Performance Review: Three design leaders size up the workplace

The way we work is changing. Can office design keep pace?​

JTI Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo © Hufton + Crow
JTI Headquarters. Photo © Hufton + Crow
Workplace amenities, like this cafe at JTI Headquarters, contribute to employees’ well-being. Photo © Hufton + Crow
UI Labs, in Chicago, supports collaboration between industry, university, and government partners. Photo © Christopher Barrett
UI Labs. Photo © Christopher Barrett
Understanding how students work today can help companies prepare for the future. University Center at the New School, New York. Photos © James Ewing | OTTO

“You change the question to remove the client from their everyday activities, habits, and assumptions, which gets them thinking about possibilities and the future.”

Lois: I like to start off with a visioning session or workshop as the vehicle to explore possibilities, without the filter of “what we do now.” It helps to frame the questions a little bit differently. Instead of saying, “Do you need these things for your office?” we might ask, “What do you need to do the work you undertake each day, and what is the ideal setting?” You change the question to remove the client from their everyday activities, habits, and assumptions, which gets them thinking about possibilities and the future.

Library at Penske Media Corporation. Photo © Rafael Gamo
Entry to Penske Media Corporation. Photo © Rafael Gamo
Open-plan offices at Penske Media Corporation. Photo © Rafael Gamo
BBVA Bancomer Operations Center, in Mexico City, features a rooftop terrace where employees and guests can gather. Photos © Rafael Gamo

“Providing a better experience for the individual will always give companies better results.”

In the “war for talent,” anywhere from 50 to 200 percent of a person’s salary is spent on recruiting and onboarding. If that person walks out the door, a significant investment was just lost — and the organization has probably lost a lot of knowledge, too. So, the focus on the individual is not about “coddling the millennial,” as it may be easy to assume. It’s about respecting the people that work for the organization. The idea is not “Let’s get them to be more productive.” Rather, I think it’s “Let’s get them to want to be here, engage them, and help them to perform at their best.” Providing a better experience for the individual will always give companies better results.

In Los Angeles, a former automobile showroom was transformed into the Desmond, a creative workspace. Photo © David Lena

“A well-designed space is no longer good enough — it must be healthy, too.”

Susan: Sustainability is also critical. I remember even 15 years ago when we talked about LEED, a developer said, “LEED-schmeed, do you know how much that costs?” Now he has LEED Gold and Platinum plaques on every one of his buildings. There’s an understanding now that it’s about people and how they work, feel, and behave inside a building.

Central stairways at JTI Headquarters connect work areas and encourage physical activity. Photo © Hufton + Crow

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