Developing Answers for Workplace Strategies Always Begins with Many Questions – Involving Everyone

Clients are always intrigued when they ask our Interiors Design team what our first step in the design process will be. When we say we begin by interviewing every employee who will use the building, they think we might exaggerating. We aren’t.

Examples of employee feedback from focus groups and surveys condensed into concepts and drivers from the IMG re-design.

We send a survey to every employee who will be working in the new space and ask them a lot of questions, from “What time do you arrive or leave work?” to “Do you eat lunch in the office, at your desk or drive to restaurants?” Then we consolidate every employee’s concerns and suggestions into bullet points and record every key point onto index cards, noting who said what.

Next we interview top executives, host cross-functional focus groups and return to employees whose comments sparked questions on our index cards. We assimilate these touch points into topics such as Innovation, Sustainability or Collaboration and then organize them into what we call “design drivers” and pin them to huge boards on the wall in our office or our client’s.

We write, tag and organize every comment from employees into categories, then align them into design drivers

Our design team starts our strategic analysis. They survey the boards reading, discussing and debating drivers that will ultimately influence our design decisions. As you will see in the accompanying video detailing a case study with IMG, a college sports management company based in Atlanta, we brainstorm creative ways to infuse the new workplace with design elements and textures that reinforce the client’s brand.

With IMG, for instance, we lined a floor with custom textural material that simulates a basketball. In other spaces, we lined workstations along a “football” field with yard markers to help locate various work groups or departments. In the lobby, you’ll find bleachers at the waiting area and a “scoreboard” next to the elevator banks.

Only after we go through the intense surveying and brainstorming do we begin designing the space, developing multiple solutions in 3-D models to present to the client, along with a strategic master plan.

During the brainstorming process, we develop imagery and textures that will infuse the new workplace with reinforcement of the client's brand, in this case, sports-related elements.

If we don’t work this way, we sometimes end up spending more time than necessary on a project. For instance, one client did not want us to spend the time doing the employee surveys. They thought they knew the “solutions.” When we returned with plans based on those – guess what? The space did not meet the end user’s needs so we had to start interviewing their employees in the middle of the process. It worked, but it was a lot messier and time-consuming than it needed to be.

We find that involving employees in the minute details – how to design their custom workstations and offices and collaborative spaces and even break rooms – secures their “buy-in” to the process and ultimately fosters a wholesale acceptance of the changed workplace. This is a vast improvement to leaving them out of the process, after which employees often reject and complain about their new offices.

Clients will sometimes say, “Our overall objective is to reduce real estate.” In these days of financial belt-tightening, we understand this. Saving space can be a part of what we do, but it can’t be the overarching goal. If we start out with something as uninspiring as reducing real estate, we will ultimately fail in our objective, which is gaining a holistic view of our clients’ vision, needs and context, and adding our teams’ creativity and innovation.

We usually work with clients that are already successful in their fields. After they move into spaces we’ve designed that are based on their individual and collective needs, they often become leaders in their fields. We believe that great design has the power to do that.

– Joyce Fownes, Interior Design Leader, Perkins+Will

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