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Monthly Archives: June 2020

A Blueprint for the Store of the Future in the COVID-19 Era

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Retailers need to consider longer-term strategies that prioritize the needs of consumers in a post-COVID-19 world, say leaders from GMDC and BHDP Architecture.

The grocery shopping experience has already undergone a transformation in recent years, but COVID-19 has created even more changes.
The grocery shopping experience has already undergone a transformation in recent years, but COVID-19 has created even more changes and challenges.

The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted the grocery and general merchandise industries that are already in the midst of a digital revolution. Upending the fast-evolving norms of a shopper’s experience, the global pandemic is sending shock waves through the ways we used to go about our normal lives. While the rise of online shopping, delivery services, mobile checkouts, buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), channel blurring and more have already permeated the shopping experience, the industry could not have anticipated the seismic shift in that direction the crisis has caused. With the pandemic altering many traditional and new habits, the consumer of tomorrow will undoubtedly see their perspective shift from a pre-COVID-19 to post-COVID-19 lens when buying products and services.

Online shopping has been dominating the retail industry for years, but according to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, online grocery sales surged 49% in April following nationwide lockdowns in response to the virus’ outbreak. By default, these numbers are unsurprising as shoppers have been isolated at home and feel more comfortable selecting products online in an effort to mitigate the risk and exposure to others. So, how will retailers work to maintain this positive trend and ensure their shoppers feel comfortable being inside a store?

Navigating Our “New Normal”

First, we must look into what shoppers once considered “normal,” and why we are calling the post-COVID-19 world a “new normal.” While the retail industry was undergoing a transformation before the pandemic hit, the digital revolution will continue to accelerate, introducing the store of the future much sooner than we originally anticipated.

As the outbreak began, grocery stores were deemed essential and remained open for business. Although grocery stores experienced a decline in foot traffic, consumer shopping habits have varied greatly over the past months, and more changes are likely to occur throughout the course of the pandemic. Despite changes in behavior, stores worked quickly to ensure consumers felt safe with the implementation of personal protective equipment, in-store shopper count limitations, aisle and checkout floor markings, and social distancing guidelines. 

Shoppers entering a store within the past 60 days have observed protocols put in place in an effort to minimize the risk factors of contracting the virus. Common practices include employees and consumers wearing masks and standing in staggered checkout lines with 6 feet between each customer, and often only every other lane is open despite long lines. Store employees are diligent about disinfecting carts, baskets and registers, and some stores have protective plexiglass added to shield cashiers.

To maintain consumer loyalty, stores and brands will need to change their game and seek new ways to enhance the customer experience that have not yet been invented today.

These short-term changes have, for the most part, been implemented in some form or another. As we enter our “new normal,” many practices will remain in place for the foreseeable future while some stores may choose to strengthen guidelines and implement more permanent changes. For example, the directional aisle approach may help regulate the pace at which a consumer shops, staggering and limiting human contact even more. But this tactic also has the potential to negatively impact the shopping experience, impeding a consumer’s path toward his or her desired products.

From compartmentalizing certain parts of the store to adjusting colors used in the décor (like in this store signage), there is an opportunity to lower shopping anxiety.
From compartmentalizing certain parts of the store to adjusting colors used in the décor (like in this store signage), there is an opportunity to lower shopping anxiety.

Examples of these solutions include click and collect and BOPIS, or curbside solutions. Thirty-five percent of all shoppers began using these methods for the first time over the past two months and do not have plans to return to shopping the way they used to. To maintain consumer loyalty, stores and brands will need to change their game and seek new ways to enhance the customer experience that have not yet been invented today.

Testing and learning how to navigate new innovations must be at the forefront of every conversation inside each retail chain that is still open for business. Many pickup and staging areas are located off to the side of the store, in areas that are not always aesthetically pleasing or consumer friendly. To improve the experience of customers using this option, it is recommended that brands re-evaluate an on-site pickup presence that feels less like an afterthought and more like an intentional design that is comfortable and clean.

While short-term solutions in the retail and grocery industries have proven to be effective, it will take more permanent design decisions for the industry to adapt to the new psychological and public health changes we’re experiencing in the face of a global pandemic.

Innovating to Promote Health & Safety

Now that consumers are beyond the immediate reaction to the impacts of government-mandated quarantine in many regions that included panic buying, hoarding and inconsistent shopping habits, it is time for stores to consider longer-term strategies that will remain relevant and prioritize the health and mental well-being of consumers in a post-COVID-19 world.

For the anxious consumer in our new world, stores and brands will need to prioritize the shopper experience and journey, from the moment they get into the car to arriving back home.

Stores must evaluate how people check out and pay, and that could mean more self-checkout kiosks.
Stores must evaluate how people check out and pay, and that could mean more self-checkout kiosks—like these ones at Brothers Marketplace in Cambridge.

These longer-term strategies will include innovations ranging from HVAC improvements to increase humidity in the air, to visible filtration systems across the entire store, new UV lighting solutions, the creation of a certification program for cleanliness and sanitation, and touchless or contact-free shopping.

For the anxious consumer in our new world, stores and brands will need to prioritize the shopper experience and journey, from the moment they get into the car to arriving back home.

Store designers must reassess how and where products are presented by looking through the eyes of the shopper. From compartmentalizing certain parts of the store, to designing shelves with rounded corners and adjusting light levels or colors used in the decor, stores have an opportunity to significantly lower their shoppers’ level of anxiety as soon as they enter the premises. 

With anxiety now a commonality among many consumers, there are various aspects of a store that will change both in the short and long term, and may even become permanent based on their positive impacts on the consumer experience. Hygienic practices, social distancing and re-evaluating how people check out and pay by offering more self-checkout kiosks and touchless technology are here to stay because our behaviors will be permanently changed.

The Lasting Impacts of COVID-19

In this first phase of the pandemic, stores have responded swiftly and shown great resilience in responding to the demands and consumer needs. Now, this trajectory must continue, with the industry acting agilely to get ahead of consumer concerns rather than standing idly by awaiting government regulations to mandate behavior.

In response to consumer demands and concerns for overall health and well-being, the store of the future will look unlike anything the industry has ever imagined, and chances are, it will be here to stay.

Retailers must consider their consumers’ hierarchy of needs and quickly begin designing spaces for their consumers that promote cleanliness, reduce risk and temper anxiety. The prioritization of consumer values now is safety, accessibility, reliability and transparency.

In response to consumer demands and concerns for overall health and well-being, the store of the future will look unlike anything the industry has ever imagined, and chances are, it will be here to stay.


This article was originally published in Supermarket News.

Constructing Client Relationships

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Interpersonal skills influence building project outcomes

Successful projects that are on budget and on time hinge on quality communication between client and service provider.
Successful projects that are on budget and on time hinge on quality communication between client and service provider.

Construction projects hinge on satisfying the client’s budget and schedule. Nothing creates more turmoil than incongruities regarding timelines and finances. Yet, budgeting and scheduling are the most likely areas of a project to be compromised. According to a survey by McKinsey Global Institute, 98 percent of megaprojects become delayed or exceed their budget. Additionally, 70 percent of unforeseen adjustments that occur during projects are caused by design-induced rework. These design-induced changes are the main culprits when projects are pushed past their scope. For the client, an overblown budget or an unexpected scheduling shift represents a spiral effect of lost revenue, energy, and resources.

From my 17 years of experience managing projects totaling more than $1 billion and 1 billion square feet (93 million sq. m.) of new buildings, I have seen failure and success – and, primarily, the difference between the two is the quality of communication, not field conditions or outside factors. Poor communication causes challenges such as lack of cooperation between clients and service providers as well as subsequent stress and anxiety, leading to poor professional relationships that sabotage projects. Initiating and fostering a transparent communication strategy and relationship-building that’s rooted in empathy will be key if the client’s budget and schedule are to be honored.

Initiating and fostering a transparent communication strategy and relationship-building that’s rooted in empathy will be key if the client’s budget and schedule are to be honored.

Embracing and practicing client empathy

Being empathetic is characterized as the ability to understand what someone else is experiencing by internalizing their emotions and feelings and experiencing them personally. In business, this is a challenging task because agendas and client needs vary. But missed opportunities for empathy will always negatively impact clients and, thus, service providers. The first step to developing empathy is to focus more on listening during the planning phases rather than on being the first to speak. Service providers might be inclined to suggest, “This is the way I would do it” versus listen to clients who might already know what they want. Before imparting opinions, it is more productive to enable clients time to explain, and then follow up with insightful questions about the company’s needs and the challenges faced by project managers.

Understanding the client’s point of view avoids conflicts of interest. For instance, if a client has 15 minutes with leadership to discuss updates, supplying him or her with an hour’s worth of notes and presentation slides will create undue hardship. Instead, service providers need to speak in a language that is going to help project managers get their next round of approvals. If an owner needs to spend as much time modifying upper-management’s presentation as the service provider took to create it, something is wrong.

For business owners, a true personal stake exists because they own the actual space, which places higher demand for the job to be done correctly and more pressure on project managers. Those clients who are employed by larger companies will have less access to leadership, which places more importance on budgets and schedules. In these cases, service providers aren’t likely to get in front of the boss to deliberate potential project conflicts. Specifically pertaining to budgets and schedules, construction takes on a personal meaning for clients because it’s likely that any approved budget is the result of multiple meetings that culminate in a less-than-anticipated financial sum. To compound matters, the schedule is likely set to a quicker timeline than is ideal because the business will be in better position to profit the more quickly the work is completed.

Laying the foundation of for communication

Kickoff meetings are a great way for ideas and preferences to be shared in consideration of budget, space, and schedule.
Kickoff meetings are a great way for ideas and preferences to be shared in consideration of budget, space, and schedule.

As with empathy, expectations for communication flow must be established early. Clients benefit from holding kickoff meetings that allow ideas and preferences to be shared in consideration of budget, space, and schedule. These introductory-type meetings should be absent of preconceived concept drawings that borrow from previous client experiences. Early assumptions are symptomatic of poor communication and an easy source of fractured relationships.

In my experience, it is frustrating to be in a proposal review when the service provider claims, “We have everything figured out!” How could everything be decided when no questions have been asked? Instead, take the opportunity to understand clients and to gain as much knowledge about the company’s people, processes, systems, mission, and vision – information that is best gleaned by asking questions during introductory meetings.

A kickoff meeting is also the time to devise checklists, to establish deadlines, and to assign responsibilities for future meetings. All in-person meetings should be backed up with email confirmations and signed documents, where applicable. If vital information is not captured in email, it has essentially gone unsaid. Additionally, have someone record and disseminate a transcript of each meeting – someone who is not tasked with anything other than compiling notes.

Conversing along the project continuum

With an information-gathering meeting as the baseline, engage in proactive communication throughout the project so that construction is not significantly stalled.

With an information-gathering meeting as the baseline, engage in proactive communication throughout the project so that construction is not significantly stalled.

Being proactive in this sense means anticipating potential problems without needing hand-holding, yet not making too many assumptions. Don’t walk into a meeting or initiate a conversation solely to present dilemmas; be prepared with potential solutions. Say, for example, that an underground utility is not aligned with the as-built drawings. Sharing alternatives and estimating the costs and impact on scheduling is more productive than asking, “What do you want me to do?” Or, consider this scenario: When designing an office and there’s uncertainty on the employee headcount, providing multiple, flexible design options will move things forward when important logistical specifics are incomplete.

These types of conversations are also best kept in email so that information can be shared among decision-makers and referred to if legal issues arise. Make sure emails are comprehensive and accurate. Sending incomplete emails costs valuable time and mental bandwidth when the recipient doesn’t have an opportunity to reply before receiving follow-up messages. Email should not feel like train-of-thought notes. Additionally, email is not conversational texting. It’s professional communication. Save all crucial email communications for easy reference and utilize management software such as Procore or PlanGrid for collaboration across drawings, requests, and submittals.

Red flags and best practice

Consider these customer service strategies to avoid red flags:

  • Design to the budget. Challenge the design team to meet the budget and expectations and confirm they can achieve desired results. Focus on core project needs and only consider extras that add value.
  • Practice professional over-sharing. There’s an inherent responsibility to know the client. Learn about the type of people you are working with. What does their DiSC® profile say about them? Are they comfortable jumping right in to the meeting, or is that seen as too direct or rough? Consider opening meetings with some casual conversation before diving deep into work specifics. Over-sharing can include such talking points as where one lives, hobbies, and the kids’ after-school activities. Over-sharing must also be directed to the work, as well.
  • Follow “communication hygiene.” Ensure that communication reaches everyone who needs it so it’s cleanly inclusive. Implement a regular cadence of meetings with all participants involved.
  • Introduce “lean construction.” The lean method creates better business by eliminating wasteful practices and improving efficiency by focusing on value and the client’s wants.
  • Provide due dates and help clients follow them. Some clients are poor communicators. Keep an active “open items” list and who is responsible for closure. Send reminders and keep content on shared drives.
  • Ask questions early and often. Asking questions keeps everyone informed and the project organized. Clients should feel like they can add more responsibility to your plate as needed.

It’s all about relationships

Construction is a relationship business. If the client doesn’t feel cared about and respected, everyone’s work suffers. In the current business environment, there is more work than there are people, which means clients can be selective. Poor relationships affect long-term validity and opportunities. Cultivating mutually beneficial relationships today will generate more work for the future.

Construction is a relationship business. If the client doesn’t feel cared about and respected, everyone’s work suffers.


This article was originally published in The Leader. If you’re interested in more thought leadership surrounding client relationships and the integrated design approach, check out another recent article: Convergence Teams: The Power of Integrated Design.

The Workplace as a Social Organism

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While working from home certainly has merits, the long view is that organizations prosper from the hard-won social captial of connections among people.

Seating flexibility in the workplace commonly spurs conversation and collaboration.
The workplace is a social organism. BHDP’s large common space, featured above, provides movable, flexible furniture and creates the opportunity for collaboration and idea sharing.

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught society and business anything, it’s this: the workplace is more than a composition of spaces, furniture, tools, and people. The workplace is a social organism. Gartner research illustrates the key to keeping highly motivated talent is not hard—it’s soft. People who feel socially connected to their organizations are more likely to remain, perform, and thrive. With a substantial part of the workforce stuck in WFH, that premise has never been more challenged than at present. Not surprisingly, the workplace design community is left wondering how to weave organizational culture from the threads of a fragmented and disconnected social fabric.

Pro-social behavior defined

While working from home certainly has merits, the long view is that organizations prosper from the hardwon social capital of connections among people. Relationships are the sum of shared experiences over time. Although technology provides the ability to communicate with one another ad nauseum, it is no substitute for presence. With vanguards like Google, Facebook, Nationwide, and Twitter considering extended or even permanent work-from-home strategies as a component of their total workplace programs, companies pushing for a return in force might appear cavalier.

It’s true that employees, managers and others can meet, get stuff done and deliver some results. On the other hand, it is more difficult to establish the type of soft connections that enable organizations to remain resilient in the face of strong headwinds. When physically distant, people struggle with enacting prosocial behaviors. These voluntary acts intended to “benefit others or society as a whole” are the altruistic fabric that bind strong organizations.

Prosocial behaviors have many cognates. They include pitching in, rolling up sleeves, and going the extra mile. All illustrate a person’s willingness to put another or even the organization above oneself. While these acts certainly occur in the remote world, they are more difficult to recognize, model and celebrate.

In addition, researchers have found that prosocial behaviors have a significant impact on psychological safety, the bedrock upon which strong teams are anchored. E.O Wilson, the father of sociobiology and biodiversity stated, “Organisms, when housed in unfit habitats, undergo social, psychological, and physical breakdown.” The greatest risk for all organizations at present is the atrophy of its teams.

“Organisms, when housed in unfit habitats, undergo social, psychological, and physical breakdown.”

E.O Wilson

The shadow of extended absence

While the jury is out on whether people can be just as productive working from home, Americans are demonstrating a propensity to work longer hours. This increase in online activity comes at the expense of two fundamental human needs that do not neatly fit into Maslow’s hierarchy: the need to restore and the need to connect. Consider the endless stream of videoconferences that individuals and teams have endured over the last two months. When not afforded the opportunity to recover from mental fatigue, psychological research indicates that humans experience distress, have difficulty focusing, are prone to errors, and become increasingly aggressive. These are the precursors to toxic, antisocial behavior, and they stem from a lack of mental restoration.

While virtual happy hours might be a substitute for team bonding and rapport, they cannot sustain organizational culture indefinitely because people work better together.

This graphic shows the harmful effects on individuals when they are not given the opportunity to recover from mental fatigue.

Similarly, personality differences aside, people have a fundamental need to connect with each other. While virtual happy hours might be a substitute for team bonding and rapport, they cannot sustain organizational culture indefinitely because people work better together.

Research from Stanford shows performance and persistence on challenging tasks improves when people believe they are working with others. The researchers also found that a sense of collaboration and teamwork makes work more fascinating, and even fun, leading to persistence over the span of weeks (Butler, L. P., & Walton, G. M. 2013). People aren’t meant to work alone. Lonely workers aren’t just psychologically distanced from others, they’re distanced from the meaning, support and inspiration that communities provide. Therefore, they are less engaged, productive and satisfied with their jobs. (Carr, P. B., & Walton, G. M. 2014)

The psychology community has long been fascinated by the importance of altruistic behaviors in fostering positive communities. The research finds pro-social behavior to be the “the strongest and most reliable predictor of operational success, including organizational performance.” (Mallén, Chiva, Alegre, & Guinot, 2014) Prosocial behaviors connect individuals to each other and to shared meaning, providing self-esteem and motivation. These compassionate acts are the lifeblood of communities (Greene, J., & Haidt, J. 2002) leading to greater organizational commitment (Dutton JE, Lilius JM, Kanov JM 2007) and an engaged workforce.

People aren’t meant to work alone. Lonely workers aren’t just psychologically distanced from others, they’re distanced from the meaning, support and inspiration that communities provide.

Ultimately, prosocial behaviors don’t just determine if people are happy, they “positively impact the entity’s bottom line, and improve its long-term outlook.” (Vieweg, J. 2018) While the physical welfare of the workforce is obviously of the utmost concern for all organizations, the fact remains. The longer businesses and society linger in the present state, the darker the shadow cost of extended absence will be.

Design for social connection

Regardless of what the future of work holds, a simple biological fact remains: people need people. Strong organizations are bound by informal social contracts that are inked in small, prosocial increments. The built environment has traditionally facilitated these interactions and will continue to play an infrastructural role in the future. Technology, as it always has, will facilitate society’s ability to connect with each other. Digital space, however, is not yet a substitute for physical connection. Look no further than the pre-COVID statistics on loneliness to understand the psychological and emotional cost of physical and social isolation.

Prior to the pandemic, the sad fact is that workplace design was becoming more a math exercise than a creative pursuit. Playing the numbers to accommodate a growing population in a fixed amount of space isn’t design. It’s an equation. The knee-jerk reaction to the current crisis was, unfortunately, a continuation of this lopsided logic.

Across the spectrum of scenarios currently being considered, the most promising is the concept of workplace as social center. In this model, the workplace becomes a central hub as in a student union, civic center, or social club. The space is not apportioned into individual units but rather the collective embodiment of the organization or institution. Corporate real estate then assumes responsibility for building and sustaining the organization rather than managing seat counts and furniture plans. As organizations pursue the hard work of evaluating the value of their assets, leaders will need to invest in environments that foster social and emotional connections. The alternative approach—continuing to pursue the notion that people amount to seats and divesting accordingly—is counterproductive and pulls at the social fabric of the organization.


This article was originally published in Workplaces Magazine. If you’re interested in more thought leadership surrounding COVID-19’s effect on the work environment, check out Drew’s recent article, Five Futures for the Post-COVID-19 Workplace.