area.

The patron tour experience was at the center of the design, which was very unique to a brewery, as each step of your approach was constructed carefully to elicit curiosity and intrigue. Built-in stopping points along the tour made the brewing process front and center but protected brewery production by separating the viewer with butt-glazed glass. As we walked from space to space learning about the history and design decisions within the building, it was evident that this robust experience had been cultivated by a very collaborative team. Each tour guide provided insight and a different perspective.

The exterior landscaping in the back of the brewery was developed to encourage customers to enjoy the different spaces and furniture. The beer garden, as they call it, was very pleasant and promoted a sense of public comfort, with people of all ages being able to enjoy the same space. The intent of the garden was to provide patrons with different experiences at each visit, depending on which area they inhabited or the furniture they utilized.

Prior to the building’s inception, Surly was already a prevalent name in the art community as they hosted open competitions for their beer labels. Each label can be attributed to a different artist and is proudly framed in a gallery in the taproom.

Surly Brewing has become such a landmark that patrons flock to the site daily (on a Thursday afternoon there were plenty of people!). The brewery has encouraged growth in the neighboring area as other breweries and housing developments have popped up nearby. Their unique take on customer experience and attention to detail have successfully and literally connected people to place.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our side conversation with Surly’s creative director, Michael Berglund, after the tour. Michael was positively giddy showing us his unique beer menu (a great example of EGD in of itself) and the way he claims he “fell” into the position of creative director (after a great deal of hard work and many years of side design projects). His passion for Surly beer and brand is unmistakable, with his dedication it is no wonder the brewery is growing both in production and popularity.

These are just a few of the creative nuggets we were able to glean during our time at the conference. Overall, the design discussions and successful examples of EGD have pushed us to approach projects and clients with greater enthusiasm. What if we focus on the end-user as much as the client? Can we push our brands to create a more memorable experience? How can we get a design job where we drink beer during the day?

Behavior by Design: Market Forces Demand New Workplace Behaviors

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Installment 3 of 6: This is the third in a bimonthly series of six articles on the growth, value, and future of Design for People. The intent is to explore and discover the impact of behaviors, habits, and patterns of people in the design of environments.  


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carmichael Makerspace illustrates how workplace behaviors are being driven by larger market forces as students are collaborating and working together organically outside of the classroom.

Businesses are designed to create and capture value. High-value businesses identify distinct market positions, develop sustainable strategies, maximize the productivity of their assets, marshal their resources (including their people), minimize their expenditures, and generate returns that can either be distributed or reinvested. To accomplish these goals, businesses need to optimize and monetize the productive potential of people. While simple in concept, designing for people is never so straightforward.

As the market continues to shift from concrete, discrete, and predictable modes of business management to emerging ones that embrace complexity and disruption, the demand for different breeds of workers and new modes of management is on the rise. The generation of future business value is dependent on the development of an entirely new set of organizational behaviors. Rather than designing businesses using outdated concepts, intelligent business leaders are constantly evolving the nature of their value streams and tweaking the organizational ecosystems that service their customers. As a result, the office is in a continual state of flux. In this context, it is important for CRE professionals to identify and deliver spaces that anticipate change and evolve to meet an entirely new set of behaviors.

This is the third in a continuing series of articles exploring the link between the built environment and the human behaviors that unfold therein. In the first, the case was made for looking beyond the form and function of the environment. Instead, it was posited that the attitudes and actions of the workforce, set within the context of the building, present a compelling source of design value to the designer and tenant alike.

The second article (April 2018) identified the shift away from individual cubicles towards agile, activity-based workplace environments. This shift was attributed to three factors: 1) the realization (via observation) and confirmation (via data) that the modern office is largely underutilized; 2) the rampant employee engagement epidemic; and 3) the evolution of work, itself—from highly specialized and independent to largely collective and collaborative. The case was made that tenants should acknowledge how the changes, from a dedicated, predictable workplace to one built in response to the factors outlined above, have elicited emotional responses from the people for whom the design was created. They are uncertain, skeptical, doubtful, and afraid. The focus then turned to managing how people experience change.

Before jumping to change management, though, it’s best to further understand exactly what is changing.

Workplace Behaviors

This corporate headquarters includes workspaces that are no longer easily identifiable as workspaces and now resemble a more residential feel.

The game has changed

The United States has a collective obsession with technology and innovation, one that borders on fetishism. People idolize the late Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and others for their devil-may-care attitudes and their relentless commitment to progress. Many laugh along at the comedic absurdity of the TV show, Silicon Valley. There’s always great anticipation leading up to new product cycles, CES™, and the expiration of our current phone plans. Employees gaze longingly at the slides in the Google space, and snickering derisively—assert, “Not here!” The same people still secretly wonder, “What if?”

In businesses large and small, in markets consolidated and fragmented, in sectors new and old, the call of the day is “innovation!” The response is the same from financial services firms to oil and gas providers, “We’re a technology company now.” Although there is endless debate over the veracity of this claim, the truth is technology companies behave differently, and they have reset collective expectations for how to behave in the workplace. CRE professionals, irrespective of industry, must take note.

The old rules no longer apply

Creative destruction, innovation, disruption—whatever it’s called—new ventures come at the expense of old. What’s more, in a global, flat, and connected economy, no business is safe for long. Look no further than the shortening half-lives of the once static Fortune 500. Set against this turbulent market, all facets of the business are responsible for delivering value to the organization. In the CRE space, this demand is set against fundamental shifts within the big four factors of workplace strategy and design: people, place, process, and technology.

Fluid is the new flat

While conventional wisdom acknowledges the stability of organizational hierarchies is unsuited for the dynamism of the modern market, some companies are going one step further. When Netflix’s Company Culture presentation leaked in 2014, it set the HR industry ablaze. It’s worth a read, but the general gist is this: the internal job market should reflect the external one, and a company and its employees are best served when both acknowledge hard facts. Rather than fit people into fixed roles and ladders of progressive responsibility, leading organizations are embracing fluid management models that encourage talent to find its highest and best use. Many employees have bemoaned the existence of silos within their organizations. In a fluid model, people belong to projects, rather than departments, and boundaries are delineated based on need rather than dictated by accounting necessity. The implications for workplace planning on this fact alone are ripe.

Failure is the mother of invention

When the target is constantly moving, the best bet is to take as many shots as possible. While many organizations claim to have a culture that embraces failure, few truly do it well. There is a reason that startups are bred amongst friends in the early morning hours—the fall is shortest from the ground floor. The trust required to fail fearlessly is often very difficult to come by in large organizations, where long-term career considerations often trump short-term prototyping cycles. Open offices can compound the matter, as private failure can easily become public spectacle. Creating spaces where failure is not only tolerated but also encouraged is quickly becoming a critical component of workplace design. Alphabet, Inc.’s X serves as a dramatic example.

Communication is always on

As work continues to shift from tethered workstations and fixed office hours to connected anytime devices, communication patterns have evolved as well. In fact, increasingly, they mirror the interaction that takes place on personal devices. Where a 10:00 PM call from the boss might have once demanded a frenetic rush back to the office, a 10:00PM text today might be resolved in 140 characters, not including emojis. Even when individuals bemoan the loss of professional decorum, the fact is developments in the consumer space have forever changed the way communication occurs with one another. This dates from AOL Instant Messenger, up through Facebook™, Twitter™, Instagram™, and Snapchat™. And, the race is on to own digital workplace communication as well. Just ask Facebook™, Slack™, and Microsoft™. In a business environment where constant contact has supplanted weekly meetings, CRE professionals can create value by augmenting analog spaces with digital systems. Pulling the work out from personal drives and into the collective realm, as was done by Four Winds Interactive™ and others, promises to disrupt the way information is shared and the resulting behavior in the workplace—forever.

This newly designed office space encourages collaboration and include open spaces where failure is encouraged.


Talent is transient

Many blame millennial attention spans and perceived commitment issues for the ever-shortening tenures at organizations. While the theory that job-hopping is rampant has been largely debunked, some studies indicate the other side of the equation—labor demand—is becoming increasingly hesitant. Employers are warming to the idea of non-payroll personnel. Regardless of the nature of the trend, the truth remains that turnover within the workforce generates pressure on the CRE function. The rise of the so-called contingent workforce has enormous implications on organizational culture and the design of space. In a dedicated desking model, turnover meant work orders and service requests. A desk is easily understood, and new employees were typically supported with extensive on-boarding programs. In an agile office environment staffed with employees and contractors alike, the challenge is to design intelligible space that communicates design intent without being overly explicit.

New business behaviors will determine who wins

Current and future trends from the technology sector have and will dramatically alter the business landscape, even in industries that might have once been isolated. In response, savvy organizations should selectively adopt new behaviors that will allow them to deliver additional value to their customers and employees alike. The new reality is behaviors unfold within the context of established environments and attitudes. What hasn’t changed is most people are very skeptical of change. The next article in this series will explore the implications of behavioral change for organizations and individuals alike—identifying emerging workplace models that align the design of space to new workplace behaviors.


Originally published in Work Design Magazine.