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


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
Drew Suszko | Lead Strategist

Healthy Buildings Are More Important Than Ever

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As the coronavirus pandemic rages, smart updates and thoughtful safety measures focused on health and wellness will be needed to help people feel good about returning to work.

Indoor and outdoor seating create healthy buildings
Combined indoor and outdoor space can promote occupant happiness and productivity.

The healthy building movement has changed the way facility managers evaluate their buildings, but the coronavirus pandemic is bound to change it even more. As people return to their office buildings, there will be new concerns about safety and sanitizing. Complicating matters, it could be challenging to draw people back to the workplace after the convenience of working at home, where the dress code is always “casual.”

Most facility managers have long since expanded their evaluation checklists to include features like indoor greenery and water bottle filling stations, along with inspections of the HVAC systems and lighting fixtures. Now, it becomes even more important to take a thoughtful approach to well-being concerns. It’s a good time to retool those building checklists and evaluations to make sure facilities are not just operating efficiently, but also helping people feel safe, welcome and healthy, especially as they return to work.

Build on current practices

Light filtration creates a healthy building atmosphere

Ideally, the effort to enhance health and well-being will not be something that’s brand new. Rather, it’s another layer added to what’s already being done to keep the facility humming—an evaluation process that’s ongoing daily, weekly, monthly and annually.

For example, there are regular inspections for wear and tear on internal areas that are heavily used, such as entrances, dining spaces and common meeting areas. There’s similar scrutiny of external areas, such as loading docks and sidewalks. It’s understood that a well-maintained facility matters to everyone who walks the halls, occupies a workspace or visits the building to attend a meeting.

In addition to aesthetic impressions of the facility, issues related to sustainability and well-being have become increasingly important to corporate tenants as well as to employees. Therefore, such issues also have become more important to facility managers; they are expected to have expertise on the more psychological as well as the practical aspects of the buildings they oversee.

Not surprisingly, heightened concerns about buildings’ health-related features in the wake of the worst pandemic in recent memory exist. Naturally, people will be wary. There also will be greater awareness that the maintenance of unseen systems such as ventilation and cleaning protocols could be just as vital for safety as, say, a leaking ceiling or a crack in a sidewalk.

Certification programs

A good way to enhance evaluations of a facility is by using one or more third-party certification programs, such as LEED, Fitwel or WELL. LEED is a global platform, whose certification emphasizes building efficiency and sustainability. The U.S. Green Building Council promotes its LEED certification as a competitive edge as well as a selling point for prospective tenants.

Fitwel is another widely used certification program in the healthy building movement, emphasizing health-promoting design. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a research and evaluation partner for Fitwel.

WELL Certification also offers a detailed framework for building projects that promote health and wellbeing. The Green Business Certification Incorporation, GBCI, which certifies the WELL Building Standard, also administers the LEED rating system, and WELL and LEED are complementary, not competitive.

WELL building guidelines

Here’s a closer look at the WELL building standards, which have a focus on the health and well-being of building occupants. They draw on medical research, detailing numerous points that fit into a facility management audit. Consider some of these main target areas:

HVAC practices. This is likely to be top-of-mind as people return to their office buildings once the coronavirus crisis eases. Indoor air quality can have major effects on people’s productivity, alertness and absenteeism. The Environmental Protection Agency links indoor air pollution to a number of serious diseases, including asthma. A regular cleaning and replacement strategy for all systems and filters, along with evaluation of the outdoor air intake, will help to maintain optimal air quality.

Cleaning protocols. Consider a transition to products with safer ingredients. Most commercial cleaners contain harmful chemicals that can be hazardous to the cleaning staff as well as other building occupants. A focus on proper training and cleaning schedules will also be top of mind for employees returning to the office environment.

Drinking water quality. This amenity is important to employers because it is important to their employees. As companies have encouraged the use of reusable water bottles, they’ve also started offering bottle filling stations and ice/water dispensers. Regular cleaning and filter maintenance of this equipment are needed to ensure that drinking water is not only accessible, but of the highest quality.

Smoking bans. Restrictions in buildings have helped to improve Americans’ health, according to the CDC. Many corporate companies have enacted full smoking bans for their buildings and campuses. Facilities that do allow for smoking locations should position them well away from building entry points, to keep smoke out of the facility and safeguard people from having to walk through them.

Pest management practices. These can be improved with an emphasis on low-hazard pesticides. The integrated pest management approach aims to balance monitoring, prevention and control efforts to limit harmful effects on people.

Recycling programs. Standard in some facilities, more controversial in others, recycling programs are another way to promote more sustainable practices in our throw-away society. Some facilities might even be able to include composting collection points, recycling food waste for practical purposes such as landscaping.

Also, worth noting is the WELL Building Core & Shell certification, an approach that might be particularly useful to some facility teams. The program’s emphasis is on base building design and operation. It is similar to the LEED certification process; in that it aims to offer incentives for all a building’s tenants to adopt a health and well-being emphasis for their independent spaces.

Encouraging healthy behaviors

While it’s vital to evaluate building systems that have a short-term, direct impact on health. It’s also good to take the long view. Over time, certain enhancements can not only promote healthful behaviors, but inspire positive feelings about people’s surroundings.

Places for peoples to enjoy natural light are found in healthy buildings

These are not esoteric concerns, but measures with real, bottom-line impact. WELL standards and other green building initiatives have been shown to boost productivity, reduce health care costs and help attract and retain employees. In turn, keeping current employees rather than having to hire and train new ones has a positive impact on an organization’s ROI. According to the Center for American Progress, replacing a single employee may cost an organization up to 30 percent of that person’s annual salary.

Research shows that indoor environments can promote happiness and productivity through things like lighting, greenery, outdoor access and window placement. Other enhancements can promote wellness by encouraging fitness. These include:

  • Features such as walking trails encourage people to get outside for exercise and fresh air.
  • More open, inviting and accessible stairways can prompt people to take more steps during the workday.
  • On-site fitness centers make it easy and convenient for people to use a treadmill, work out with weights or perhaps take a stress-reducing yoga class.

Upgraded amenities could be a valuable tool to welcome people back to buildings that were emptied out by the pandemic — especially those employees who have rather enjoyed cocooning at home. Again, these measures can have significant impact as strategies to shore up engagement by offering people tangible quality-of-life features. Consider these possibilities:

  • Well-planned gathering places that encourage interaction and camaraderie, albeit with timely “social distancing” considerations, when appropriate.
  • Décor that nods to the trend of less institutional, more homelike surroundings. This could include creative use of finishes, spots that offer quiet and privacy, and places where with seating choices allowing the user to adapt their posture, such as couches rather than the standard office chairs.
  • Spaces that demonstrate openness to a more agile workplace. These might include locations where people who work from home part of the time can come in, set up their computers and interact with their fulltime on-site colleagues.

Role of communications

Amid the nuts-and-bolts concerns, system audits and checklists, don’t overlook the need for communications. Post-pandemic, they will become more important than it has been in the past. Facilities managers will need to educate people about the health and well-being strategies that are being enacted and how these measures contribute to a more efficient workplace that’s also more healthful for them. Communications should explain the efforts to safeguard people’s security and safety, and hopefully will inspire confidence and peace of mind.

Communications can include emails, text messages and signage, including digital signs. If possible, it also can be helpful to provide FAQs and a way for tenants and employees to have their questions and concerns addressed. Communications efforts should make use of data, when available, to back up explanations about what’s being done and why. This will help keep people informed, engaged and reassured.

Vital role of facility managers

The healthy building trend is bound to accelerate and deepen as people return to buildings that they hope are safe and healthy. Facility managers can play a vital role by updating the way they evaluate their buildings — including enacting additional safety measures and sharing information with tenants and employees.

Sustainability and well-being are increasingly integral to how people think about what a building should be. Through careful evaluation and thoughtful updates, the buildings where so many people spend so much of their time can be better places in which people live, work and learn.

This article was originally published at Facilitiesnet.

The Role of Physical Space in Corporate Learning and Development

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Unique learning and training centers

Innovative use of space to create a learning environment that positively affects engagement and retention requires a strategic and coordinated effort backed by senior leadership commitment.

Corporate learning and development (L&D) programs, no matter how compelling, may not be enough in and of themselves as the foundation for developing engaged and productive employees. Historically, the primary focus for L&D was the design of the program, with only minimal thought about spaces where learning takes place. Spaces are viewed as nothing more than places where the program is delivered, be it an off-site training center or a poorly lit, uncomfortable conference room in an underutilized part of a building or corporate campus. Such thinking underestimates the value of creating the best environment for the learning experience.

The ability to truly engage employees through L&D requires a specific type of environment designed to incentivize and ignite the learner. A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group found that learning and career development ranked ahead of job security and salary as key priorities influencing happiness on the job. Despite these findings, organizations fail to consider the possibility that a successful L&D strategy requires thinking beyond the training program and considering other influences such as environment and its impact on learning.

A recent series of interviews between BHDP Architecture and leaders in Human Resources, corporate L&D, and corporate real estate (CRE) from more than 50 organizations revealed a disconnect between the physical space and its role in delivery of the L&D experience.

Trends in L&D

“When it comes to L&D, start with understanding culture, your current state, and desired future state,” advises Heidi Scott, Ph.D., HR.com chief learning officer. “Space—physical and virtual—is a huge part of developing the optimal learning eco-system,” she notes, adding that executives should ask themselves if they truly know their people “and where they want to go.”

Corporate L&D is experiencing several trend shifts. One is a change of emphasis from macrolearning to microlearning that provides a more personalized, self-directed, technology-based approach—certainly preferable to endless sessions requiring extensive use of traditional three-ring binders. Perhaps the most interesting of the trends is “gamification”—a term that describes the use of elements such as competition, score keeping, and rewards to encourage learning and engagement. The idea here is to facilitate learning through a shared experience that makes learning fun.

“Space—physical and virtual—is a huge part of developing the optimal learning eco-system.”

Heidi Scott, Ph.D., HR.com chief learning office

These shifts in L&D are forcing companies to reassess how, and especially where, learning happens. This includes considering whether their existing environment facilitates the desired learning experience and if their employees have the right tools. The latter are readily available in various forms, from massive open online courses (MOOCs) and Google’s G Suite to social media outlets such as Facebook’s Workplace and YouTube, all of which constitute what can be described as a “learning network” spurred by technology. Yet with all this access to digital learning, why should we be so concerned about where learning takes place?

Because space matters.

“Space can validate what a company is saying,” notes Felice Rudolph, Asurion Business Services vice president. “We strive to create a life operating system by getting space to empower the employee, validate our brand, and express authenticity to our internal and external stakeholders.”

L&D Supports Corporate Objectives

Today, companies are challenged to enhance the digital learning experience due to the rate of change throughout corporate culture, from technological advancement and shifts in the regulatory climate to desired business outcomes. While it’s important for executives to be aware of shifting L&D strategies, it’s equally imperative for senior leadership to support a culture of learning that can identify and incorporate those elements most beneficial for employee growth and talent retention. L&D has the ability to help organizations break down corporate silos and foster the cross-pollination of ideas throughout an organization. L&D also is charged with the monumental task of reducing the “training to application gap,” which represents the time between training delivery and application of the newly learned skills on the job. The larger the gap, the greater the cost to the organization. Efforts to close it will require effective use of all resources, including CRE’s ability to develop the right environment.

The Case for Space

“Providing inspirational space does matter.”

Lisa Gary, chief learning officer at Trane Technologies.

According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute study, employers will need to manage largescale workforce transformations that could involve redefining business processes and workforce needs, retraining and moving people into new roles, and creating programs for continuous learning.

In recent months, there have been growing investments in the building of corporate learning and development centers by large employers in the Southeastern U.S., including Compass Group and Duke Energy. “L&D is very much impacted by space,” says Maggie Redling, Ed.D., manager of Learning and Development at AvidXchange. “Corporations need to consider the generational aspects of learning. We see that more experienced employees gravitate toward classroom-based learning, while newer employees look for a high-tech, hands-on, discovery-based approach.”

Effective and transformative L&D does not take place in a silo separate from other entities. The most effective L&D experience is one that is woven into the overall real estate strategy, allowing for unlimited access to knowledge and feedback. In addition to L&D and CRE, seek out and welcome input from Human Resources, Information Technology staff, and other key stakeholders. Consider it a structural rethinking of developing and delivering spaces in tune with the demands of the corporation and the needs of its most valuable asset: employees. “Providing inspirational space does matter,” acknowledges Lisa Gary, chief learning officer at Trane Technologies. “We view L&D as a strategic lever enabling business success.”

As experience shows, innovative use of space to create a learning environment that positively affects engagement and retention requires a strategic and coordinated effort backed by senior leadership commitment. When employees feel valued, their motivation soars, as does their performance—both of which can translate into more satisfied customers and increased profits. As companies continually develop approaches to empower employees, it is incumbent upon each of them to constantly evaluate the role of space in a comprehensive learning and development program. CRE deserves a seat at that table.

This article was originally published in Training magazine. Contributors to this article, Dr. Heidi Scott and Lisa Gary, are featured on the Trends + Tensions podcast.

Convergence Teams: The Power of Integrated Design

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By Patrick Donnelly and Chris Collett of BHDP; Valerie Garrett of Fifth Third Bancorp

Team meets to collaborate and build during the integrated design process.

The benefits that an integrated design process can bring to building projects have been accepted for decades. Assembling a team with diverse expertise to collaboratively work on a project is intuitively understood to be a better approach than designing in a linear, sequential and isolated manner. Tapping people from multiple disciplines (architects, designers, owners, etc.) with a range of perspectives and bringing them together breaks down silos and provides opportunities for communication, collaboration, and issue resolution. When architects, designers, engineers and others work separately on each element of a building, individual goals tend to trump overall project objectives.

Of course, understanding the benefits of integrated design is not the same as realizing them. Implementation is critical. BHDP, a leading workplace design firm, and Fifth Third Bancorp, a diversified financial services company and one of the largest banks and money managers in the country, have worked on a variety of building projects — from discrete offices to the re-development of an entire corporate campus — using an intentional, integrated design approach. The experience has uncovered eight keys to doing integrated design successfully – all revolving around what we call “convergence teams.” Points 1-5 focus on how to form these teams successfully. Points 6-10 highlight how the teams need to work differently in order to truly succeed.

1) Diversity of People: Having people from multiple disciplines is essential.

The first step in delivering design in a truly integrated fashion is ensuring that the right people in the right roles on the project team are in the room. A convergence team of architects, interior designers, environmental graphics experts, and customer experience strategists, consulting with users and the support staff who will be impacted by the workplace design, should all be involved. Having representatives from each of these groups allows decisions to be made more quickly and collaboratively and ensures that the space created will support all of the behaviors engaged in throughout the day.

The core convergence team for Fifth Third and BHDP consists of design, real estate and project leaders from the bank and architecture, interior design and environmental graphics practice leads from BHDP. Others typically consulted – depending on the project – include Fifth Third facility managers, building maintenance, security and re-location professionals.

2) Diversity of Thought: Having people with cross-disciplinary experience is even better.

As important as including people from a broad range of disciplines on the convergence team is encouraging a diversity of thinking and experience. Two of the convergence team members from BHDP have significant retail design expertise. In retail, the focus is always on the customer journey – not just leading the user through a space, but creating moments of discovery. This emphasis on the user experience has influenced the workplace designs at Fifth Third. Other individuals have been able to lend design insights from their experience in markets such as education.

3) Trust and Camaraderie are Essential.

Trust and camaraderie are the fuel of a high-functioning integrated design team. Without this affinity, success will be elusive. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that very passionate people with strong personalities are an issue. Or that creative conflict is a problem. It’s just critical that team members be able to leave their egos at the door and engage in an open-minded, iterative process, learning from each other as they go.

Design firms and clients can develop adversarial relationships based on different priorities. Successful convergence teams treat clients as integral members and work hard to understand their pain points and proactively respond to them. Meanwhile, the ideas of design firm members are always taken seriously and treated with respect, even when they’re not adopted. The bottom line: convergence team members have each others’ backs and are “in it” together.

Team collaborates using the integrated design process.

4) The Right Attitude is as Important as Having the Right Participants.

In addition to trust, successful convergence teams always strive for an attitude (or angle of approach) that there isn’t anything we – collectively – can’t do. Excellence comes from the sum of talents at the table, not from any individual. And it requires certain attributes of the team including:

  • Integrity – the recognition that we’re going to make mistakes; we have to own those mistakes and face challenges head on.
  • Compassion – to be most effective, we need to walk in each others’ shoes.
  • Flexibility or “Door Number Three” Mentality – if our plans don’t work, it’s not the end of the world, it’s the beginning of another opportunity; adaptability and creativity are the key to getting what we collectively want within the constraints we face.
  • Humility – we’re experts but we don’t know everything; we have to strive to know what we don’t know and design with humility.

5) Senior Management (at Both the Client and Design Firm) Should be Aligned.

The trust and attitude which drives successful convergence teams starts at the top. Principals at the client and design firm should have a clear understanding of project objectives and share a similar approach to design. A commitment to co-creation is critical along with philosophical and practical alignment on overall goals and design approach.

How can a client ensure that this philosophical alignment exists? Consider refining the RFP process to focus less on case studies and capabilities and more on design thinking, listening skills, and how design team members will be selected.

6) Search and Seek – Search out the Right People to Engage – then Seek to Understand Them.

Once a convergence team is chosen, it should seek out the right people to develop a clear and deep understanding of project parameters, including workplace users: who they are, what they do, their goals and vision for the project. Clear, upfront agreement on these things helps the convergence team benchmark its efforts against a shared strategy. Although every successful integrated design project is, in some respects, a process of self-discovery, it is also important to come to the table with as much information as possible.

7) Meet More Often and Make it Informal.

Making fully informed decisions requires the right people being in the same room. It’s the best way for convergence teams to give and get feedback. At the start of their work together, BHDP and Fifth Third decided to meet every other week but found this wasn’t enough to manage the workflow and back and forth. Now, the team meets every week for four to five hours. The core design team within BHDP also meets at least three times per week as a smaller group.

These meetings are “pens in hands” sessions – they are not particularly formal. In fact, minimizing presentations and thinking of team meetings as working sessions is probably best. And not every member of the wider team needs to be at every meeting – only those that will find it useful.

A “no fear” environment is essential. If team members are afraid of making mistakes, they won’t take the risks necessary to find optimum solutions.

8) Create the Time and Space to Learn.

Having the leeway to learn by doing can advance both the pace and performance of a convergence team. Micromanagement, on the other hand, is anathema to integrated design. A “no fear” environment is essential. If team members are afraid of making mistakes, they won’t take the risks necessary to find the optimum solutions. You empower a convergence team to succeed by trusting that they will.

9) Strive for Client Intimacy.

A major benefit of investing the time and resources in convergence teams is their ability, through extended collaboration, to establish client intimacy. Design projects become not discrete tasks but part of a holistic effort that emphasizes and extends the client’s culture across a range of workspaces. The experience also enables the client to buy into the concept that successful design is more than staying within budget and meeting schedules – although both of those are important. It is a process, an attitude, a mode of learning.

10) Encourage Client Leadership.

In addition to learning, the willingness of the client lead to encourage, collaborate with, and quarterback the team can’t be overvalued. When the client is fully invested in the convergence team and his/her role as the corporate storyteller, other members feel “led from beside” (tugged and nudged forward rather than pushed and pulled). This leads to continual striving for better solutions.

The client lead can also be an important advocate for the convergence team within his or her organization. People within a client company can have unrealistic expectations about budgets or timelines be-cause they’re not designers. The client lead on the convergence team can be a necessary buffer to en-sure that the full team has the latitude necessary to do the best work.

One might assume that because of the attention paid to time spent together that a true, integrated design process driven by convergence teams would cost more and last longer. Our experience suggests otherwise. By focusing on project outcomes versus individual goals and sharing knowledge from the get-go, changes in direction can be identified earlier in the design process, budgets can be better managed, and project timelines can be compressed.

The decisive factors are getting the right people with the right characteristics on the convergence team (Points 1-5) and getting them to work more intelligently through the integrated design process (Points 6-10).

Patrick Donnelly is client lead and principal workplace strategist, and Chris Collett is an architect and leader of the convergence team at BHDP Architecture. Valerie Garrett is vice president and director of workplace design at Fifth Third Bank.

Change Leadership and Change Management: There Is a Difference

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Successful implementation of a change management plan requires change leadership skills that smooth the way for all parties when most needed—at the inception.

By Brian Trainer

Advocates provide updates of Change Leadership and Change Management
Organize a group of change advocates to provide regular updates and answer questions to resolve concerns.

Here’s a typical scenario. An organization’s leadership creates a vision for a dynamic new workplace design, now awaiting construction. When the vision is shared, it will require a need for change management. As a result, the work environment can become unsettled. It’s just human nature. Any modification in an established routine or process, especially one that has long been accepted, is bound to elicit a variety of emotional responses ranging from skepticism to hostility. The visceral reaction is understandable. Change may be constant in this fast-paced world, but that doesn’t mean everyone is prepared for the inevitability. Change management is often viewed as one more dictate from leadership to accept the vision and “go with the flow.”

This scenario illustrates what is wrong with a conventional approach to change management. Employees are informed after the fact without proper context: no explanation about either the reasons for the decision or its impact on every organization member. Design and other departments associated with workspace understand why it makes more sense to get buy-in from the get-go before change management takes place. While major changes in policies and procedures are the province of higher management, their successful implementation requires change leadership skills that smooth the way for all parties when most needed—at the inception.

The difference and its impact

Those steeped in the traditional especially in the work design world consider change leadership and change management synonymous. Often the attempts to differentiate them are viewed as nothing more than time-wasting semantic exercises. That’s far from accurate. One is a process and the other, the strategy that guides it. Change management represents the former. This team has a sole purpose: to manage execution of the changes ordered by higher management. Assuming that is the case, what is the point of discussing change leadership if the term is just a euphemism for senior management? It’s more than that.

Change leadership is strategic in nature. It sets the direction for change management. The first focus of a change leadership team is effective and purposeful communication disseminated much like any outreach initiative. Instead of a top-down approach, it is more effective for the team to focus on informing and educating the workforce, if it expects to diminish negative reactions. Incumbent upon the leadership team is the clear representation of the benefits of a proactive change management approach with participation from design and other departments. Such parameters need to be set by change leaders committed to avoiding the appearance of arbitrary decisions likely to ruffle the feathers of every department kept out of the loop.

That’s not to suggest that even if consulted, workplace designers and others will willingly and unquestioningly march in time to the beat of change management’s drummers. It’s one thing to change a process; it’s another to change someone’s space. People often equate their work and workplace with their self-image, which explains why so many take process and workplace changes personally. Consider it one more manifestation of the ancient “fight or flight” mentality and the need to protect what we believe is our territory.

A recent focus group verified the role of self-image with workspace. Most group participants, millennials in particular, connected workspace with their identity. One respondent said he felt “entitled” to the space he has now, but possibly could learn to “become entitled” if the workspace was subsequently changed. Regardless of one’s opinion about such attitudes, these feelings amount to a mixed bag and another potential stumbling block, a situation likely to occur when the chain of communications is broken. Little wonder why fear follows absence of information.

Host open forums discuss Change Leadership and Change Management
Host open forums for employees to share issues and concerns.

Change initiatives and successful integration

Change initiative components, strategy, workplace design and change management, need to be integrated and supported. Strategy develops the vision and sets the criteria for success. Design makes the abstract real, but that may not be enough as change leadership should understand. Design, too, needs to be fully aware of the change and, in particular, its rationale. In this change leadership paradigm, the role of change management expands. Now its mission is to mesh all components so that vision and implementation are successful. One does not usually equate a teamwork environment with traditional change management, but that is what change leadership must advocate.

Communication is the foundation of teamwork environment in this and practically every scenario. When communications do not effectively convey reasoning, purpose and benefits such as improving work processes and cost efficiencies, detrimental misunderstandings may result. Efficient and successful change enterprises should also avoid departmental silo mentalities. Yes, departments still work separately, but the goal is to work well with each other meaning that change management cannot be at odds with everyone else. The scenario can seem utopian and probably far-fetched to those who have suffered through a top-down, dictatorial process.
Yet it can come to fruition starting with a change management call for input from work design. The change management team should explain the cost, rationale and benefit to the company and department, and encourage feedback and open dialogue. The team can help build support by pointing out opportunities that design has not considered or is not able to fully address without supportive policy changes.

In one recent example, a change management team was able to identify a need to address lack of storage space—a point omitted by work design during its presentation. The client had moved to an unassigned desking model with no storage at the workstations and an inadequate number of lockers. During change advocate focus groups, employees voiced their needs to store personal items like purses, food items and coats. The result: more lockers added to the design with each employee getting an assigned locker establishing a better and personal connection to the space.

Employees share perspectives of Change Leadership and Change Management
Provide opportunities for employees to share perspectives on the impact of change.

Leave the egos at the door

For design and space changes to work, all parties must leave their egos at the door—a point to be emphasized by change leadership for facilitating an environment of openness and information accessibility. Not everyone will be on the same page at the outset because various parties may be at different stages of the process, such as work design at the beginning and other departments later. To help alleviate these obstacles, change leadership should organize a group of change advocates. These can be representatives from each department who are trustworthy and approachable. The advocates can provide regular updates to peers and encourage questions to resolve any concerns or misinformation issues.

None of this takes place in a vacuum. Naturally, some companies may want to examine how these efforts paid off for other organizations, but there is a caveat: what works elsewhere may not mesh with the corporate culture. Perhaps the classic example is an effort by one technical services company to try to duplicate a Silicon Valley success story in which all workspaces were opened to facilitate responses to product demand. It worked there, but unfortunately not here. The attempt failed and actually hampered productivity, forcing the organization to modify its space usage proving that the best efforts of change leadership can run aground if cultural issues are unaddressed.

Communication is the foundations of Change Leadership and Change Management
Communication is the foundation of a successful change leadership engagement.

Adopt the best practices

In a 2018 study, “The Best Practices of Change Management,” published by Prosci, the company tabulated survey data from 6,000 respondents gleaned over a 20-year period. One finding is of special note. Middle managers were identified as “most resistant to change,” but according to survey results, resistance can be “mitigated” by “thoroughly addressing” it when developing the change plan.

That’s one more justification for a project champion with a clear vision to communicate with all participants. The leader communicates understanding that any initiative impacting design of workspace without communication, integration and empathy with those who design it and other affected departments cannot reasonably expect enthusiastic acceptance. The key is to get all involved in the process early on. That means a thorough, up-front explanation of the business driver, particularly an emphasis on the best use of space in terms of functions and operational cost.

When change leadership ensures those messages are sent, received and even welcomed, process change is likely to overcome its biggest hurdles, particularly the relationship between work design and change management. Work design output is meant to endure and yet remain flexible for inevitable modifications years later requiring cooperation among all parties. Everyone needs to play well in this process change sandbox.

This article was originally published on WorkDesign Magazine.

6 questions to consider before starting an on-campus construction project

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Higher ed leadership and design-team partnerships are key to success—for the institution and the students

By Paul Orban

Students walking down a path after campus construction projects.

Constructing campus facilities based on space needs, existing campus and building configurations, and technology is no longer enough. It is vital to provide a more recognizable and memorable student experience, while at the same time supporting an institution’s long-term mission.

Even though there may be similarities, a one-size-fits-all design strategy doesn’t exist for every campus or even for every building on campus. Each institution’s vision, values, culture, academic and financial strategies, and brand identity are different. That’s why it is crucial for the institution’s leadership and the design team to collaborate from the onset to meet the institution’s strategic goals and to understand, discover and define how the spatial experience influences how students learn and helps meet student needs.

The first task is to create a well-articulated and shared vision for the project. The subsequent design phase involves a more in-depth analysis of the vision and project parameters that collectively inform future planning and design work. This is defined in the discover phase and provides clear expectations focused on metrics of success.

Here are six top questions the stakeholder team should address before starting the design.

1. Describe your campus culture. How should it impact facility design?

The discussion that follows from this question facilitates stakeholders’ understanding of the basic and underlying themes and culture of campus. Through this conversation, the leadership and design team uncover the distinctive differentiators of the institution, including why students are attracted to the campus and what their ideal campus experiences are.

When leadership and design teams focus on understanding what students truly need and the types of experiences students are seeking, then they can craft more impactful building design solutions.

2. What behaviors do successful students exhibit, and why are they important to the facility’s design?

The answers to this question enable the design team to understand how the institution educates students, and how the design can help students become more successful by fostering particular behaviors. For example, an institution may want to develop professional engineers for future success in the workforce. Therefore, they want their students to learn behaviors focused on becoming confident speakers and presenters.

3. What experiences develop more ideal or desired student behaviors?

This dialogue helps everyone involved ascertain how students learn the desired behaviors. It uncovers and addresses what resources the institution needs to promote specific behaviors, such as adequate space for students to work on team projects or to practice interviewing for jobs. Building upon the example above, the design team will use this information to incorporate spaces that provide opportunities for practice and refinement while building confidence, thereby helping to improve students’ public speaking and presenting skills.

4. What spaces will promote those experiences?

The answers to this question provide the backbone of the institution’s strategic goals for the campus and the success of its students. They lead the design team toward specific and measurable space decisions that support student needs. Continuing with the example above, an institution that is developing professional engineers may need private media rooms where students can gain confidence in their presentation skills. These rooms could include the latest technology that allows students to practice privately and record their presentations to review later. When they feel more comfortable with their presentations, they can then present in front of other students and faculty.

5. Which campus construction trends will benefit the project?

Trends include flexibility, adaptability, technology and sustainability. However, more important are the trends that specifically help the institution focus on the student experience. Institutions want to ensure that students have a fulfilling campus experience, and at the same time, receive the education and the social and behavioral benefits of the campus environment. For this reason, it is essential to determine how integrating trends into the buildings can help the institution attract and retain students. One example might be demonstrating where and how the campus has embraced green initiatives to reduce energy consumption and waste that benefits the environment.

6. How can an institution ‘future-proof’ new buildings?

Incorporating flexibility and adaptability into the design helps institutions grow and change to meet student needs. The key is balancing trends with proven systems that provide the institution with long-lasting solutions. Today’s classrooms do not look like traditional classrooms in the arrangement of the space and seating. Additionally, future-proofing buildings means preparing them for upgraded technology, where spaces are able to adapt to minimize the impact of upgrades. This may result in spaces being designed to be completely wireless for data or incorporating flexibility with the utilities needed for science laboratories. In this way, layouts can be reconfigured as needed for different types of research, for instance.

Crafting the right solution

Just as businesses continually seek to adapt to an ever-changing marketplace, so do institutions of higher education. Today’s college students are accustomed to having choices and customization in their learning process. They seek out institutions that provide flexibility and adaptability. The key is offering students variety to help them be comfortable and prepared to learn. This can include choices of how to work and study in a campus space through the design of furniture and furnishings. Inherent in choice is a mandate for an institution to identify and reinforce its goals through how students experience the campus environment. When leadership and design teams focus on understanding what students truly need and the types of experiences students are seeking, then they can craft more strategically impactful building design solutions for that institution.

This article was originally published on University Business.

The Workplace of the Future

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Student collaborate to develop solutions for the Workplace of the Future
Students use collaborative design thinking exercises to generate and organize new ideas.



WHAT’S THE BEST way to prepare students for the rapidly changing workplace of the future? Teach them to address complex problems through ideation and creative problem-solving techniques. And, most important, help them recognize that some problems have no easy—or right—answers.

That’s the approach of Inquiry to Innovation: The Future of Work, a transdisciplinary honors class at the University of Cincinnati (UC) in Ohio. In the class, which was launched in 2013, students consider topics ranging from autonomous vehicles to workplace diversity to contract-based work environments. The semester culminates with a showcase of the students’ research insights, implications, and actionable solutions.

The university developed Inquiry to Innovation in partnership with BHDP Architecture, which sponsors the course and outlines deliverables for each semester. Up to 24 students can enroll in each 15-week course, which is considered a professional elective for several departments at the university. Classes meet in a variety of campus locations—including UC’s 1819 Hub, a 100,000-square-foot building that includes makerspaces, classrooms, and gathering spaces—as well as BHDP’s offices. Classes are taught by both UC faculty and creative leaders from BHDP.

Facing workplace ambiguities, students address challenges and potential solutions for the workplace of the future.
Facing workplace ambiguities, students address challenges and potential solutions for the workplace of the future.

A typical class meeting might start with a theoretical discussion related to the project, followed by timed rapid ideation and brainstorming exercises to stimulate ideas. As they brainstorm, students might use a word association or visualization exercise related to the discussion topic. Over the course of the semester, students will employ design thinking, ethnographic research, and rapid ideation techniques to look beyond their initial thoughts and biases to consider the impact of factors such as cultural norms and societal trends. Other techniques, such as building relational or journey maps, help students visualize and communicate abstract ideas. In addition, students examine situations and products unrelated to the future of work for sources of analogous inspiration.

Throughout the course, students work in interdisciplinary teams, where they learn the value of exposure to perspectives of people from a range of different backgrounds. Students consistently report that interacting with a diverse group of individuals is their favorite part of the experience.

A main objective of the course is helping students become comfortable with ambiguous situations where there is no one right answer. Many students find it challenging and uncomfortable to embrace ambiguity in this manner, but it’s a skill they need to develop if they are to push past boundaries to address complex problems and succeed in a rapidly changing society.

Another objective of the course is to encourage students to consider real-world challenges that might have major implications in the future workplace. This is an area where co-teachers from BHDP can really share their expertise, making the course a more meaningful experience for both students and businesses.

Students’ final presentations offering insights, implications, and actionable solutions for the workplace of the future.
Students’ final presentations offering insights, implications, and actionable solutions.

In the academic world, students are used to taking specific and concrete steps to complete final projects, papers, or exams. In the professional world, many problems do not have clear-cut processes or answers. By teaching students to use creative problem solving, ideation, research, and cross-disciplinary teamwork to solve problems, Inquiry to Innovation prepares students to succeed in a rapidly changing professional world.

Dominic Iacobucci is a workplace client leader and partner at BHDP Architecture in Cincinnati, Ohio. Aaron Bradley is an associate professor of the Design and Arts Initiative at the University of Cincinnati.

This article was originally published in BizEd.

Data Collection and Space Design

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By Don Haunert

An Essential Pairing for Today’s Businesses?

The dynamic of design is a multi-layered process. Business executives who are developing newly constructed or renovated office space will certainly focus on the aesthetics—rooms that are visually appealing, trendy, inviting, and comfortable. But it is often what happens within a given space that dictates how a room should look, feel, and function. Studies indicate that when these factors are taken into consideration, workspace can have a positive impact on creating an engaging culture, increasing staff productivity and enhancing employees’ overall perceptions of the company and workplace.

Conversely, an ill-designed space will work against any staff and company, at both an obvious and subliminal level. As real estate costs escalate and interest in space optimization gain greater attention across the country, today’s leaders know their current workspaces need to be able to perform at their most effective capacities if they are going to save money and achieve company goals.

With ongoing advancements in technology, the elements of design are becoming more of a science than they are an art. Data collection and analytics are helping executives to better understand the nuances of their workspaces, sometimes before they even exist. This phenomenon occurs through the use of digital devices that are in and of themselves designed to monitor and record activity within a space to predict design appropriateness. Combining the artistic expertise of an architect with the analytical evidence provided by these machines may be where the future of design creativity flourishes—that is, for those organizations willing to place a certain level of trust in the available technology. 

Use and misuse of space

How companies use a space and the objects within it is easily enough defined. People sit in chairs. They gather around tables. They are positioned in front of screens. It’s the misuse of a space that can be tougher to identify or anticipate during design phases. A room may have the most comfortable furniture available. The wall-mounted screen might be big enough to cause a Hollywood director to blush. But what if that furniture can’t be positioned to allow everyone in the room to view that screen together? Why spend money on a table and chair set that sits six people in a room where no more than four people routinely gather? There are many offices and conference rooms that can’t contain all their furnishings and all the staff members typically necessary to be present in that space. In these instances, employees may find themselves wasting time (and risking injury) removing heavy furniture from a room in order to fit all colleagues into a meeting. Or people may be seated around a table that’s not big enough to fit everyone’s laptops, causing some people to sit with their devices literally in their laps. While this might suit the inherent nature of these devices, it can cause a lack of engagement among staff if people can’t comfortably sit and look at each other while they chat.

A recent case study showed that 40 percent of conference room seats can be eliminated, saving some 14,000 square feet of conference space and reallocating for more rooms and additional common spaces. This utilization is affected by many different factors beyond size, including location, ownership, room name, technology, and ambiance. For example, research shows that lighting, an important consideration with any room’s design, can impact mood, alertness, and other biological effects. A space that is too bright can be just as distracting as a space that is too dark.

Predict space utilization with technology

Sensors measuring space over workstations for data collection and space design purposes
Sensors over workstations collect data to understand and predict space utilization

Focus groups and surveys are traditional means of conducting research, and they continue to have significance. However, there is a reliance on asking the best questions with these methods, and preconceived notions among participants can impact and potentially skew collected evidence. Today’s technology offers more novel options for executives to glean information, including wireless ceiling-mounted devices equipped with sensors that monitor and record how people interact with their environments. These sensors, which use machine learning and artificial intelligence (see AI section below) to evaluate the behaviors and postures of those occupying a space, can identify engagement and productivity for purposes of determining usage of space. This “crowd learning,” when combined with traditional research and actual observation is becoming a more indicative means of preparing designed space. For instance, a non-engaged, distracted, or uncomfortable individual may be often seen to be scanning the room instead of focusing on someone or on a screen, something that the sensors can detect. Then there are instances in which the monitoring of a non-active space can be telling. Conference rooms located near a human resources suite may not be considered as “welcoming” as other locations in a building. These rooms may not get much occupancy, and therefore may be more appropriately located elsewhere. Other key questions that this technology can address include: Where are employees gathering? Are there enough individual spaces versus meeting spaces? What is the usage of a space versus its capacity?

Sensors can accumulate information about the utilization of space to accurately measure such metrics as total average occupancy to typical thermostat settings, and crowd-learning data have proven to be most effective when data is collected over long periods of time.

Trusting technology

A screenshot on time usage of a space is an example of data collection and space design
Data collected on an area’s time usage can inform design decisions

We are still at a point in time where society’s “digital natives,” those born into a digital technology-driven world, are far outnumbered by older generations of business professionals. As such, a mistrust and potentially outright fear of technology still exists. Make no mistake. Any organization that engages in data collection on their employees, customers, or any other constituents must instill and adhere to ethical and legal privacy, security, and other policies that govern the collection and dissemination of data. Some employees may be uncomfortable with the notion that employers can monitor how much time they are not at their individual workstation. But if the data collected are being used to enhance their surroundings and other benefits, the rapid advancement of technology becomes more intimately integrated in our daily lives can help to alleviate concerns.

Also, business and society are at the onset of learning who actually “owns” collected data, and the growing implementation of 5G connectivity is changing how quickly data can be collected, as well as the actual depth of data that can be collected. As productivity and interconnectivity become increasingly important concepts to any business model, any new facility construction or reconstruction will rely more on technology to predict optimal working conditions. Appropriate data collection and assessment represent important first steps to this “next generation” line of thinking. When married with a shared corporate vision, the final designed space can be a more effective working environment poised to make a significant impact on the company’s future success.

Defining Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI), is the ability of a computer system to perform an intelligent action that a human otherwise could perform. Examples of AI include a digital calendar deleting a series of Monday meetings that haven’t been attended or reserving conference rooms for those who have frequently utilized certain spaces at certain times, and a cell phone that offers word options as one texts based on previously sent texts. A subset of AI, machine learning is a set of algorithms entered into a system that enables the “machine” to infer information and then perform specific tasks or suggest certain actions based on predictable follow through (for instance, knowing that 27 days has passed since someone purchased a 30-day drug prescription and reordering that prescription). Other examples of machine learning include voice recognition, such as when a bank’s automated answering service allows access to an account through spoken words over the phone or speaking into a cell phone to create text messages; automated fraud alerts that are generated when spending patterns on a credit card are abnormal; and web-streaming services that suggest interesting movies to watch based on viewing habits.

Computer screen displaying analytics results from artificial intelligence (AI)

This article was originally published in CoreNet Global’s LEADER Magazine.

Making Sense of Sensors

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By Dominic Iacobucci and Brad Johnson

A sensor is an electronic device that measures and captures data of variation in environmental stimulus. In today’s world, people encounter sensors throughout their day—at home, in the workplace, and at other locations. In a spatial workplace environment, sensors measure environmental aspects such as noise and light, while gathering information on when and how space is used. This data can be linked with technology solutions to enhance the experience and utilization of a space. As the use and availability of sensors increase, it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of using sensors in a spatial environment. Organizations that design and implement a comprehensive sensors strategy can ensure their facility space assets are leveraged to full potential.

making sense of sensors in the workplace

Types of Workplace Sensors

There are many applications for using sensors in the workspace. Sensors can deliver information about sound, light, temperature, humidity levels, occupancy, and how people interact in the space. The most commonly used sensors for occupancy are motion sensors, which include passive infrared, pressure, vibration, and optical sensors that capture video motion. These can be deployed within the architecture of a room, attached or integrated into furniture, or placed within the floor. Occupancy sensing can occur using sound, lighting, temperature, and device recognition through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals.

Newer, advanced sensors use optical technologies that allow for artificial intelligence (AI), including image recognition and machine learning technology. Older sensors that collect information from only a single data source may not deliver a true understanding of how a workspace is used, whereas newer sensors offer more enhanced, comprehensive, and actionable data. For instance, an advanced sensor with AI can distinguish the quantity of employees using a set of desks, including environmental stimulus and levels of collaboration and focus. With a trend towards more activity-based workspace design, organizations are seeking data to understand how a workspace is being used and how enhance the user experience to drive results.

making sense of sensors in the common area of the workplace

Using Workplace Sensors

Frequently, workplace sensors are used by the real estate sector. Real estate executives rely on utilization and occupancy data to manage and optimize their portfolios. The metrics provided by sensors help drive better informed real estate transactions due to accurate utilization and occupancy data that can be tracked to the minute. Beyond portfolio optimization, corporate real estate teams also use sensors for facility management and employee experience. The utilization and occupancy data provided by workspace sensors can enhance experience while driving sustainable practices through adjusting spatial qualities like lighting and temperature based upon occupancy.

Sensors also deliver accurate data on hotel desking, conference rooms, and activity setting availability and usage that interfaces real-time with interactive availability, booking, and reservation systems. And these systems can also unbook reserved spaces if occupancy is undetected after a set amount of time. Desktop browser systems and mobile apps provide access to several real-time data streams from sensors while allowing for individual interaction with reservation systems. For example, typically conference rooms are booked for a set amount of time. However, employees may vacate the room before their allotted time is over. A sensor in the conference room detects no occupancy and then sends a message to update the booking system to indicate that the room is available.

Additionally, building and workplace sensors support facility management through their connection to building management systems. Data and utilization from sensors can trigger notifications to a facility management team of potential maintenance requirements.

Today’s sensors also assist with the growing trend toward creating smart buildings. Some, however, consider the infrastructure and coverage required for some systems to be cost-prohibitive. This is especially true with existing buildings, if they require a retrofit of entire systems like HVAC to ensure proper communication between the building management system and the installed sensors. As the technology advances, newer buildings will be able to take advantage of integrating this automation.

One common concern with sensors is employee privacy and misuse of data. Whether or not employees are worried about being “tracked,” it is crucial that there are assurances from the organization that the data is collected anonymously and aggregated before it is released to management. Of even greater concern is data security, which requires organizations to have proper processes and controls in place, including data encryption, malware protection, and anonymization.

making sense of sensors in the workplace conference room

Designing a Sensor Solution

To maximize the use of sensors, facility space planners must understand the questions that the organization wants the data to help answer and then develop goals based on these questions.

A primary question for many organizations is whether their workspaces are well utilized. While sensors can measure occupancy to answer this question, the nuances and goals of the concern may be overlooked. Does the organization want to know the average occupancy of the space during any given hour, desk usage, or even conference efficiency? If the question is how often the room is used during a typical workday, the conference room efficiency based on number of employees using the room during a specified amount of time does not affect the answer. On the other hand, if the question is about the efficient use of the space, the number of employees using this workspace compared to the seats available is important.

These goals and questions impact the sensors used to measure space. Automated lighting sensors can measure if the space is in use, while infrared can measure the number of people around a table at seat locations. Optical sensors are needed to understand the quantity of people anywhere in the room and their work patterns. Organizations need to determine their own definitions of when workspaces are considered well-used assets. Depending on the goal, the answer may be when one employee uses a space designed for 10 or it may be when it is used by seven employees. Defining these questions and goals is crucial.

Equally important is the use of sensors to address the employee experience. Tools relying on sensor data, like mobile apps, provide employees the ability to find an available, suitable space quickly, increasing individual productivity and utilization of diverse spaces.

Achieving success requires evaluating the available sensors and selecting the ones that will provide the necessary data for desired insights. Understanding how real estate assets and workspaces are performing and being used gives organizations predictability. When implemented effectively, sensors can assist with workspace optimization, enhance user experience, and cut costs for the organization.

Article originally posted in Facility Executive.