Monthly Archives: September 2019

Ensuring Relevancy in Today’s Academic Library

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By Tom Sens

It’s early afternoon and Mary, a 35-year-old mother and college student who’s pursuing her master’s, soon will be up against her weekly deadline to submit an assignment. She’s had the typically unpredictable “routine” week that only mothers know about, but she’s not panicked. In fact, she’s quite comfortable in the Family Study Room at Central Washington University (CWU) in Ellensburg, Wash., where her 5-year-old son keeps busy by coloring and doing puzzles while she works. Equipped with children’s toys, books, and games for young visitors as well as tables, desks, and chairs for students, the room is the kind of space that Rebecca L. Lubas, dean of library services at CWU, couldn’t have imagined in an academic library when her career began almost 25 years ago.

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Versatile library space invites students from multiple disciplines to collaborate on creative projects. (Photo by Keith Isaacs Photography)

Nearly 2,300 miles away in Ohio, Sara A. Bushong, dean of university libraries at Bowling Green State University (BGSU), is undertaking a months-long process of uniting the facility’s special collections, a set of four libraries including the Browne Popular Culture Library, the largest collection of American pop culture in the United States. The effort to co-locate these collections is part of an overall master planning redesign at BGSU, where library renovations generally happen annually.

Clearly, these facilities are not examples of the typical stodgy, old libraries, despite both being more than 40 years old. They are not just places of seclusion for those who demand total silence while they read or study, although both facilities offer quiet spaces for those who need it. Instead, these academic libraries have evolved into spaces that provide a variety of amenities to meet the needs of today’s students. The offerings help the libraries remain relevant among the many stakeholders who affect their funding and existence.

Library service graphic 3

The placement of academic libraries—often in the heart of campus—saddles them and their staff with a responsibility to always adapt or risk having their prime real estate overtaken by competing institutional programs that are in more demand. At a time when the average academic library is at greater risk of being undervalued, the libraries at Bowling Green and Central Washington show how such facilities can stretch available funding to make improvements that meet evolving patron demands. They can be proactive in their services and style (or play catch up if need be) as digital technologies and changing student habits affect their functionality and purpose.

Beyond the books

The library’s role has expanded beyond acquiring, storing and circulating print material. One important service modern libraries provide is to help students make use of their personal devices and to offer public use of digital devices. Nobody should walk into a library and feel that the use of a desktop or laptop computer, including internet access, is a luxury, Lubas says.

“It’s a basic need for students to complete their education,” she says. “Ideally, students would be able to keep up their own devices throughout an academic year. But you can’t count on that. If you’re having trouble paying your rent, you may have trouble paying for your internet. So, you come to the library for the connectivity that you have by right of registration. Libraries are providing basic needs in a way they probably weren’t 20-25 years ago.”

Other examples of meeting diverse needs include use of therapy dogs for emotional support or having ambient music play in common areas during finals week. Many libraries now allow (or even provide) food and drink.

“In our facility, we provided a popcorn bar and free pizza during finals week,” Lubas says.

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A uniquely shaped circulation desk functions as a one-stop service point. (Photo by Chris Phebus Photography)

Culturally and collaboratively connected

Also critical to the success of an academic library is ensuring that the facility aligns with the mission and goals of the institution. At Bowling Green, the philosophy is that the special collections are what make the library unique.

“And so we’re trying to figure out a way to make those spaces and collections more accessible, as well as providing all of the services that we have always offered,” Bushong says.

Bowling Green’s collections include a music library and sound archives, a center for archival collections, and a curriculum resource center (support for preservice teachers in pre K through 12).

library service rendering 2

“Our preferred scenario would be to have all of the collections on one floor with a shared reading room rather than them being siloed on different floors,” Bushong says.

At Central Washington, a public university dependent on state funding, engagement with the greater Ellensburg, Wash., community is a priority for its library, Lubas says. The Cultural Conversations program brings together students and community members for lectures by faculty, staff, and students who were born outside the United States but live in Ellensburg.

“They talk about life in their countries and their experiences,” Lubas says.

Likewise, the Central Washington library partners with the English department to have local writers discuss their diverse backgrounds.

“So, both students and community members get the chance to interact and ask questions about cultures that they’ve maybe only read about previously,” Lubas says.

Focus on furniture

A core component of the modern campus library is comfortable and versatile furniture. A combination of longer tables, preferably those lengthened with extenders or connectors, smaller tables, and cushioned chairs that feature swiveling arm desks, is recommended. Tables and chairs that have wheels and are easily movable also should be available.

“In collections, you need some bigger tables because people will be spreading out maps and other bigger documents,” Bushong says, “and we’ve found that students don’t like high-top tables because they can’t reach down to get their bags or other items off the floor.”

Power stations for smartphones and other devices need to be built into or close to as much furniture as possible. “Users want power,” Bushong says, “and part of being relevant as a library is that you constantly are
trying to improve the space, so it fits what students need.”


  1. >Sens T.  ALADN Library Conference – An Architect’s Perspective. BDHP. 2019. Accessed online:
  2. >What is a Makerspace? 2019. Accessed online:

Originally published in American School & University.

Preparing for a Cooling Economy

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Leverage your real estate portfolio for an eventual downturn in the market.

By Chris LaPata

Although the sting of 2008 may not register for some of today’s workforce, many clearly recall the excesses leading up to the Great Recession. To mitigate risk related to a corporate real estate portfolio, leaders must identify shifts in economic conditions and deliver spaces (and experiences) that appeal to tenants and their employees. 

As David Shulman, UCLA’s senior economist, notes in his article, “The Goldilocks Economy,” an inflection point exists that is neither too hot nor too cold, where inflation and recession seem to be in check. Before recession looms, however, it’s important to outline a long-range, scenario-based planning and investment strategy for commercial real estate to provide for the best and worst of times. 

market economy 1

5 Ideas for Planning Ahead

1. Look at the balance sheet. The healthier a business, the more resilient it will be in a downturn. Could an economic downturn present an opportunity to invest in people, spaces, or technology related to operational efficiencies and employee effectiveness? Yes. Understanding long-term organizational objectives (cost-cutting and growth strategies, for example) will help CRE professionals advise investors or clients in decision-making.

2. Follow emerging trends. A joint publication by the Urban Land Institute and PwC identified that the market is sensing a slowdown in the real estate marketplace in 2020. The reason? Rising costs for land, financing, and construction. Office development and investment prospects ranked toward the bottom of the six property types. The demand for more logistics (warehouse) space is one outlier, thanks to the Amazon effect.

3. Keep an eye on construction costs. Many general contractors report business in specific growth markets is robust, with a backlog of projects stretching into 2023. That backlog helps drive prices for real estate because contractors can be more selective about bidding on projects. The primary challenge, however, still revolves around skilled labor and project management.

“The next three years look really bright,” says Jon Dandurand, vice president of JE Dunn Construction, based in Kansas City, Mo. “We’re finally starting to see technology catch up with outdated means and methods in construction. Even with a downturn, the war for talent will only continue, meaning the investments corporations make in their real estate will be that much more important.”

4. Assess the rental marketplace. “Rental markets have remained strong as rate increases persist,” explains Renae Bradshaw, vice president for tenant representation at JLL. “To incentivize tenants, landlords are offering richer concessions in abatement and tenant improvement capital. Last year’s 12 percent increase in construction costs also provided a challenge to tenants. We are helping tenants approach the market differently today, focusing on how to build flexible space for growth, without adding square footage. We continue to structure leases with options to respond to business drivers over the life of their lease.”

5. Recognize real estate is an unavoidable and somewhat fixed capital expense. Current economic conditions are ideal for conducting a full-scale evaluation of real estate assets. The technology sector has evolved to the point where data collection, synthesis, and application have provided a strategic advantage for tenants.

Pay Attention to Economic Cycles

Historically, when the market experiences a slowdown, corporations quickly reach for options to help maintain profitability and shareholder confidence. What areas are hit? Research and development? Marketing and advertising? Layoffs might provide a quick fix, but how does that impact an organization’s overall morale? “I’m witnessing a large investment in activities and amenities that drive corporate culture,” says Vik Bangia, CEO of VERUM Consulting in Minneapolis. “Clients who demonstrate a concerted effort to foster their corporate culture are experiencing the greatest growth and will be in better competitive position to weather any pending economic storm.”

With today’s low unemployment rate, some say the war for talent is driving the need for increased employee engagement and amenity-rich spaces. Flexible space can help companies remain light on their feet as employee populations fluctuate.

Rolling the Dice Is Not a Strategy

Because no two recessions are exactly alike, how might a downturn affect your portfolio? What are some steps a commercial real estate professional might consider doing now?

  • Partner with a company’s financial team to understand the market outlook and impact on the business (cash flow, credit rating, etc.).
  • Create an enterprise plan that spans your portfolio.
  • Identify immediate, midterm, and long-term opportunities to optimize the portfolio.
  • Develop three to five planning scenarios for various market conditions (hot, warm, and cold).
  • Identify tactics for each condition.
  • Balance strategic scenario planning against the human/cultural side of things.

Everything begins and ends with customers (both internal and external). When the market contracts, customer behavior shifts – in terms of confidence, lacking funds, shifting priorities, and other factors – and strong businesses acknowledge that the game has fundamentally changed.

While it may seem incongruous to plan for the worst when times are good, the best CRE professionals will. They will be in tune to their lines of business and understand how the work, the worker, and the workplace may change. They look at how to adapt spaces if a tenant or part of their organization moves out, and they know how long the investment can be carried if a downturn becomes extended.

You do not have to be a trained economist, but you need to understand and act when it comes to up and down cycles. As a result, you’ll be able to create a more well-thought-out commercial real estate investment strategy. 

Start the conversation on planning for the worst, even if you remain bullish about the investment market.

Originally published in CIRE Magazine.

Work After Place: Technology Will Topple The Traditional Workplace

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The workplace design community has facilitated the transition from a workplace as a fixed destination to a workplace as a fluid experience.

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Workplace Sensors can determine occupancy, send data in real-time to an analytical platform, and integrate with BMS.

Always on and burnt out. That’s the current state of the workplace. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi, cloud-computing, smartphones, thin clients, high-powered laptops, and video-conferencing software connect people the world over. In great numbers, the workforce has truly become nomadic, moving from meeting to meeting, office to office, workplace to workplace. These digital drifters are no longer bound to their work in a physical way. Thanks to technology, both in terms of accessibility and immediacy, there are no boundaries, no rules, and minimal obstacles to getting jobs done, regardless of the time of day, day of the week or physical locality.

Workplace as a fluid experience

As the tools changed, so did the composition of the work itself. Accordingly, the workplace design community has facilitated the transition from a workplace as a fixed destination to a workplace as a fluid experience. And, in the process, designers have grappled with the seeming incompatibility of “everywhere, all of the time” with the real limits of human performance. Employers want and expect people to collaborate, contemplate, execute and socialize, and they want them to do it now! It’s exhausting—so exhausting that burnout is now commonplace enough to be classified as an officially diagnosable condition by the World Health Organization.

In response, workplace design has rallied around activity-based functions and well-being strategies as cure-alls for the contemporary workplace. While this complimentary set of ideologies has largely prevailed, there is yet another wave of technological progress that promises to shift the conversation yet again. The focus centers around the Big Data revolution, including sophisticated analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the looming specter of automation that threaten to challenge the very nature of human work in the near future.

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Mobile apps can serve as digital assistants to employees, facilitating a more seamless, integrated, and frictionless experience.

From bits to bots

From the trading floors of Wall Street to the shop windows of Main Street, businesses flourish or fail based on their ability to assemble and capitalize on information while serving fluctuating markets. If the data wars of the last ten years have taught us anything, it’s that the vast pool of personal data in the digital world can be honed into a tool with the power to shift global economies. Data is the world’s most valuable resource, and the world’s data set is exponentially expanding at a mind-boggling rate. With Big Data challenging the limits of human comprehension, innovators have built non-human tools to help us understand and exploit its economic potential. Data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are new business holdings that challenge old world management platitudes like “people are our most greatest asset.” The truth is a well-structured algorithm might be more valuable than an entire workforce.

The pessimistic view is that machines are coming for our jobs, but the upshot is they are taking jobs we are most ill-equipped to perform, anyway. The days of data entry and data processing are now inked in the yellowed pages of our twentieth century history books. Creativity is the new superpower. While algorithms and artificial intelligence are best-suited to optimize and systematize old ideas, winning enterprises in the twenty-first century rely on human ingenuity to identify new opportunities. They recognize the capabilities of humans and machines alike and apply them in new and exciting ways.

The next generation workplace cultivates collective intelligence and nurtures human interaction with a seemingly infinite amount of information. As a result, notions of a fixed workplace simply no longer work. It’s not about open or closed, present or absent, private or public. Yes, those questions still linger, but they are on the lagging end of the adoption curve because the conversation has shifted. Organizations on the leading edge are exploring technology and real estate strategies that have the potential to dramatically and irreversibly restructure the landscape of work itself. Emerging technology is poised to topple the traditional workplace by targeting the balance sheet in four ways:

  • CAP EX: Enables companies to optimize or even forego capital expenditures in fixed assets
  • OP EX: Roots out operational inefficiencies and reduces operating expenses through automation
  • UX: Creates rich, nuanced user-experiences
  • PX: Fosters stronger overall performance by facilitating the specialization of tasks amongst humans and machines

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Live floor plans and touch screen displays help users locate rooms, people, and amenities.

Space on demand

Work is becoming increasingly fluid, with the liquidity of the workplace often at odds with the inflexible nature of fixed assets like real estate. While the majority of corporate portfolios consist of leased space, increasingly, corporations are adopting co-working as a complimentary component of their future growth strategies. Space on demand offers organizations a quick, affordable, disposable real estate option to minimize capital expenditures. As a result, companies can invest in technology to accelerate core business services. The PropTech movement is aimed squarely at restructuring the fundamental nature of the real estate market by enabling organizations to make smarter, faster, more financially prudent decisions with their real estate portfolio. With real estate being the primary component of the largest industry sector in the United States, even slight deviations from the historic norm have the potential to dramatically alter the landscape.

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Sophisticated sensors use IoT and Artificial Intelligence to detect the presence of people and objects, and determine humidity, sound, and light levels.

The automated workplace

While the debate around work-from-home vs. work-from-here has largely quieted, the emergent truth from that back-and-forth is that people want flexibility and choice. To meet those demands, organizations are continuing to adopt flexible workplace strategies including activity-based working, neighborhoods, and agile environments. The fluid nature of these workplaces is naturally at odds with the rigid reality of walls, windows, furniture, and furnishings. Forward thinking organizations are beginning to monitor employee activity in their environments using a combination of sensors and scheduling applications to understand where and how people are using space. When combined with the right analytics and connected to better building management systems, the immediate benefit to these technologies is reduced operating expenses and more efficient work processes. Smart buildings know when and where to exert energy. There is a secondary, longer-term benefit, though. When paired with modular, mobile workplace components and the right workplace services team, organizations can modify portions of the workplace on the fly. When done so, CRE is positioned as a partner to the business, rather than an obstacle for the business to overcome.

The experience factor

Everyone is talking about experience. It’s a complex, nuanced topic that takes into consideration emotional and aesthetic dimensions. That said, there are still practical ways that technology can facilitate a more seamless, integrated, and frictionless employee experience. For people working in flexible workplace environments, a real source of anxiety is knowing when and where to be at any given moment, feeling confident that space will be available when needed, and that co-workers will be present and available to collaborate at the right time. Imagine if everyone had an administrative professional at their service. Workplace applications in development aim to serve as those digital assistants. By bridging the divide between individuals, calendars, room management systems, and workplace sensors, applications aggregate information, perform analysis, and provide recommendations to employees. They eliminate unproductive time scheduling meetings. They reduce search time. They function as reliable aids and can even recommend workplace settings to compliment the type of work being performed.

Superhuman performance

The holy grail of workplace strategy is quantifying the role that space plays on human performance. In many ways, it’s a fool’s errand. As people begin to partner not just with other people but also with artificial intelligence, it’s about to get a whole lot more bizarre. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to take advantage of emerging trends and opportunities. Increasingly, people are using technology to boost their physical activity, manage their diet, improve the quality of their sleep, and now predict the type of day they will have based on their recovery levels. Since the days of Taylorism, management has sought to increase the productivity of the human workforce. Aided by new technology, there might be a segment of the workforce interested in managing and maximizing their own performance. While the concept of executives as corporate athletes is a bit dated, emergent technology provides people with real data to build improvement plans.

It’s a bit too soon to state that management will be the next to be “Moneyballed.” At a minimum, though, organizations will continue to see the workforce leverage technology to eliminate the mundane, frustrating, and confounding parts of their work. As work shifts away from administrative tasks and toward higher-value, higher-order activities, expect the expectations of the workplace to evolve with it.

Originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Inside BHDP: Marketing Co-Op Edition – Kaitlyn Dwenger

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Kaitlyn Dwenger
University of Cincinnati
Professional Writing Major
Class of 2020

View the open position for Marketing Co-op (Spring 2020) here.

marketing co-op1

Q: How has your co-op experience at BHDP benefitted your education or advanced your skillset?

My co-op experience at BHDP was everything I had hoped for–and I can assure you, that is my true and honest opinion! I knew this summer would be a good experience, but I had no idea the amount that I would learn in such a short amount of time. I have grown my writing and editing skills, but I also gained experience with graphic design, video editing, and business development. I was able to touch parts of the proposal writing process and felt as though I was an integral part of the marketing department. I wasn’t just a “co-op,” I was a team member. It was awesome.

Q: What was your favorite part of working at BHDP in our marketing department?

BHDP’s marketing department is made up of some awesome people that I had the pleasure of getting to know throughout this semester. What’s great about the department is that everyone has their strengths and they work together to get the job done. They are a group of collaborative, hard-working individuals who all took me under their wing to teach me something new. That had to be my favorite part.

Q: Did you have a favorite project that you worked on?

Honestly, I really enjoyed getting to learn more about video editing. It’s especially cool to get hands-on experience in a position and learn something I might not have had the opportunity to learn elsewhere.

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Q: Did you feel like you were able to explore different areas of marketing? Did you enjoy or learn from one part in particular?

Absolutely. This internship was great because my mentor, Deidre, was more than willing to get me hands-on experience in whatever area I wanted. Of course, there were some weekly tasks I oversaw, but a lot of my projects were tailored to my interests. I really enjoy social media, so this semester I was able to create a lot of our content and create a calendar that helped organize our posts.

Q: What advice do you have for BHDP’s future marketing co-ops?

Dive in! Don’t be afraid to speak up and get involved in everything. Obviously, don’t overwhelm yourself, but if you have an interest and haven’t gotten to explore it, volunteer to help or ask to attend meetings. The marketing team is very busy, but if you want to see how something is done or want to help them, they are more than willing to integrate you into the project.

See the careers page if you’re interested in learning more about co-op opportunities at BHDP.

Elevating the Intangible

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By Lisa Bambach

Experiential graphic design (EGD) is the vehicle for communicating the intangible, value-generating factors that drive a company’s business goals. These qualitative factors within a workplace cannot be easily itemized. However, they are infused in its culture and contribute to its vision and success.

EGD’s primary purpose is to create an emotive experience that elevates a company’s culture, brand, and engagement with its mission. The appearance of permanence reinforces commitment to the message that is being shared. This adds weight to more ephemeral publications, published online or in print. EGD captures an overarching narrative and brings the story forward from an abstract concept to something that can be physically and intellectually explored.

Successful EGD is “on brand,” while at the same time, it is not branded to the point where it becomes mundane or redundant. In a workplace environment, for instance, overuse of a logo throughout can feel out of touch or even oppressive in relation to the individuals experiencing the space. EGD must strike the fine balance between reinforcing a curated, high-level message and encouraging risk-taking and creativity of individuals and teams.

EGD at P&G

At BHDP, we understand that brands have more depth beyond their visual appearance. We look beyond the idea of typical signage to reinforce your what and why, stimulate team building, and encourage key behaviors. Through our discovery process, we take a deep dive into a company’s culture to unearth the narratives that resonate with specific audiences. The Harvard Business Review defines culture as an ecosystem.

“The elements of culture interact with and reinforce one another […] A great culture is not easy to build — it’s why high performing cultures are such a powerful competitive advantage. […]  More and more organizations are beginning to realize that culture can’t be left to chance. Leaders have to treat culture building as an engineering discipline, not a magical one.” [1]

We place company culture at the forefront of our design process. We not only explore the look and feel of the graphic content as it relates to interiors and architecture, but we work to unearth the stories with which people identify. We value partnerships where our clients are willing to explore beneath the surface of their institution to share the processes, milestones, and aspirations that are so intrinsic that they are sometimes lost. We want you to teach us the intricacies of manufacturing, higher education, and healthcare so we can forge stronger connections between your organizational narrative, your employees, your clients, your leadership, and your vision for the future.

The result of successfully implemented experiential graphic design can be seen in the numbers. BHDP’s strategic processes result in improved recruitment and retainment. We impact productivity by fostering positive work environments and social connections [2]. We shape employee motivation by celebrating workplace culture through encouragement of play, purpose, processes and potential [1]. We build spaces where employee growth and innovation is reinforced and realized. BHDP’s EGD team makes visible human investment by elevating the stories of people, their life’s work, and their collective vision to the forefront of its culture.

[1] MANAGING PEOPLE Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive by Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron DECEMBER 01, 2015

[2] ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation by Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi NOVEMBER 25, 2015

Stop Designing Your Workplace Around Millennials

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Stop thinking about millennials when designing your workplace. Here’s what to think about instead.

By T. Patrick Donnelly

Stop Designing your workplace around millennials
Fidelity Go Work – FREC Center | Summer Street, Boston Conference Room

Research shows flexible workplaces that follow a lifespan of your employees are more important. 

All too often, executives look at their office design and workplace environment with a narrow focus. Millennials. Millennials. Millennials.

They will be the next generation of workers when boomers retire, right? They will be the ones that will drive your growth, and they think differently than previous cohorts of employees. Indeed, by 2020, they will account for half of the workforce.

But designing your office around their present day needs is short-sighted. 

Look beyond the gourmet cafeterias and free massages, the giant slides and foosball tables. While these design ideas can aid in recruiting, retaining, engaging, and empowering your employees, they emphasize younger workers.

Demographers like to uncover, classify, and name groups: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials. It’s what they do. But it’s not what corporate real estate, human resources, and workplace designers do. We deal with living, breathing, changing organisms called organizations—made up of all kinds of individuals, juggling all kinds of life events, needs, and desires.

A generational focus can obscure the fact that employees have lives, and life experiences influence how people engage at work. The “perfect” workplace would understand this and be able to recognize, via sensors and other technology, how employees are interacting with their environment. The workplace will then evolve to meet employee needs in close-to real time

We’re not there yet. 

A life stage approach 

But we do know that employees at certain stages of life have typical requirements and expectations of work, and face predictable work and life challenges. Some of the more obvious are single employees who want ways to socialize at and after work, or new mothers who have specific needs such as mother’s rooms. And, these life stages do not necessarily align with arbitrary generational groupings.

Quote about not designing workplace around millennials

It’s also important to remember that life stages don’t have to be a linear progression. As Merck & Co.’s workplace strategist Adrienne Rowe points out, some parents of grown children may have grandchildren living in the home. They may have the needs of older employees closing in on retirement as well as a young family. The challenge for a truly successful life stage approach to workplace design is dedicating the necessary resources to identify and understand the typical life stages that exist uniquely in each organization.

So what does that mean for workplace design? 

If we focus on employees according to their life stages, not their generations, what are the consequences for workplace design? First, flexibility and choice move to the forefront. Environmental versatility is key if you’re trying to create spaces that engage and empower people who are focused on everything from self-definition to balancing commitments (work, family, community) to workplace stability.

Versatility doesn’t just mean providing different types of workstations and meeting spaces with various furniture configurations. It’s a business strategy that must be integrated across human resources, information technology, and operations.

Still, no matter how much we stress the importance of thinking about life stages, millennials will still be a concern for my clients. Yet my firm and the University of Cincinnati conducted research to characterize millennials, and what struck us most was not how different they are from previous generations of young people entering the workforce but how similar they are. They seek fulfillment at work, connection to a greater good, and a sense of community and collaboration, just as their parents did at that stage in life. Millennials may be more passionate and outspoken about these values, but that’s a difference of quantity, not of kind.

As Merck’s Rowe says, “With respect to designing spaces and amenities in the workplace, we observe that most individuals have the same essential priorities. They want places to collaborate, focus and socialize with colleagues. Flexibility and autonomy are universally important. Everyone loves an airy, naturally lit environment. They all want to learn, adapt and perform their best work.” 

Best strategies for investing in workplace design

Generational definitions can get in the way of this commonality. Our research backs this up, showing how your smartest investment will be to create strategies and environments that do the following:

  • First, meet the full spectrum of employees’ needs across all generations and life stages. That means everyone—from the young singles craving opportunities to socialize and collaborate and the middle-aged workers balancing family and maturing careers, to the elder knowledge-bearers with an eye on retirement.
  • Second, honor core human desires, such as having a strong purpose, clear goals and meaningful work. This means acknowledging and promoting specific talents and rewarding performance, not just long hours at a desk.
  • Third, make sure your workplace evolves over time, just as workers’ professional and personal lives evolve. Plan for singles who crave socializing, for the new nursing mothers, and for the seniors who value mentorship.
Quote 2 about not designing workplace around millennials

I often caution my clients at BHDP Architecture to worry less about gourmet cafeterias, in-house massages and design-your-own workstations. Because what truly matters most to workers is universal, no matter the generation.

Originally published in Out of Office.

Why Innovation Needs Its Own Space

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By Brian Trainer

Innovation is the lifeline of every growth strategy. So much has been written about the subject that broaching it is likely to elicit an apathetic response; e.g. “we’ve heard it all before.” Yet amid all the theories and philosophies espoused as keys to innovation, one that deserves more exploration is the space where creative thinking takes place. And, this topic is not just about another office.

Innovation space1

Organizational culture

Organizational culture and an environment that encourages a flourishing of creativity are essential for every company, be it a start-up or established, if the goal is to lead by innovation. Every effort to brand itself in that manner involves elements of risk. In this context, the focus needs to be on the environment where risk can be measured without jeopardizing creative instincts.

Start with organizational culture. Companies, particularly long-established ones, usually operate in a default position with a traditional hierarchy that includes levels of upper and middle management. Such systems tend to foster risk-averse attitudes at the highest levels and a dismissive value of new thinking that comes from the lower levels of the hierarchy. Innovation is encouraged, but only if the risk is minimal. Start-ups and high growth ventures justifiably scoff at such restraints, but that does not eliminate their responsibility to measure and mitigate risk.

What does the space in which creative thinking takes place have to do with the holy grail of innovation? Consider the role of the non-traditional environment, the birthplace of successful start-ups. The classic example is Amazon, which began in a garage in 1994. While most young or high growth-oriented companies are not likely to become the next Amazon, they need to understand that innovation is fundamental to whatever success they may achieve. Obviously, non-traditional thinking is necessary for innovation and the same is true for the space where it occurs.

Innovation space2

Reinventing the workplace environment

Creativity is stifled in a risk-averse environment, usually in companies that cannot get past memories of failed efforts and apparently, in their view, unacceptable costs. What is needed is a different thought process and the space to encourage it. Here is where design intersects with culture in its ability to create space that generates divergent thinking. Traditional office spaces are sources of distraction and are often antithetical to creative thinking. An environment in which teams recognize and exercise the freedom to think differently is vital for fostering an innovative culture. Consider it an innovation zone that can be located within a company campus or far from it.

In the innovation zone, teams need to be free of unwanted interruptions and focused on creative problem-solving. The classic example is the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works where a small, brilliant engineering team created American’s first jet fighter aircraft, the XP-80, during World War II. According to historical accounts, the team, though located at the Lockheed facility in Burbank, Calif., functioned in a closed area inaccessible to non-team members and separated from the traditional business culture. Two decades later, the Skunk Works team produced the SR 71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft.

Today’s innovation zones, unlike the Skunk Works, do not have to be focused on one big idea. Usually, it’s the small steps that tend to yield greater results long-term. However, those in that particular space have to function as a team. One model is the scrum, a rugby term in which players lock arms to move the ball forward. In this case, scrum is applied to a software development team working on a new app. The team is divided into smaller segments that work within a very limited time frame, perhaps two weeks. Under the oversight of a scrum master, the team reassembles, reviews its progress and adjusts accordingly. It should be emphasized that despite all the expertise in creativity and innovation, nothing absolves the team and its leaders from risk management responsibility.

Short time increments are necessitated by today’s rapid pace of technological change and its likely impact on the app’s future in the marketplace. Much like the military’s rapid response team, the scrum should consist of members with wide-ranging skill sets who are adaptable to changing developments in the industry.

The idea is to create a workspace conducive to innovative thinking and free of the perhaps the biggest impediment to creativity: fear of failure. It is not hyperbole to emphasize the importance of creating critical space where design, flexibility for rapid response and a culture that thrives on both intersects. Such space may well be the determining factor of the innovative potential of the enterprise and its future.

Originally published in Leadership Briefings.