From workplace data to workplace design — creating modern workspaces

From workplace data to workplace design — creating modern workspaces
July 18, 2023
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The following recaps the NeoCon virtual session “Return to Office Data and Its Impact on the Office, From Floor Plans to Furniture,” featuring Janet Pogue McLaurin, Global Director Workplace Research, Principal, at the Gensler Research Institute, Julia Calabrese, Global Design & Brand Manager at Ford Motor Company, and Nellie Hayat, Workplace Innovation Leader at Density.

The way people work is changing. Workplace design must change with it — data is the key to implementing the most effective transformations. 

Gensler has been doing extensive research into workplace behaviors since 2013. That data provides a clear picture of how the workplace has evolved:

Gensler data from 2013-2023 on how people spend their time in the office each week.

Notable changes:

  • Working alone is on a steady downward trend, dropping 20% since 2013. However, it still accounts for a significant portion of an employee’s week (34%) and must be accommodated in the office.
  • Collaboration is more important than ever before. Working with others, both alone and virtually, has nearly doubled since 2013.
  • Socializing and professional development each have more than doubled since 2020.

Without Gensler’s 2013 data, one might assume that the increase in collaboration and socializing were temporary responses to the isolation imposed by the pandemic when they’ve actually been increasing steadily for a decade.

One might assume that the increase in collaboration and socializing were temporary responses from the pandemic when they’ve actually been on the rise for a decade.

Many companies have recognized this shift toward in-person collaboration, learning, and socializing and have adapted the office to support these three work modes. However, most workplaces are less effective for focused work and hybrid collaboration.

Gensler data on how effective the workplace environment is for socializing, working alone, learning, and collaborating with others.

Why quality workplace design matters

The quality of workplace design has far-reaching impacts that encompass everything from business outcomes to employee well-being. Gensler looked at 11 areas of individual and team performance that are impacted by working in the office and compared them between the highest- and lowest-performing offices. 

Gensler data on how high-performing workplaces rank higher than low-performing workplaces.

Employees in high-performing workplaces ranked the positive impact of the office approximately 50% higher across all areas than those in low-performing environments. 

This is a remarkable statistic that shows the power of quality office design. 

Investing in data collection and applying those insights to design decisions pays dividends by improving all areas of employee performance, well-being, and job satisfaction, which in turn improve a company’s bottom line. 

How to turn data into action — tips from Ford

Data alone won’t improve a workplace. You have to analyze the data, identify trends, and determine what design choices best support your objectives.  

This can be overwhelming, so it’s helpful to see how others manage this process. 

Julia Calabrese, Global Design & Brand Manager at Ford Motor Company, shared how the company turns its data into high-performing workspaces. 

Step 1: Combine data with insights from human science

Design affects how people respond to physical, ambient, and social environments. Incorporating the science behind human behavior, physiology, and culture into the data evaluation process helps ensure a successful outcome because it puts the employee experience front and center. 

Biophilic design is an example of using human science to create better spaces. Humans evolved in a natural environment, so features such as live plants and natural light have positive physiological and psychological effects.

Step 2: Identify pervasive themes

Dig into your qualitative and quantitative data to find areas of high utilization and recurring feedback to identify themes. Ford uncovered several themes from its workplace data:

  • Employees want to personalize the spaces where they spend a significant amount of time.
  • Teams tend to organize around a collaborative area and spread to focused spaces from there. 
  • Social connectivity is important to employees.   

Step 3: Use pervasive themes to create affordances

An affordance is a feature of the environment that prompts a specific action that’s easy for the user to understand. For example, a door affords entering or exiting a room. Turning pervasive themes into affordances reveals what action or emotion a design choice should evoke. 

Using Ford’s pervasive theme of choice and control within a workspace, the design team identified physical, emotional, and behavioral affordances.

  • Physical: Optimal flexibility, adjacencies to spatial anchors
  • Emotional: Inviting environment, foster interactions and engagement, access to wellness
  • Behavioral: Cohesive branding moments, opportunities for team and individual personalization

Step 4: Make design decisions that lead to desired affordances

Evaluate each affordance and brainstorm design choices that will support them. 

Ford’s design team devised three potential layouts for mixed “me and we” spaces to provide flexibility, foster interactions, and allow personalization. They chose a layout that used collaborative areas as a central anchor where teams could work together or socialize. They situated focused workspaces around the perimeter where there would be less noise and fewer distractions while still allowing employees to feel like they are with their teams.

Office design is always a work in progress

Workplace design is a constant cycle of collecting and analyzing data, updating designs and policies, and testing those updates. “The workplace can evolve - and should evolve - and being in touch with what employees need at all times is very much the solution,” Hayat said.

Watch the full panel discussion, “Return to Office Data and Its Impact on the Office, From Floor Plans to Furniture" below: