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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.

Building Memories

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Lisa Bambach childhood photo representing memories, such as those used in Experiential Graphic Design
Memories are built through place, narrative, and emotion.

What are your happiest early memories? Playing on an orange swing set at your kindergarten? Hiding under a great pine tree where you could let your imagination run wild? Sitting in suspense as your parent-figure read stories to you before bed?

As you sit at your desk recalling your childhood, nostalgia floods warmly from your thoughts through to your fingertips. Memories of youth’s simplicity make you slow down a bit, just long enough to take a pause in your day and appreciate the little things that much more. You smell the fresh pot of coffee you started brewing a minute ago, anticipating your first cup of the day. You admire the patterns on the leaves of your desk plant that has somehow survived your inconsistent watering. With one headphone in, you tune in to your favorite playlist and hear the hum of activity as people start their day.

Memories drive powerful, successful design

Memories of our past experiences are powerful triggers in the present and influencers of the future. They shape our interactions with others and determine what we garner from the spaces we inhabit every day. One may not remember the details surrounding a particular moment, but one can recall key components that build the memory in question. For instance, you may not remember with whom you played or what brought you to be playing together, but you might recall the orange color of the swing set, the feeling of the wind blowing through your hair, and the emotion of pure joy the experience brought you.

Recollections such as these occur because memories are formed in the brain through place, narrative, and emotion. When leveraged appropriately, these critical components can drive powerful and successful design solutions. Whatever the setting, successful design engages individuals whose identities have been shaped by their own personal experiences, informs their biases, and influences their perceptions of the world as they build new memories.

Leveraging place, narrative, and emotion in design

Leveraging place, narrative, and emotion in design

PLACE is inherently a factor because the function and form of space initiates interaction. BHDP’s multidisciplinary teams work together to create dynamic environments, spaces for play, and bring people together to collaborate. These experiences are driven via a combination of strategy, data, empathy, and creative expertise which pay attention to the details to make a resounding impact. The resulting design solutions are driven by a unifying narrative that aligns each component to specific business goals.

NARRATIVE is the integration of culture into a space that has been designed to affect key behaviors. It embraces all aspects of company culture, from introducing the overarching strategic messaging to the individual expression of the people who work there. It goes beyond a brand’s guidelines and metrics to not only showcase the human side of a company’s success but to continue to foster its growth.

In other words, thoughtful narrative that has been designed to successfully integrate with the built environment defines our prospective memories. It inspires us and influences our future. Strategic narrative woven through spaces that are aligned to an organization’s mission can have the same psychological benefits as deliberate daydreaming. “Fantasizing about specific goals can foster creativity, help someone better understand their wants and needs, and even enable them to plan for the future.” Defining intangible aspirations through visualization makes otherwise seemingly lofty goals concrete, building a reality of “possible.”

Experiential graphics at Ensemble Health Partners
Experiential graphics and murals within Ensemble Health Partners portray associates at the company “redefining the possible.” The mural featured in this photo was developed and installed in partnership with Chroma Projects and Powerhouse Factories. Photo provided by Chroma Projects.

EMOTION is further heightened when capitalizing on the five human senses. By connecting the design of place and narrative with the senses, enhanced and successful design solutions trigger the sensory memory, which functions to build associations with retrospective memories of the past. “Humans process stimuli first with their sensory memory” and when strategically engaged, design builds anticipation, transforming new experiences from sensory memories into long-term memories.

This is why capitalizing on nostalgia can be so influential. By disrupting familiar, sensory memories, an emotional shift related to an existing memory is created, strengthening the new memory.

Experiential graphic design on display at P&G office
Nostalgic design coupled with the smell of fresh coffee creates a comfortable, welcoming environment for collaboration.

Designing from a Foundation of Empathy

At BHDP, we understand that successful design must invoke reactions that build long-term memory and influence anticipation in a strategic way. We capitalize on the expertise of our multidisciplinary team of Strategists, Architects, Interior Designers, and Experiential Graphic Designers to curate holistic experiences that engage the senses. We leverage on our ability to curate place, narrative, and emotion to build positive, influential memories that can shape a person’s perception of the environment, the people that they interact with, and their relationships with the organization and people with whom they experience a space.

For me, the most inspiring part of this is knowing that we do all of these things from a foundation of empathy—that part of our drive as creatives is not only to design strategically thought-out, aesthetically beautiful spaces, but that we build trusted relationships with our client-partners. The resulting design solutions make known that we care about the individuals whose lives we touch and influence every day. Our understanding of place, narrative, and emotion may drive the design process, but it is our mission to design for people that makes our work truly resonate in their memories.


“The Science of Memory” by Neil Farber, M.D., Ph.D., CLC, CPT was also used as a reference for this post.

To learn more about our experiential graphic design services, contact Bill Thiemann at bthiemann@bhdp.com.

Five Futures For The Post-COVID-19 Workplace

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Illustration of confined virtual circulation for post-COVID-19 workplace
Confined vertical circulation will be the option of last resort.

Work design and real estate professionals (along with everyone else) have fervently dissected the pandemic along with possible responses for corporate real estate post-COVID-19 and presumptive return to workplace scenarios over the last two months. Not surprisingly, questions beget questions. Practical recommendations have been delivered alongside fanciful gimmicks. It is tough to discern the difference, let alone keep up with the volume and pace of content. At this point, despite the opportunistic imaginings of a few, and thanks to the hard work, collaboration, and transparency of thousands, the future direction has become more obvious: In the end, it is the leadership teams who must address the following questions prior to considering a substantial return in force:

  • Who ultimately needs to return to the workplace?
  • When can a safe and productive return be ensured?
  • How will businesses support the physical and psychological well-being of the workforce?
  • Does the increase in productivity substantially offset any additional operational or infrastructural expenses we might incur?
  • Are we willing to take on the risk?

No easy answers

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. We know because over the course of the last month, BHDP Architecture has led over 100 leaders of corporate real estate organizations through a series of highly interactive virtual discussions where these questions were candidly addressed amongst peers. The most prepared identified four-step plans with eight embedded sub-phases per step. Others candidly and humbly admit, “we don’t really know.” Whether you are the leader of a regional bank, the director of workplace experience for an international performance apparel company, or the program lead for a federal agency, one reality is clear. Despite our best attempts to discover what the future workplace entails, more questions emerge:

  • Have we proven that remote working works just fine?
  • How have our workflows collectively shifted as a result of this shared experience?
  • What will be left of the workplace when this is all over?
  • What does the physical workplace provide that the virtual just can’t?

In an effort to push past “it might,” “it could,” and “it seems,” we encouraged this group to force the issue and collectively imagine five future scenarios for the post-COVID-19 workplace. What follows is not a set of solutions, but rather a series of premises spurred by rapid ideation and supported by authentic dialogue.

Five considerations for a post-COVID-19 workplace

Scenario 1: Past is Prologue.

What if the future looks more like the past? Social distancing at the office worked pretty well when we all had four walls and a door, right? While this is the least cost-effective scenario, returning to a space that nostalgically mimics the workplace of yesteryear certainly has some advantages. Employees are granted privacy, control, and perhaps most importantly, a safe harbor away from the distractions of working from home! However, reverting to antiquated models when technology, processes, and collective preferences have largely obsolesced these spaces seems both expensive and unrealistic. While it might garner headlines that appeal to the luddites amongst us, very few organizations will turn the clocks back in response to the pandemic. Ultimately, these models are just too costly, and investors will not foot the bill.

Scenario 2: Sanitation and Safety.

Illustration of social interactions in a post-COVID-19 workplace
While concentration is best performed in isolation, the pandemic has highlighted
the social value of the workplace.

What if we need to persist in this manner indefinitely? The health, safety, and wellness challenges presented by the coronavirus have forced many corporate real estate executives to acknowledge the limits of our domain expertise. Few if any of us are doctors, scientists, or public health officials. Business interests in returning to the workplace take a backseat over concerns about the threat to the health and well-being of the workforce. The harsh reality is, although state and local governments are putting plans in place to re-open the economy, private sector entities maintain the autonomy to determine when and how a return will occur. For most, there is no plan to get to 100% anytime soon. At best, organizations are considering bringing 20-25 percent of their workforce back during phase one and the threat of an immediate return to phase zero would linger. Much has been written about the important work of maintaining safe, clean workplaces for this group of people. It will require a combination of protocols and operational investments to support distancing, circulation, and cleaning. Additional work is required to promote and maintain shared responsibility, build confidence, and secure trust. Less has been written about the 75-80 percent of the workforce that will remain remote indefinitely. Historically, the majority of the workforce was co-located and the minority distant. The balance, for the foreseeable future, has inverted.

Scenario 3: Catch the Culture.

Where does the heart of the organization beat? For years, the gravity of the workplace conversation has revolved around the dyad of culture and employee experience. The fleeting novelty of working from home quickly revealed that a distributed workforce spends more time staring into an endless stream of chat windows and less time connecting with the people in the boxes on the screen. There are too many downsides to distributed work to continue it indefinitely: managing and mentoring are compromised, technology is still a hindrance, there are only so many virtual meetings a person can endure a day, our homes weren’t designed for this, and we miss each other. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that the workplace is a better vehicle for social interaction than its virtual counterpart. On the heels of the crisis, many leaders of corporate real estate post-COVID-19 foresee a renewed interest in cracking the code on employee experience. The most alluring model combines a workforce with the skills and technology to work from anywhere with a series of centralized real estate holdings that are appealing enough to encourage periodic “on-sites” to “catch the culture.”

Scenario 4: No Seat. No Problem.

If we have proven that work can happen anywhere, can we finally
operationalize activity-based work? To the perpetually optimistic, the pandemic has finally shattered long-held assumptions about the nature and necessity of a dedicated seat at the office. Employees have struggled for years with the competing demands for both focus and collaboration when assigned to an area that is designed for neither. Corporate real estate leaders have wrestled with the unit economics of allocating scarce resources to underutilized workspaces based on unfounded demands. As organizations strive to maintain earnings and personnel amidst challenging economic conditions, the workplace will be a natural target for reductions. Many organizations have explored alternatives workplace strategies over the last decade. Most have compromised on a model with a modicum of seat-sharing dotted with an underwhelming assortment of furniture settings engineered for specific modes of work. This “middle-ground” will not work in the short-term as density and sharing both run counter to the current state. Organizations that have already adopted a “work everywhere” mindset are best positioned to capitalize on the opportunity ahead.

Illustration of an open lobby plaza in a post-COVID-19 workplace
Open lobby plazas with minimal chokepoints, touchless access, and extensive security surveillance will become the norm.

Scenario 5: Remote Run Rampant.

What if we never return? There are a number of industries where
maintaining a physical footprint is essential, even for knowledge workers. Regulations, information security, and access to specialty technology mean that some sectors simply must return. Other sectors, especially those that rely on a high-degree of informal teaming, have been frankly challenged by maintaining productivity in the current operating environment. With additional investments in technology, home office arrangements, and the occasional return to a scaled-down central hub for periodic check-ins, however, working remote just might work for good. The widespread adoption of remote work would have deep ramifications for the entire fabric of our society. A significant portion of the building supply would become immediately obsolete. Managing networks to secure access to remote talent would become a critical component of every business plan. Structuring tasks for a distributed, gig-based workforce would shift the way that projects are funded, managed and delivered. Infrequent access to workplace settings on a subscription or pay-to-play basis would emerge. In other words, the fusion of the gig-economy on the talent side of the ledger and the sharing-economy on the asset side would transform business operations entirely. As such, market leadership would rely on a combination of technical prowess and social awareness, and the workplace environment would embed itself more deeply and less distinctly in the fabric of our culture.

The future is remote and connected

Leaders in corporate real estate agree. The last ten years of workplace design has centered on striking the right balance between the competing demands for focus and collaboration. The defining question of this decade will be how do we balance the contradictory demands of a remote workforce that is still wired to thrive on physical connection? The spaces we deliver must shift accordingly.


This article was originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Understanding the Student Experience: Part Four

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Staying true to its promise to Design for People, BHDP Architecture frequently engages with students on campuses across the country to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences, which span a range of academic, social, and recreational pursuits. This spring, fueled by higher education institutions’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, BHDP Client Leaders initiated a series of virtual focus group discussions with a cross-section of students to understand how these mandated online learning policies and campus closures have impacted the students’ current experiences. In addition, these conversations are also uncovering how this pandemic will likely shape their behaviors and expectations in the near future when they are permitted to return to campus.

This blog is the fourth and final blog in a four-part series of observations and key learnings that have been distilled from these virtual focus groups. A more comprehensive summary was shared in BHDP’s Trends + Tensions podcast series this May, and an article that features the various implications that were generated from this qualitative research will be published in early summer.

Students expect that changes will be made to high-traffic areas, like this space in the Shawnee State University Health Sciences/STEMM Facility.

Our fourth and final virtual focus group contained no shortage of new ideas. We spoke to six students: Ben, Davis, Irene, Melanie, Morgan, and Shannon. When we talked with these students, they were approaching the end of their semester and preparing for final exams. Because of this, they had time to adjust and collect their thoughts before speaking with us, so their perspectives are logical and well-thought-out. This is what we found: 

Changes are affecting everyone—from first-year students to graduating seniors.

Students—of all ages—have been affected. For some, online classes are simply tough. Davis, a first-year student at The Ohio State University, explained that his “biggest issue with online classes is being able to focus. At home, I feel like a high school senior.” He went on to say one of his hardest classes only has video notes, which are not a practical way for him to learn new material while distance learning.

Students say live presentations, like this one at Saint Anselm College Roger & Francine Jean Student Center Complex, are important.

Distance learning, coupled with being at home, is “isolating and boring” for Morgan, an incoming student at Shawnee State University (SSU). Discussion-based classes have become difficult since the shift online, and Morgan values the ability to ask questions as soon as they arise.

For students eager to finish their last semester of college strong, postponed graduation ceremonies dampened their spirits. Ben, a senior at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), expressed, “As seniors, we didn’t get the ‘victory lap’ that we all wanted.” In lieu of their traditional commencement ceremonies, CWRU held a virtual commencement celebration.

For Shannon, a graduating senior at Central Washington University, “the transition has been weird.” She remarked that “The challenge of getting into the professional world as a graduating senior has changed 100 percent. Normally, every quarter we have networking opportunities which lead to jobs.” Without these networking opportunities, making professional connections can be more difficult. Finding a way to host these virtually would be beneficial in preparing students for their post-grad careers.

Students predict upcoming changes, but they also expect challenges.

When asked about predictions for their future campuses, students were torn. Irene, a first-year student at the University of Cincinnati (UC), said, “UC is an urban campus. It’s really tight, and most of the time, every table is filled. I don’t know how UC is going to do it.” As I am writing this, UC has just announced a tentative plan for workers returning to campus, but students, who are set to begin the semester on August 24, were not mentioned.

Morgan expressed a similar problem at SSU: “As far as distancing is concerned, it’s hard to tell what will happen. People are already on top of each other in the den.” The “den” refers to The Bear’s Den, a dining hall on campus.

Shannon expects “More classes will likely be available online. With libraries, I hope there are long-lasting changes with practices for cleanliness, but it’s really hard to tell.” Melanie discussed cleaning practices, as well. “I work in the library on campus. We wipe down the keyboards regularly, but sometimes not the doorknobs. I think we are really going to be more focused on cleanliness.” Whether it’s new cleaning procedures, social distancing guidelines, or distance learning initiatives, these students are expecting modifications that affect their daily routines on campus.

Students have insight on how to improve distance learning and future campus experiences.

Outdoor seating, like this gathering area with a fire pit at Lycoming College Krapf Gateway Center, may need to increase if distance learning ends.
Outdoor seating, like this gathering area with a fire pit at Lycoming College Krapf Gateway Center, may need to increase to accommodate social distancing.

When asked how the physical campus could improve, students offered many ideas. Melanie said, “Something I think we would all appreciate is having more outdoor seating, which would be cleaner than being inside on couches.”

Shannon said that a live lecture is important, and “we would benefit from hybrid courses which can be watched online from home. It would be a good alternative.” Morgan re-emphasized how important lectures are: “I wish they had recorded lectures. There’s a struggle with not being able to ask questions on the spot, and there’s no one to elaborate.”

Ben offered a slightly different perspective: “I think we’re realizing that not all meetings are needed to be there physically.” Several students in our previous focus groups mentioned this, as well. There seems to be a division between courses that benefit from the simplicity of distance learning and the courses that require hands-on learning and collaboration to truly be effective. Some solutions must be tailored to the courses and their requirements. Ben continued, “I can see a positive coming out of this, and there’s a lot we can learn.”

There is still so much we can learn, and that is why we are working tirelessly to speak to students so we can inform better predictions for the future. We thank all the students who participated in our virtual focus groups throughout April, but our work is not done. If you know of a college student who has a voice that should be heard, please contact Tom Sens (tsens@bhdp.com). We’d love for them to take a short survey documenting their experience over the past couple of months.


Check out part one, part two, and part three for more student experiences and insights on the effects COVID-19 is having on the future of higher education.

New Approaches to Sustainability Lead to High-Performance Buildings

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Sunrise above Toyota York—LEED Platinum Certified

Simply put, the core reason for sustainability is to honor our human responsibility to take care of ourselves, our communities, and the world in which we live. In the process, we, as residents, become healthier, happier, more productive, and more fulfilled human beings. 

When applied to project design and construction, this belief system is considered a holistic approach to people and their environment. It represents a model of interconnectedness where the notion of sustainability supports good health and the confluence of people — where they live, work and play. As awareness of the holistic model grows, more professionals are recognizing its importance and taking into account all the health and wellness factors and benefits involved in building design and construction.

Aerial photograph of the Toyota Georgetown facility—LEED Platinum Certified
Designing sustainable buildings from the ground up minimizes the mechanical, electrical, and renewable systems required to support the building, therefore driving down cost. Toyota’s Georgetown Production Facility (featured above) is LEED Platinum Certified.

Evolution of the holistic approach

Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for example, formed a Healthy Building Team to develop standardized metrics that plot a holistic approach toward understanding the ways that buildings and indoor spaces—from hospitals and apartment complexes to enclosed shopping malls and aircraft—impact the people who work, live and travel inside them. 

The Healthy Building Team’s “9 Foundations of a Healthy Building” established key Health Performance Indicators (HPIs)—ventilation, air quality, thermal health, moisture, dust and pests, safety and security, water quality, noise, lighting and views, and ventilation that serve to provide key insights into how a building is performing. This line of attack is increasingly critical as the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic produced a tectonic shift in the public’s approach toward living and working in a healthy environment.

Since 2013, the Center for Active Design has worked with the City of New York and the American Institute of Architects to create a set of Active Design Guidelines that provide architects and urban planners with strategies for “creating healthier buildings, streets, and urban spaces, based on the latest academic research and best practices in the field.”

More recently, in 2019, the global 2030 District Network was formed in the United States to partner with property owners and managers, developers, and commercial tenants “to establish a global network of thriving high performance building districts and cities, uniting communities to catalyze transformation in the built environment and the role it plays in mitigating and adapting to climate change.”

Currently, the Network includes more than 1,000 municipalities in specified Districts that have committed to meeting 50 percent reductions in energy, water and transportation-related emissions as established by Architecture 2030 in its 2030 Challenge for Planning. More than 1,800 buildings—over 470 million square feet of commercial real estate—whose owners have committed to reduce resource use are on board.

In the United States alone, the Network is supported by some of the country’s largest business entities such as Kroger, Siemens, Zurn, Westin Hotels & Resorts, and Trane, while cities involved in the effort include Tucson, San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Denver, New York City, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, which alone has been lauded as a national leader in environmental sustainability.

Cincinnati’s 2030 Network, one of the most active in the entire program, is comprised of 30 members that have committed 357 buildings and more than 26 million square feet—space equivalent to that of almost ten Empire State Buildings or more than 32 Madison Square Gardens—to reduce the consumption of energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions among Cincinnati’s building infrastructure by 50 percent over the next decade.

With everyone working collaboratively, the builder, the designer, and the owner can view sustainability as a golden thread woven into an efficient and functional integrated design process.

By partnering directly with members, the Cincinnati 2030 District “accelerates the development of sustainable buildings by breaking down market barriers, encouraging collaboration, and assisting members in the deployment of innovative sustainability solutions.”

Underscoring Cincinnati’s commitment to collaboratively achieving sustainable goals, the city formed its own Green Umbrella regional Sustainability Alliance as a grassroots initiative comprised of the 2030 Network and several regional groups. Over the past several years, Green Umbrella has launched a new set of collaborative Impact Teams aimed at encouraging local governments and developers to imbed sustainability goals into their energy, water, health and wellness, construction, transportation, waste management, and land use, protection and restoration projects.

Such corporate and grassroots collaborations are examples of what can be accomplished, including the ability to reach mutually agreed-upon goals and a common vision. With everyone working collaboratively, the builder, the designer and the owner can view sustainability as a golden thread woven into an efficient and functional integrated design process.  

Integrated project design

Integrated design is only a few years old. Fostered by the concept of lean functional and manufacturing practices, many in the corporate world saw it initially as ‘pie-in-the-sky’ theory. Originally, the concept drew interest in the healthcare field. One reason is because of the nature of a profession in which mutual cooperation is critical, making the ultra-integrated and complicated design principles involved in the construction of hospital and medical center projects mandatory.

By definition, this approach, according to the American Institute of Architects, “integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency.” The basic difference between a traditional approach and an integrated design process is that people from a variety of disciplines work together from the very beginning. When that’s done and all the players have reached agreement on a common vision, mission and goals, the final design is more impactful—integrated, as it were—with more people involved looking at the same problems from different points of view. 

Implementing an integrated design process combines details of all the core components that can then be analyzed by all stakeholders to collectively identify synergies and potential problems. This permits the application of different strategies to design and complete a eco-friendlier project.

Eliminate the friction

Construction has traditionally involved a degree of friction between owner, designer, and contractor hinging on the traditional ‘design, bid, build’ template with every stakeholder trying to protect their own interests. Many factors — mechanical and electrical systems, building occupants, sustainability efforts, overall climate, cost, and much more — are considered when designing a building. With all these factors at play, conflicts and work silos tend to emerge.

For example, some project managers will fixate on the goal of cost reduction which, if their evaluation does not include sustainability goals, can lead to obstructionism. The folly of that path is that, in reality, the most impactful and most cost-effective sustainability items are things that need to be implemented from the beginning. If a preoccupation is placed on products and technologies, a more sustainable design is going to be more expensive as a matter of course. But, if every decision is made from the very beginning of the process through the lens of the sustainability goals, the result will be a building that is not much more expensive than a building that lacks an integrated sustainability framework.

Common goals for the common good

By creating a large and eclectic community—owner, designer, contractor, and end user—around a certain project, the overall process will be stronger and more beneficial.  Removing disciplinary boundaries, promoting cooperation, and refining design and construction assures that the ultimate goal of integrating both sustainability and utility will be met. 

This process is critical in producing a genuinely ‘green’ building and has given rise to an increasingly popular conversation among professionals to differentiate between the goals of ‘built well’ and constructing a ‘well building.’ Implementing integrated design at the grassroots level can result in potentially achieving both goals to everyone’s benefit.

By creating a large and eclectic community—owner, designer, contractor, and end user—around a certain project, the overall process will be stronger and more beneficial. 

The best way to achieve this potential is a holistic and structured approach to the design process, including setting goals, breaking through disciplinary boundaries, using iterative analysis and refinement of design options, and following-through on details. Overall, the process offers mechanical engineers the opportunities to expand their horizons and think beyond the limits of HVAC design, at the same time enabling them to take a broader role on the projects they work on.

Example from the field

In October 2015, the Toyota Motor Corp. announced its Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050, a corporate-wide initiative that identified six sustainability challenges the company would address over the next three decades—new vehicle zero CO2 emissions; facilities zero CO2 emissions; vehicle treatment and recycling; elimination of vehicle life cycle CO2 emissions; minimizing and optimizing water usage; and helping “establish a future society in harmony with nature.”

Planning for sustainability and wellbeing in challenging areas like natural sunlight and air circulation are more effective when considered early in the design process rather than being tacked on at the end. Toyota's York Supply Center (featured above) is LEED Platinum Certified.
Planning for sustainability and wellbeing in challenging areas like natural sunlight and air circulation are more effective when considered early in the design process rather than being tacked on at the end. Toyota’s York Supply Center (featured above) is LEED Platinum Certified.

Challenge 2050 has been grafted into Toyota’s global corporate policy and is fully aligned with both its long-term manufacturing and sustainability goals. Toyota created a sustainability plan built on how the company’s individual component projects can support its corporate sustainability goals. In so doing, the company successfully integrated the input of an inclusionary project team made up of members from every segment of its operations to guarantee that both ideas were heard and that mutual goals were established. 

As a result, since 2015 construction at Toyota’s major facilities in the United States have met or achieved their sustainability objectives including Platinum LEED Certification. One of them—the company’s 129,000-square foot Supplier Center in Saline, Michigan—earning the distinction of being the only the fifth building in the world, and the first east of the Mississippi, to receive LEED V4 Platinum Certification.

The beauty of an integrated process, such as Toyota’s, is that it inspires a unified commitment of the  people who identify common goals for the common good. As such, the collective team is responsible for achieving the successful completion of agreed-upon goals and metrics that serve as the perfect project ‘kick off’ point with everyone moving in the same direction and pulling the rope from the same end. 

Sustainability cannot be an afterthought

A broad approach toward melding integrated design and sustainability does not need to equate to a more expensive or complicated process. Nor can it be an add-on afterthought. It must be woven into the fabric of any building project from initial design to completion and beyond. Cost-conscious project owners frequently want to price a ‘traditional building’ with ‘bolt-on’ sustainability elements, leaving the decision of affordability till after the fact. 

That monochromatic approach compartmentalizes sustainability efforts and the health and wellness elements, and, in the end, serves to drive up cost versus the intentional integration of both to impact mutually agreed-to sustainability goals. 

A broad approach toward melding integrated design and sustainability does not need to equate to a more expensive or complicated process. Nor can it be an add-on afterthought.

Over time, the awareness of the critical importance of collaboration at all levels will continue to attract attention. As a result, integrated design and sustainability will merge into a single course of action laying out the best route to follow in overcoming the traditional bent toward the role fragmentation and risk aversion inherent in the design/construction process.

Innovation in both concept and practice and a holistic approach can only facilitate the process and secure achieving those mutually agreed-to sustainability goals.


This article was originally published at Facilitiesnet.

Understanding the Student Experience: Part Three

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Staying true to its promise to Design for People, BHDP Architecture frequently engages with students on campuses across the country to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences, which span a range of academic, social, and recreational pursuits. This spring, fueled by higher education institutions’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, BHDP Client Leaders initiated a series of virtual focus group discussions with a cross-section of students to understand how these mandated online learning policies and campus closures have impacted the students’ current experiences. In addition, these conversations are also uncovering how this pandemic will likely shape their behaviors and expectations for the future of higher education when they are permitted to return to campus.

This blog is the third of a four-part series of observations and key learnings that have been distilled from these virtual focus groups. A more comprehensive summary was shared in BHDP’s Trends + Tensions podcast series this May, and an article that features the various implications that were generated from this qualitative research will be published in early summer.

The Galen College of Nursing in Tampa Northside boasts spaces where students can collaborate privately or in groups.
Galen College of Nursing expanded their Tampa Bay campus with a satellite campus at Northside Hospital to provide students opportunities to engage with healthcare providers, participate in educational and training events, and witness care first hand.

The more we talk to students, the more we uncover. We have spoken to architecture students, nursing students, engineering students, and more who have allowed my colleagues and me to capture a glimpse into the minds of college students who are adapting to remote learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Each virtual focus group helps BHDP to further develop our predictions for future trends in higher education. Our session with students Meghan, Joshua, and Alexa was no different. Here are some key lessons from this latest conversation:

Students who learn together form a close bond that promotes enhanced learning, and many students are missing that sense of community.

Throughout our three different virtual focus groups, one constant remains: students miss their friends. Even more so, students revealed they learn from each other and produce better work when they are surrounded by their peers. Joshua, a sophomore at Virginia Tech, said “I miss my friends the most. I miss seeing people around campus. I miss the community of our studio. Whether you are there at 1 a.m. or 1 p.m., there’s always somebody there.”

Lycoming College's Academic Center is a hub for collaboration.
Lycoming College’s Academic Center consists of administrative, classroom, and lecture hall space on multiple floors and is one of the most popular buildings for collaborative learning.

Meghan, a graduate student at the Galen College of Nursing, talks about the connections you form in nursing school. “In nursing, we ‘travel in packs,’ so now, you don’t get that bond. We miss the experience of knowing the people we work with.” These conversations stressed the importance of community; students take comfort knowing their peers are sharing the same experiences.

Alexa, a sophomore at Virginia Tech, talked about how the shift online has changed her learning experience. “Not being able to sketch things with friends has been difficult.” Joshua agrees, “Without getting feedback on our work, it makes it difficult to improve.” The hands-on learning in labs and studio environments is proving to be crucial to student experiences, yet online learning is creating a barrier to doing so effectively.

“I miss our open labs. It may sound silly, but I miss the models, the hands-on experience, and taking something apart and putting it back together. In nursing, the computer screen does nothing compared to an on-campus experience,” Meghan said. Not only do peers rely on each other to learn, but they rely on models, labs, and simulations to grasp complicated information. Sadly, those cannot be completed in the same way online.

Students are having a hard time collaborating virtually.

In this group, students unanimously agreed: collaboration is suffering as a result of the shift online. “I’m in a group project now, and it’s hard to hold my iPhone in one hand and sketch with the other. It is difficult because my group cannot understand my ideas that way. It’s just not working,” Alexa said.

Joshua is also working on a group project and agrees it has become cumbersome: “I really like talking out ideas. In my group, it is difficult as we are working now through text messaging. I am really outgoing, and I miss hearing input.” Throughout our three different focus groups, students have expressed there is no replacement for hands-on learning alongside peers and faculty. Students who need collaboration to learn and digest information are suffering right now. In an interview done by EdSurge, students said, “I know a lot of my friends who were in film, performing arts, and musical theater classes, and they’re losing something big from their learning experience. They can’t collaborate in the same way that they used to.” Collaborating online is possible, but it may not be as effective.

Students are predicting long-lasting changes that will impact the future of higher education and the campus environment.

Joshua and Alexa, both interior design majors, made interesting predictions about future learning environments. Joshua predicts “there will be much more attention to detail, including surfaces and finishes.” Alexa seconded that notion: “When we think about materials and a cleaner environment, everyone will likely have more mindfulness about what they’re touching.” Designers will need to be conscious of this moving forward; even the smallest details cannot be overlooked.

As we were wrapping up the conversation, Joshua said something that stuck out to me. “We still won’t know what the impact will be, but how we design for people and how they interact will change.” He is exactly right; it is important to understand what is happening now, so we can prepare for future trends in higher education.

The bottom line? We design for people. We bring a deep knowledge of how spaces are evolving and how that will impact design. We are looking forward, and these virtual focus groups are making that possible.


In case you missed it, read part one and part two of this series. Check back for the fourth part of this series with more student experiences and insights on the effects COVID-19 is having on the future of higher education.

Understanding the Student Experience: Part Two

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Staying true to its promise to Design for People, BHDP Architecture frequently engages with students on campuses across the country to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences, which span a range of academic, social, and recreational pursuits. This spring, fueled by higher education institutions’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, BHDP Client Leaders initiated a series of virtual focus group discussions with a cross-section of students to understand how these mandated online learning policies and campus closures have impacted the students’ current experiences. In addition, these conversations are also uncovering how this pandemic will likely shape their behaviors and expectations in the near future when they are permitted to return to campus.

This blog is the second of a four-part series of observations and key learnings that have been distilled from these virtual focus groups. A more comprehensive summary was shared in BHDP’s Trends + Tensions podcast series this May, and an article that features the various implications that were generated from this qualitative research will be published in early summer.

The UNC Murray Hall BeAM (Be a Maker) Makerspace is a 3,000 SF flexible environment to support hands-on instruction and foster interdisciplinary collaboration.
The UNC Murray Hall BeAM (Be a Maker) Makerspace is a 3,000 SF flexible environment to support hands-on instruction and foster interdisciplinary collaboration. Without this environment, students lack the tools necessary to transform their ideas into a three-dimensional reality.

How can we talk about students if we are not listening to students? It’s simple—we can’t. We find students are generally eager to connect with professionals to share their personal and collective opinions. More recently during the current pandemic, however, we have observed students becoming even more vocal and unfiltered—sharing valuable perspectives with us during their sudden isolation, often far away from the campuses they have grown to love. 

In a matter of hours this March, millions of students across the country boldly adjusted to a new world of circumstances, some expressing the shock that “there was no time to say goodbye.” Students are not only adjusting to their new physical environments either at home or in isolation on campus, but they are also navigating the necessary tools to stay on track academically and tackle online learning.

The next five students we interviewed during our series—Georgia, Allison, Tyrese, Victor, and Kevin—noted frustrations but also demonstrated great resilience. From Virginia Tech to the University of Cincinnati to the University of Kansas, students are refusing to let this challenging period define their college experience, and instead they are viewing it as an opportunity for growth.

The Achatz Hall of Science is a new science complex at the University of Saint Francis that has become a modern and collaborative learning center for the campus.
Socializing with friends and peers on campus is an activity that students dearly miss. These steps inside The Achatz Hall of Science on The University of Saint Francis’ campus may stay empty for a while longer.

After speaking with this small but diverse set of five students in April, I assembled some key lessons that pertain to higher education and the college experience. Here are just a few:

Each student is dealing with a unique and complex set of challenges.

Like many, Allison Miller, a fourth-year architecture student at the University of Cincinnati, was forced to move off-campus quickly and return home. “I had just one night to pack up and move back to Michigan,” she said. “I miss the studio environment the most and collaborating with teams. I can’t sit on the carpet on the living room back home and build a model.”

Both Victor Zimbardi of Virginia Tech and Kevin Jaffe from Kansas University stated that while their academic paths were disturbed, they were equally as disappointed by the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. “We were a number one seed going into the tournament,” Kevin said. 

For some students, like Tyrese Washington, a third-year MBA student at Virginia Tech, moving home wasn’t a realistic option—he didn’t have confidence in his home internet connection in rural Virginia, and as such, he has turned the time of isolation in his off-campus house into an opportunity for consistency, discipline, and routine.

Victor, a second-year architecture student also at Virginia Tech, agreed that a reliable internet connection is vital: “Sadly, the kids who can’t find a good internet connection are missing out on sharing their ideas.” Interactive video lectures or online exams require a stable internet connection. Without it, students simply cannot participate in online learning.

While select classes benefit from the flexibility of online learning, others are suffering from inconsistent or broader expectations from faculty.

Some students face additional challenges or barriers to completing online courses successfully.

Allison strongly feels that “some majors are just not made for online classes, including architecture. I was expecting more of the university to step up, but some professors have relied on us to do more administrative work and be available to them 24/7. There are some real boundary issues there.” 

Georgia, a first-year student at the University of Cincinnati, admitted that she misses the chemistry lab, the dissections in biology, and the library and its many levels. For these students, the adjustment has not been easy and relying on a pass-fail option for some classes is the only feasible alternative.

Some majors are just not made for online classes, including architecture.

Allison Miller, University of Cincinnati student

On the same call, Victor offered a calculated, mature perspective to missing out on the lab and classroom environment. “This experience shows me that some classes actually might be more successful online, with recorded lectures and simpler formatting.”

For many students, accepting a new reality for their spring semester by forming realistic expectations of their own performance, and that of their professors, keeps their mindsets stable and productive. Professors must consider when to teach online classes live, and when to let students learn on demand. If online learning is offset with live instruction and face-to-face learning in the classroom, lab, or studios, students may have a greater chance of success.

While expecting change, students are looking ahead with optimism to their campus of the future.

When asked for their predictions for the coming fall semester, the students had many insightful ideas, and some offered stunning predictions.

Miami University's Pulley Diner in the Armstrong Student Center will likely need to adapt to social distancing standards if they hope to reopen.
Miami University’s Pulley Diner in the Armstrong Student Center will likely need to adapt to social distancing standards if they hope to reopen.

Allison believes the sizes of lectures at the University of Cincinnati will likely change: “People won’t want to sit right next to each other. Maybe there will even be partitions between students.” She also expects that dining halls could limit the number of students allowed at tables, and physical contact with the amenities could be reduced.  

Kevin thinks similarly: “I believe classes will decrease in size and social distancing will be enforced to a certain point.”

To save space for growing needs, Victor thinks that “if classes can go online, they should go online.” Meanwhile, Tyrese expressed that campus dining services could benefit students by greatly expanding grab ‘n go options and instituting mobile pick-up as an alternative to visiting dining halls altogether.

While changes will be expected, every student agreed that nothing can replace the on-campus experience. 

The power of collaboration cannot be underestimated.

With access to these unique student perspectives, campus planners and design professionals have the power to provide valuable insights that will inform design solutions and strategic improvements on campuses throughout the country. Student perspectives should be heard, valued, and incorporated into critical decisions shaping campuses in 2020 and moving forward. The power of collaboration cannot be underestimated.


Check back for the third part of this series with more student experiences and insights on the effects COVID-19 is having on the future of higher education, and look back at the first part if you missed it.

Understanding the Student Experience: Part One

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Staying true to its promise to Design for People, BHDP Architecture frequently engages with students on campuses across the country to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences, which span a range of academic, social, and recreational pursuits. This spring, fueled by higher education institutions’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, BHDP Client Leaders initiated a series of virtual focus group discussions with a cross-section of students to understand how these mandated remote learning policies and campus closures have impacted the students’ current experiences. In addition, these conversations are also uncovering how this pandemic will likely shape their behaviors and expectations in the near future when they are permitted to return to campus.

This blog is the first of a four-part series of observations and key learnings that have been distilled from these virtual focus groups. A more comprehensive summary will be shared in BHDP’s Trends + Tensions podcast series this May, and an article that features the various implications that were generated from this qualitative research will be published in early summer.

Because of the shift to remote learning, Miami University students cannot visit the Armstrong Student Center.
Since its opening in the spring of 2014, the Armstrong Student Center has become the central “student hub” on Miami University’s Oxford, Ohio, campus.

Integrative design is a fascinating discovery process involving listening, learning, challenging, exploring, and leading. It is my favorite part about what I do. Right now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, listening and learning are two crucial processes we cannot bypass in favor of exploring and leading. In order to understand the impact this crisis will have on the physical space design of higher education campuses; we must listen and learn from the end-users who are currently being affected: students. In our first virtual focus group, my colleagues and I heard from a set of intelligent students who shared their current experiences, expectations for the future, and thoughts about the “new normal” and remote learning. Many questions remain, but in our first virtual focus group with students Andrew, Luke, Charlie, and Claire, a few realities became clear.

The learning experience has changed, and students have had to adjust to remote learning.

For Claire, a graduating senior who has chosen to attend Ohio University this fall, getting motivated at home is proving to be a challenge. With teachers assigning work at the beginning of each week, dividing up her time each day has become a struggle. Charlie, a third-year student at Virginia Tech, echoes that sentiment. “Not being in the presence of others is definitely a major issue because I cannot bounce ideas off people. This experience has hindered what I thought I would get out of this semester,” he said.

Moving forward, universities must consider how to incorporate social experiences into a virtual world, and designers must recognize that the future plans for student unions and dining halls may need to accommodate social distancing limitations.

Not only has coursework changed, but the number of distractions has shifted as well. Luke, a second-year student at Virginia Tech, is discovering that he has more distractions at home than he did in his college town of Blacksburg. He feels constant pressure to interact with family, and that stress has taken time away from his classes. Ultimately, learning how to focus on coursework amid a pandemic is a major adjustment for students, especially for those who are adjusting to new surroundings.

As remote learning progresses and both students and educators adapt, it is clear that advancements in technology will continue to improve the student experience. However, technology must be used as a tool, not a restricting resource defining the future of education. Students agree online learning can be beneficial but learning with their peers and professors is an experience that technology cannot replicate.

There is no substitute for the on-campus student experience.

Engineering students at Ohio Northern University are adjusting to remote learning.
The design of the James Lehr Kennedy Engineering Building is centered around collaboration, innovation, and academic rigor.

Indeed, it is likely that the physical campus will change as a result of this crisis, but students remain adamant that the on-campus college experience is invaluable and irreplaceable. For Luke, collaborating with and learning from his peers translates less effectively in remote learning. “I miss working with other students and I’ve realized that the social side of studio learning is so important,” he said. Charlie feels the same way: “What I miss most is being in the classroom with friends and being in the dining halls between classes.”

The students we spoke with expressed their yearning to once again experience the brick-and-mortar collegiate facilities, classrooms, labs, and campus greenspaces that drew students to each university in the first place. According to Andrew, a first-year student at Miami University, one of the biggest reasons for attending Miami was the beautiful campus. He cared about academic success and wanted his schoolwork to challenge him, but he could not ignore the campus aesthetics. Charlie revealed a similar mindset; a significant reason for attending Virginia Tech was its impressive engineering buildings as well as the comfortable living and learning spaces. Although Claire has not yet experienced Ohio University’s campus as a college student, she agreed that campus culture is important; she chose OU over a prestigious east coast university after comparing their campuses, ultimately preferring OU’s sense of community.

Moving forward, universities must consider how to incorporate the campus experience into a virtual world, and designers must recognize that the future plans for student unions and dining halls may need to accommodate social distancing limitations.

Changes are coming, and we will be ready for them.

Students remain optimistic.

Luke explains it best: “I know there is a lot of bad. We should look to the shift online as a good working tool. Something beneficial could come out of this.” Students are adjusting to this “new normal” just like the rest of us, but their love for their school and commitment to their education remains unfazed.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, we must use this time to research, discuss, and understand the effects of COVID-19 on higher education so that we can reimagine the long-established university learning experience. Changes are coming, and we will be ready for them.


Check out the second part of this series with more student experiences and insights on the effects COVID-19 is having on the future of higher education.

The New, New Normal: A Post-Pandemic Retail Story

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Shoppers in a post-pandemic retail store

Forward: This prescriptive scenario considers what solutions might be possible by understanding past crises, published changes in shopper behaviors, current adaptations with our retail clients, global governmental guidelines, and data-driven ideas from industry experts and peers. This hypothetical project kick-off story is guiding research, including an industry survey, the development of roundtable discussions, and a solutions-focused white paper in partnership with GMDC.

Imagine a plausible future…

Welcome to the post-pandemic summer of 2022. The “new, new normal” has settled into our society, and people have now adapted to day-to-day life. The economy is in a steady rebound, and business is headed in the right direction.

Today, we virtually met with our client’s team to launch the new project: a new concept intending to take over the first level of an abandoned anchor department store. The meeting was started the same as any past project kickoff by discussing the project schedule, budgets, responsibilities, communications, brand alignment, vision, and measurements for success. But, unlike years ago, this post-pandemic project had many new challenges to work out.

We discussed the changes in shopper drivers: the long-lasting positive effects (community, faith, altruism, and caring) and negative effects (mistrust, anxiety, depression, and isolation) on today’s shopping behaviors. Together we compared shopper research, trends, insights, new technologies; and more specifically, the results from the three months of data that measured in-store shopper behavior gathered from the renovation project we partnered on last year.

We debated shopper reactions as it related to “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” and concluded that many of the initial base layer habits adopted during the first few panicked weeks of social distancing (hoarding, wearing masks, avoiding public spaces, and not touching things) had begun to wane in the past year; while other, more practical approaches (maintaining safe distances, washing/sanitizing hands often, and volunteerism) were here to stay. The American consumer is resilient, always finding innovative ways to satisfy base needs, adapt to stressful times, and get around obstacles to find fulfillment and meaning.

The American consumer is resilient, always finding innovative ways to satisfy base needs, adapt to stressful times, and get around obstacles to find fulfillment and meaning.

A key part to replacing the initial fears with today’s cautious concerns has been the essential role business adaptations and government guidelines have successfully played in helping people worry less. With the recent federal “Clean Retail” mitigation regulations handed down from the CDC, we outlined how to layer in the new “Hierarchy of Controls” into the “Touchless Retail” ideas of the last project. Employees will still wear PPE masks, scheduled daily and nightly cleaning will continue, and only ‘bag your own’ will be available for in-store purchases. The major rule changes governing new construction will have the biggest impact: large space compartmentalization, zoned fresh air HVAC and UV mitigations, self-sanitizing individual restrooms and fitting rooms, entry screening, curbside pick-up, along with cueing traffic and density monitoring. Gone forever are the open salad bars, product sampling, bottle returns, touchscreens, paper circulars, coupons, and assembly/demonstration areas for 10 or more shoppers.

The shopper focus groups validated which beneficial experiential elements tested in the recent renovation will be maintained (follow-you carts, packaged local restaurant meals, digital freezer signage, and shelf talkers) along with the tested planning adjacencies (beauty, pharmacy and clinic at the front, service offerings in center core and commodities pushed to the perimeters) safe practices (separated multi-function cash wraps, prepackaged only salads bars and bakery, and sneeze guards). This new location and available new technologies created opportunities for introducing more natural daylight, transparent “keeping shoppers safe” messaging, augmented reality directions, touchless voice tech, and layered-in anxiety-reducing design enhancements.

Today was a productive start to the retailer’s first new store in three years and next steps include marketing deciding how to engage and support the local community, block planning the entrances around the compartmentalization requirements, costing new building mitigation systems, and mapping out the emotional design elements along each shopper type’s intended customer journey.

The “new, new normal” has added another level of complexity to the store planning and retail design profession: dramatic changes to shopper drivers and behaviors, governmental regulations, and how retailers need to be more prepared in the future. We all agreed that our retail industry innovates and reinvents every time it is faced with paradigm-changing moments. 2022 is now different, and we will continue to succeed by remaining collaborative, leveraging data-driven insights, and staying focused on relevant shopping experiences.

This hypothetical scenario is grounded in our research and conversations with clients; taking the applications in safety procedures we see today, we are repurposing them for tomorrow. As we imagine and plan for the not-so-distant future, we want to hear more from our peers and retail industry professionals, so we may learn and progress together.

What’s next?

What are you most concerned about post virus? What are the relevant long-lasting behaviors you predict will be impacting your shoppers? What best practices in retail design have potential to stick? Help our industry answer these questions and plan for the future by participating in a short survey. All participants will be sent the top-line survey results along with the synopsis of the final white paper. Please click the button below to participate.

The Resilient Workplace: A Measured Response to COVID-19

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Trends + Tensions The Resilient Workplace

Synopsis

On April 15, 2020, BHDP facilitated a virtual roundtable with over sixty (60) representatives from corporate real estate. Participants from 40+ companies, representing a variety of market sectors and thousands of workers shared perspectives on their immediate priorities and forward-looking strategies to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. The following synopsis includes strategic takeaways from the discussion as well as high-level recommendations for leading the reintegration of the workforce into the physical workplace.

It should be noted that BHDP has no insight as to when the pandemic will cease. In the opinion of the firm, the current pandemic is a medical crisis first, an economic threat second, and a business continuity challenge third. However, the responsible thing, from the standpoint of corporate real estate, is to scenario plan for the eventual return of the workforce, when the current threat subsides.


Pandemic at Present

Before the pandemic became a dire threat, most organizations were challenged to strike the right balance between physical and virtual work. For many, the coronavirus initially presented itself as a sort of social experiment—forcing millions to work remotely and tackle the challenge head on. Organizations have been driven to very seriously consider where, how, when, and with whom work gets done. As business priorities shift from continuity planning in a virtual world to reintegration strategies for an uncertain future in the physical one, the additional irony is that corporate real estate plays a significant role, regardless of the location of the workforce. If space is a proxy for culture, then real estate leaders are stewards of an unseen and yet unbelievably essential organizational asset.

When will things return to normal? The smart answer is, “we don’t know, maybe never.” There is no federal or even state mandate dictating when operations must commence, and each locality presents its own, unique risks. Therefore, every organization must weigh its financial urgency against its operational risk and make an informed, independent decision regarding:

Population Exposure—Who must return, who must not, who is ready, who is not, and what about the fraught nature of classifying some people as “essential” and not others?
Timing/Trajectory—When to return, in what order, and along what trajectory?
Workplace Readiness—How will the environment be (re)structured to ensure adequate spacing and proper circulation? What measures will be taken to reduce undue risk?
Operating Best Practices—How will cleanliness and sanitation be ensured? What role will technology play? What can we learn from others globally?
Leadership—Who’s on the core team? How will we make a prudent decision? What will our decision say about the organization? How will we communicate accordingly?

Until widespread inoculation occurs, the simultaneous threat to human lives and economic livelihoods remains the pressing challenge for leaders to weigh.

Day One: The Return to Work(place)

Regardless of when the workforce returns to the workplace, there are a number of hurdles to clear in order to get the workforce back into a safe, stable, proximal, and productive operating environment. A measured response includes consideration for the following factors:

Workforce Planning and Transportation—understanding who will be on-site when and the means by which people will travel to get there.
Physical Environment—spacing between seats in both open and closed environments, entry/egress, circulation routes, choke points, social spaces, and surface contact.
Operational Procedures—protocols, procedures, and signage regarding seating, sanitation, and shared services. Elimination of weak links.
Individual Hygiene and Well-Being—access to personal protective equipment and sanitizer, dedicated devices, indoor air quality, movement, and exposure to outdoors.
Psychological Safety—support for comfort, grief, and emotional distress.
Social Norms—social distancing comes to work. No hugs, handshakes, or high-fives.

The New Normal: The Opportunity Ahead

Social distancing at work

The coronavirus pandemic is a watershed event. Just as Millennials’ entry into the workplace coincided with the Great Recession, most of the next generation (Gen Z) will never know a pre-pandemic workplace.

The degree to which our space will be forever shaped by the pandemic depends upon the severity of our response. If the pendulum swings too far and we “pandemic proof” the workplace, there is the risk of over-investing in a safe but costly solution that is over-sized, under-utilized, empty, and austere. Doing so would erode the workplace gains of the last decade. On the other hand, under-estimating the virus could result in even more costly and irreversible outcomes. This is the career-defining challenge at hand. There are no easy answers, no checklists, no silver bullets.

Our collective memory will linger long after this period has passed. The billions who have lived and worked through this event have learned a host of new skills, tools, and workflows. Old paradigms will fall. Millions of workers have already been displaced by the pandemic. Some will remain remote indefinitely, having proven that remote work can be effective. Others will invariably return to the workplace. Still others will be forced to seek new employment. Regardless, the composition of the workforce will change, and corporate real estate will be challenged as before, to foster the collective identity and productivity of a dispersed workforce. As humans, we thrive when we are connected—to a mission, to a cause, to a place, to each other. The workplace matters because it facilitates those connections. As such, the workplace will never go away. It will also never be the same.


Learn More

To learn more, connect with colleagues, and get involved in a future roundtable, please reach out to Sarah Holmes and Drew Suszko.
Sarah Holmes | Business Development
sholmes@bhdp.com
Drew Suszko | Lead Strategist
dsuszko@bhdp.com