Work in progress


“It’s a simple search to find material s extolling the latest – and it seems reoccurring – latest office design trends, always led by an emphasis on open ‘collaborative’ space. Just as easy is tracking down witty media articles panning the ever size-shrinking open office as noisy, disruptive and loathed. Dig deeper, however, and one finds solid work emerging, such as the Green Building Council’s 2014 report, ‘Health, Well-being and Productivity Office,’ that provides rigorous, evidence-based principles of what makes great office design.

“There is no magic bullet, one practitioner told me, to ensure offices not only meet business needs by being innovative, creative and productive but also deliver improved employee health and well-being while guaranteeing sustainability. It’s a complex process using careful strategic planning reflecting how each sector operates, not to mention bringing about change in a four-generation workplace.

“Despite available evidence-based work, all the experienced designers interviewed as well as the Green Building Council are adamant there is much more research to be done. Intuition and experience as much as evidence is still driving the best work being done.

“The saddest conclusion that emerges from my research for the article is just how many workers continue to labour under a foolish ‘penny-wise; pound-foolish’ approach to cramming more people into ever smaller open office spaces. Not only is it bad for employees, the economic cost in lost productivity and innovation runs into billions of dollars each year in Canada.

“One of the most interesting trends is the re-urbanization of the office as surrounding employees’ desire for amenities and community mix with younger workers urban preference and a demand to be near public transit hubs. While this is helping the revitalization of city cores, it also requires once-favoured suburban business parks to make radical adjustments.”


We are now halfway through the second decade of the millennium, and it is interesting times as we recover haphazardly from the Great Recession while simultaneously wrestling with an emerging but complex innovation economy, a need for sustainability and a striking demographic shift. All these macro variables influence the tenets of good office design that must now include worker well-being and engagement core concerns. 

Many research sources argue the physical office environment impacts significantly on personal job satisfaction, productivity and innovation. But an ongoing, raging debate pits advocates of the new “collaborative” workspaces against media critics, often citing academic research, ridiculing the “horrors” of the open office. In reality, however, both sides may be right. 

According to a 2013 U.S. workplace survey conducted by global design firm Gensler, 75 per cent of workers simply do not work in preferred workplaces where a balance between focus and collaborative spaces is created. Peter Heys, a senior associate with IBI Group, says that over the last 25 years most clients started with good intentions, but eventually base decisions on cost or (at best) aesthetics won out. Jacqueline Castro, workplace strategist at Stantec, reports a similar outcome. The World Green Building Council’s (WGBC) excellent, evidence-based study released last fall, titled “Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices,” found “overwhelming” evidence of the positive impact office design can have but noted that this fact “has not yet had a major influence on the mainstream real estate sector.” As the article titled “Balancing ‘We’ and ‘Me’: The Best Collaborative Spaces Support Solitude” in Harvard Business Review states, “It’s the right idea; unfortunately it’s often poorly executed.” The question then becomes: is there a major disconnect between reported “trends” for successful offices and the real world?  

Emerging trends or nothing new

A new office paradigm was beginning to take shape in March 1999, when the Commercial Investment Real Estate Institute and Steelcase released a report on 10 trends in office design. First was recognition of “collaboration” as the new work model in the emerging innovation/information economy. Supporting trends included flexible, activity-based design; the demise of private offices and spatial hierarchy but with enclosed spaces for focus work; technologically driven centralized files; and a hint of greater concern for employee well-being.  

A review 15 years later of similar reports on office trends published recently, as well as media opinion pieces on “the curse of open offices,” suggest not a lot has changed. Of over a dozen trend reports, articles and blogs consulted, “collaboration facilitation” leads the way, followed by most of the other 1999 trends. Technology – now focussed on the spatial flexibility offered by Wi-Fi and the cloud – is even more important while employee health and well-being, attention to spatial balance, sustainability and a reverse trend toward re-urbanization, receive more attention. 

Trends vs. reality

But a trend is a trend, and not necessarily a reality for most office workers. What we do know is most North American office workers now occupy shrinking open offices. Up to 70 per cent work in low- or no-baffle workstations and benching, according to the International Facility Management Association. Estimates vary but the size of these assigned spaces has also dropped exponentially from 500 to 700 square feet per person in 1970 to just 176 by 2012, on its way to 100 to 151 by 2017, even less for those in some sectors or assigned to “benching.” 

The objectives of increased “collaboration” and “interaction” notwithstanding, less may not be more. It seems only a minority of workers toil in the envisaged high-functioning balanced offices. Andrea Wolf-Strike, senior strategist and Canadian lead at Gensler, says the 2013 survey demonstrated that companies that were “great in their productivity, great in their profitability” are the ones that provide balance, choice and focus. To Sheila Botting, Canadian real estate leader at Deloitte, the common “cube farm” office is based on nothing more than paper processing, territorialism, hierarchy, tethered technology and an erroneous assumption that employees spend almost all of their time at their workstations (a brutal but not surprising assessment from the person at the head of a radical embrace of “hot desking” – a personal locker, smart phone and laptop but no assigned desk). 

With reality seemingly rarely aligning with optimism, media attacks on “open-office design” are common. In an article bearing the provocative title “Google got it wrong, the open-office trend is destroying the workplace” last December in the Washington Post, Lindsey Kaufman slammed its level of noise, distraction and increased illness. Similarly, Maria Konnikova’s influential article “The Open-Office Trap” in The New Yorker argued that the open office is disliked by its occupants, reduces productivity, increases illness and is plagued by disruptive noise. David Craig, in an in-depth study of 38,000 workers, agreed with the findings but disagreed with her interpretation, saying that he actually found that productive time lost due to distractions is not significantly different for open and enclosed workplaces but are significantly less for “mobile offices” where employees are offered options to select the right workspace for the work being done. 

Konnikova also relies on a massive attitude study in 2013 by Australian academics Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear
, titled “Workplace satisfaction: The privacy-communications trade-off in open-plan offices.” They found major differences in satisfaction between those in closed offices and all those in open offices in terms of noise levels as well as audio and visual privacy. Significantly, they conclude that their findings “categorically contradict the industry–accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants’ overall work environmental satisfaction.” 

Shooting back in an aggressively titled article “It Doesn’t Matter Whether Or Not You Like Your Open Office” for FastTimes, Craig rips into Kim and De Dear’s underlying methodology.  Individuals’ opinions may be important, he says, but more important is the impact on actual productivity. His and others’ studies show that while closer working relationships may “at times be maddening,” they may still be more productive: “We found that people in relatively open environments tended to have dramatically better interaction patterns than those in relatively enclosed workplaces.” Response times, especially from management, were twice as fast. The biggest flaw, according to Craig, is the spurious assumption that choice is limited to either “open” or “enclosed” offices. Additionally, Botting notes, workers average 30 to 60 per cent of their time away from their desks, suggesting the quality of other available office spaces may be equally or more important. 

If there is common ground, however, it is the agreement that a singular focus on shrinking the office footprint to save money means “penny wise, pound foolish.” Yet ultimately, the basic fact acknowledged throughout the literature on office design is that employees constitute 90 per cent of a company’s costs compared to approximately only six per cent for its facilities. 

Why office design must change

The fundamental nature and structure of office work is rapidly evolving in the innovation economy, with two core factors mandating change. The first is digital disruption. The emergence of Wi-Fi, sharing networks, sophisticated portal devices and the cloud breaks completely the need to be tethered to a desk. The resulting ability to work anywhere in or outside the office, whether individually or collectively, dramatically enhances the possibility of real collaboration. In addition, says Heys, collaboration work is less-and-less traditional teamwork than a chain of “hand-offs” interactions in real time, face-to-face or distantly, all facilitated by technology. 

The second imperative for change is productivity. Canada’s failure to keep pace with technology and its ability to facilitate collaboration, real-time teamwork and the enhancement of the work experience, contributes significantly to the country’s 23-per-cent productivity gap with the U.S. This is exacerbated by an increasing competitiveness for a limited number of skilled workers at a time when worker absenteeism is at an all-time high, costing an estimated $16.6 billion annually. While technology impacts on and facilitates a more dynamic interactive work process, understanding how space affects workers is crucial. Thus, productivity is closely related to attracting, retaining and engaging an increasingly skilled workforce that in turn is driven by firms’ ability to maximize employee health and-well being. 

The 21st-century office decoded

So what are the attributes of great office design that enhance collaboration, interaction, and innovation; that increase productivity while ensuring improved facility costs; and that maximize worker well being and attachment while supporting sustainability? 

• Balance, balance, balance •

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming consensus is a balance between focus and collaborative space. Strategies to improve collaboration will fail if space for focus work is absent. Oxford Properties Group’s December 2013 “Destination Collaboration: The Future of Work” study states that concentrated independent work averages around 58 per cent of office work compared to 27 per cent collaborative, eight per cent social and seven per cent learning in Canada. This is consistent with other findings and attitudes that all see access to quiet, reflective space as imperative. In fact, effective focus space, collaboration without sacrificing focus and driving innovation through choice are the only three trends the Gensler report chose to highlight, stating that “When focus is compromised in pursuit of collaboration neither works well.”  

But choice is more than simply focus versus open spaces. The ability to choose from a wide variety of spaces and the autonomy to select the right one in which to work at any particular time is also vital, says Castro. Botting reports the new Deloitte offices have 18 different types of spaces and all workers are empowered to select what they need at any given time. Fully embracing the importance of choice may lead to an office much like Shopify’s new urban headquarters in Ottawa, by LineBox Studio, replete in clusters of open workstations, multiple small and large collaboration rooms, “phone booths,” crawl-in “hole-in-the-wall boxes,” nooks tucked along windows with varied seating, open lounge spaces, small cafés, a grand eight-storey “Spanish Stairs” and a two-story gourmet cafeteria–cum–large social/meeting space. 

The consensus is reducing a firm’s increasingly high-cost urban footprint must remain secondary. “Overall, it is not that people are typically taking less square footage than they are reallocating into the right areas,” says Heidi Painchaud, managing principal for interior design at B+H Architects. Botting, however, estimates a properly balanced office can produce a 20 to 25 per cent space savings. Even if space saving is minimal, saving 10 per cent on a six per cent cost pales in comparison to 10 per cent productivity improvement on a 90 per cent cost. This math is best understood when the C-suite is the driving force rather than delegated down to the facility management level. 

• Health, well-being and productivity •

Next to balancing focus and collaboration spaces, investing directly in the health, well-being and engagement of workers is crucial. Based on extensive research undertaken by the WGBC, several design variables are highlighted as having powerful and proven positive impacts on well-being, productivity and engagement: acoustics and diversity of working spaces; circulation features, such as stairs, to encourage movement; good indoor air quality; access to and control of thermal comfort; exposure to both natural light and the availability of exterior views.

“Quality light and air are two of the most important drivers for human beings,” says Painchaud. “The evidence is unequivocal,” says the WGBC, citing a range of studies on natural light’s impact on sleep patterns, worker engagement levels, sick leave, energy levels and even the perception of colour renderings. Closely related is access to exterior views. Neuroscience and endocrinology research has drawn the link between views of nature and lower stress, improved cognitive function and enhanced creativity.  

Studies suggest quality air results in a 35-per-cent reduction in absenteeism and an 11-per-cent improvement in productivity. Better HVAC systems, increased ceiling heights to permit stratification, floor-level delivery of fresh air, plants and strategies to limit pollutants are some of the responses offered in the WGBC report.  

And yes, aesthetics matter. The study also identifies what it calls “Look and Feel” in which well-designed shapes, textures and colours impact
positively on employees’ sense of well-being, help in carrying out certain tasks, and reinforce values and behaviour that supports a company’s brand and ethos. Different colours engender different reactions; curves and contours are preferred but angular design and pointed forms tend to subconsciously support alertness and concentration when some tasks are undertaken. “Texture varieties in finishes improve cognitive ability to access knowledge, helping the brain to stay alert and engaged,” states the report. 

No means least significant is location and access to amenities, a variable increasingly driving a re-urbanization of offices and, in part, recognition of the growing importance of urban-focussed millennial talent. The availability of amenities now ranks fourth on the list of location decision-making priorities for office occupants and, as reported in the Financial Times in 2013, “the trend of catering to younger workers who prefer to live and work downtown could leave suburban office complexes with vacancy issues.” Vibrant city cores provide the services and dynamic public realm sought increasingly by workers. 

Integrating well-being amenities directly into even urban-located facilities is also common in the best offices. This may include healthy choice food services, wellness centers, nutrition classes, access to 3-D printing, yoga classes and banking facilities. “We used to try to do this work/life balance; well not anymore as now it is basically about integrated work life,” says Castro. “Everything is intertwined where you are doing personal stuff at work and work in your personal time.” 

The debate about the “perfect office” hasn’t been settled and probably won’t be any time soon. While technology may be closing the time and distance gap for some of today’s workers, the needs of the physical office space remain as varied as the Canadians who work in them. But that said, what is abundantly clear from the research is that there is a significant return on investment of good, balanced office design through improved productivity and the attraction and retention of increasingly scarce talent, as well as socially responsible outcomes related to health, well-being and sustainability. Commercial developers and their architects will also need to understand that good office design requires attention to form, structure and aesthetic detail, and achieving a smart office requires rigorous strategic planning centred on a thorough understanding of how a business operates, what its needs are and how employee engagement is achieved. Done well, the vast majority of employees will not want to go back. Sadly, there is a long way to go before the overwhelming majority of Canadian office workers are living the “trends” so frequently extolled. Having the best office, says Botting, is about “a journey not a destination,” and there are just too many stragglers lagging ever further back down the path. 


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• Heidi Painchaud, managing principal, Interior Design

• Doug Demers, managing principal (Seattle)

What is the state of the office in Canada today, that is, what is the reality for most workers vs what are desirable working conditions…..when we read about trends are we actually discussing what is emerging or what we would like to see happen?

Heidi: Without question our Canadian clients are taking some risks with design decisions and are looking to push the envelop of comfort in terms of how their offices are being used. That being said, the advice we are giving to our clients is to implement the appropriate research and advance strategy and undertake the thought processes necessary to make sure that taking risks is not just for that purpose of taking risks; it has to make sense for the business.

For our clients the response to risk taking is different from city to city, from province to province. Some provinces and some clients take risks in one arena and others in different provinces take risks in others. So what is important to know is that across Canada one size does not fit all. And it is also becoming more a global conversation about what our international clients coming into the Canadian market need. So the question about whether or not an office has to change or whether it is appropriate to change depends on what the company’s model is and whether or not you have the right design team, Human Resources and knowledge backbone to get you there in terms of communication and change management; because abrupt change without those things in place can quickly backfire.

Something that is important for clients to know and for professionals to know is that if you move through the process too quickly, you can run the risk of making bad decisions that don’t really align with future business goals. There needs to be enough time to do the beta site analysis [BETA means testing to work out bugs or identify needed modifications with users; this done not in house which is termed Alpha testing], testing some things, pulling observations from users, applying that thought process to great beta sites and great testing environments and then applying them and rolling them out. You take huge risks if you make big changes while relocating a few thousand people if you don’t do the work; it not something we would advise.

Overall it is not that people are typically taking less square footage than they are reallocating into the right areas. I do like the term “enclaves.” When people come into the office, technology is such that people can work anywhere…that’s a given. It means that their answering one-on-one things like emails outside the office, that’s a given. So it means that when they are coming into the office, which is where work happens, they are doing it in small and larger groups where the environment allows them to do that work effectively. However, you are not sitting and meeting with groups all day. You still need to step away from collaborative areas, put your head down and get some work done. You need to have places to do that but that doesn’t mean you need to have an assigned desk. It does mean you need to have quiet space to get work done and you also need proper HR and technology backbone, as I stated, to support that. If it’s “work anywhere,” then your furniture and your technology solutions have to support that.

In 1999 the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Institute with the help of Steelcase set out ten trends that seem very close to the “tends” we see outlined today.

a. Has the function of the office changed significantly or simply evolved over the last 10-15 years with the evolution of technology and creative work?

b. Are there new dynamics we are on the cusp of seeing or is it about refining and consolidating what we know (e.g. return to urbanism; the twilight of the office park

There has been change; but I think it is very sector driven. In the law sector, and in some cases finance, private offices are still prevalent but they are getting smaller or they are being designed to accommodate multiple people or cross-generational mentoring. So partners who might be in their 60s are mentoring those in their 20s; but the 20-somethings are also mentoring the older generation on technology. So offices are prevalent in some sectors and others have said good-bye to offices altogether and even gone to non-assigned workspaces. Again, this is very sector driven.

We think that “touchdown” spaces are very important for staff and for people who are out and about but who need to come into the office to work for two or three hou
rs at a time, for two to three days at a time. But I also think we can not ignore the creature comforts of the staff having a place to plug in and work that is theirs and theirs alone, I think it is human nature; there is still a requirement for that. But I think that every company has to look at what their business requires. Drill down to what their company needs and then marry their requirements to those needs. One size does not fit all. Deloitte went through a very specific research-based solution to come up with that model and every client should take it to this level.

Doug: Demographics and technology, these two factors weigh really heavily on how quickly an organization adapts to these things. We have companies we are working with that have an older demographic and are now changing to a younger demographic. This generational shift is pushing the ease of technology use in these environments as well as a desire for different types of spaces, a drive to the return to urban locations and the desire of younger folks to be in a more varied environment. Those trends are real trends and they are having an impact. They are happening pretty much in all sectors.

Heidi: Flexibility is one of the biggest requests we get. Some days I need to do heads down work, some days I need to be collaborative and on a third day I am going to be working from home. I need, therefore, flexibility in my work environment.

Do you see any key directions in technology that is driving the office?

Doug; Obviously there are the things we are pretty much familiar with – the ability to work from anywhere, to work in a variety of spaces because we can work wirelessly, can have access to information and can virtually interact with other people. This has driven a whole new set of requirements and opportunities. It is also clear there is a pendulum swing so that in terms of head down space in even technology companies there are now “no-technology rooms” that do not even have wi-fi because they want to be able to disconnected.

Heidi: Something else we are seeing – in particular with our international companies coming into the market – is that technology in meetings is not permitted. If you are there to have a face-to-face meeting with a client, it is disrespectful to pull your phone out and put it on the table. You need to be there in the moment, in the conversation addressing issues in a face-to-face environment. You can deal with your technology and your emails after you leave the meeting. There is a ground swell of requests from clients and from designers to make sure you are making the most out of that face-to-face time.

Our clients are stepping away from their office phones. They are now handed their cell phones when they come in and even our hospitality clients, such as hotels, hand guests a cell phone instead of having a phone in the room. So the idea of mobility and connectedness is pretty much a given. When clients say they need a place to make a phone call it doesn’t have to be an office. One of my clients has a great sticker on the back of his laptop; it says, “This is my office.” He is sending a message when he walks in that his office is always with him. I would say that 50%of our clients have fully embraced [mobility and connectedness] and another 30-40% are asking us how to get there.

Are companies embracing a non-paper world?

It changes sector by sector. Law firms are streamlining their libraries down by 40% to 50%. Many of them have been talking about paperless for ten years, but many are now starting to get there because the information on line is catching up. We are seeing it more and more in practice and not just in conversation.

Doug: I would say another big trend on the horizon that is getting more and more play is hospitality and creative spaces as part of the way office spaces are being planned and envisaged. A lot of the creative and tech companies have infused the idea of putting in the amenities of the hospitality environment that you feel at home. Your laundry is delivered to your desk and your bank is in the corner of the building, etc. All that stuff is there and available. Access to a variety of food and beverage options are becoming a mainstay in the programming efforts for almost any office space we are developing now. I see that as continuing. The way people are working anywhere, any place, anytime means they want to be comfortable and this combines with the expectations of a new demographic with younger employees in a more competitive marketplace for talent.

3. How much are businesses prone to be “penny wise, pound foolish” in terms of the way they downsize their office footprints i.e. less space, less cost…. the rest are “perks”?

a. Are offices that are well balanced between, focus, collaboration and social interaction/well being really going to save much floor space or is it more about refocusing how floor space is used (as some have argued)?

b. Is a positive return on investment of well designed, collaborative but focus-balanced workplaces evidence-based?

Heidi; I think this an advanced strategy answer Doug.

Doug: We are definitely in a time when the ability to measure these things and to provide tools to explore and weigh them with the client is having a big impact. A lot of the things we do at the front end of the project, what we call “advance strategy,” a lot of the tools we use in working with clients explore in a logical, open way all the key characteristics and attributes of the specific business objectives of their organization and what they potentially mean for their real estate and space solutions.

We are in a time of transparency and so having these kinds of discussions with the client, getting their input [is key]. There are so many tools out there for aggregating data. Whether it is big data or specific benchmark information about that client’s business, its sector, its competitive set, all those data sets allow us to evaluate, to rank them and apply them to solutions. Basically this takes a lot of the guesswork out of it and allows for evidence-based solutions By the very nature of the process you go through, you end up with measures you can look at whether they be attraction and retention or actual real estate costs or higher productivity.

We had a client, an executive of a high tech company, recently say “I am not even going to try to figure how to measure productivity because that is not my role; my role is to measure engagement; so if our employees are engaging with the workplace then I am doing my job and real estate is delivering. If it is not happening then that is an HR issue.”

Are we getting to the point where we have enough evidence of the impacts of new office space approaches?

Heidi; We need to understand what to measure and how to measure it. There is no one silver bullet to increase engagement; you must look at it holistically. Everything a company is doing – it is not just access to a window – it is also better collaboration zones, plus better technology, plus better air, it is a combination of a lot of things together to create a more productive work environment and provide a return on investment. But it is not a specific thing. Many clients ask “if I do this am I going to build more widgets,” but it is not that simple. You have to look at a whole gambit of factors.

What are the key principles for designing innovative, healthy, sustainable but cost efficient office design? Are these evidence-based or intuitive/deductive…or both? World Green Building Council’s Health Well-being and Productivity in Offices.

Heidi: Quality light and air are two of the most important drivers for human be
ings. Access to natural light; access to a view to the outside is a huge driver. How buildings are designed in order to give you that is also a huge driver. That means, if you have to slice a huge hole in the middle of the building, that is a tough decision to make, so having the data to back that up is important. I would say that number two is flexibility; every human being, every client we have worked with is slightly different and if we can generalize there needs to be heads down space, collaborative space as well as small group and large group areas. Balance is important. People want the ability to ride a bicycle to the office, step out of the office over lunch hour and have a work out. They want some balance in their workday so that they are more productive when they put their heads down to get work done.

Doug; I would say [it is key to take] the time to thoroughly understand the business objectives of the organization and then leverage the real estate facilities and space solutions in line with these. This is the most important thing we are doing and seeing measurable results from.

All the things Heidi described are all important and there is also the sustainability side, there is the variety of workplaces and the generational side and the technology side. You have to look at all of these and you have to look at that with the company or organization in a way that lets them realize what are the potential impacts. The client must be part of the decision to create a rich environment for them so that the design team, the real estate facilities people, all of the stakeholders can move forward more effectively. You must know where to spend the money and where to put the square footage in a refined way and a much more specific way than in the past. And, I see this as having a big impact.

Is the generational diversity issue overstated or is there a real divide in terms of developing an inter-generational workplace? E.g. Rex Miller – Even though we function in this digital world, we also miss most of the rhythm, pace, nuance, and value that only true digital natives understand. (Change Your Space; Change Your Culture)

Heidi; Overall I would agree that at times it is a tad overstated. It is very sector driven. In many of our sectors, staffs tend to hit their stride only twenty years after entering their professions; some hit their stride right after they come out of school. So it really depends on what sector. Overall it tends to be less of an issue.

I think that information is instant; we are in the information age but we still have to pause and consider that the decisions we are making with our clients are the right ones. We have to go through the necessary steps to gather the information, measure it, talk about it and make good decisions even though technology allows us to exchange information that much faster. It is still behavioral, we are still people so I think that we must not ignore the human condition regardless of the generation. It is less a generational issue than it is about how we are all behaving in our workplace in general.

With those who have embraced change and done it well, we as designers have [been given] enough time to try out changes, do small samples of changes, experiment with different work styles. We have been able to lower walls and open up light to try it out, gather data, put in these test spaces with those who are your naysayers, those not interested in change. What typically happens is that those that didn’t want to go are really excited about these changes once they have lived in them.

You need to create these opportunities for change quickly and carefully if you have, for example, a client who is going to move from building A to Building B, and it is going to take three years to get there, and there is only small pockets of time in which to try these experiments, gather the data, observe how people working there operate in these new environments and then deploy everything learned you in order to lower your risk. If you just jump off the diving board without having done that, you are often missing some great ideas that come from the users themselves after using it. Ideally, that is great to have.

Doug; There are lots of techniques we have been using to engage the stakeholders without being a great time or resource burden. This includes Survey Monkeys and other tools to engage the users and the stakeholders in a way that they own it.

Do we need legislation/regulation – such as in Europe – to ensure architectural design supports the desired outcomes through better office design – distance from light, level interconnectivity, sustainability standards, health standards (i.e. why should a developer ever be allowed to use non-low, off-gassing materials?)

Heidi; My opinion as an interior designer is we will certainly get there and Europe is light years ahead of us. I think the new buildings coming on line are a lot more thoughtful on that platform. They are being looked at from the inside/outside as well as the outside in. We will always have beautiful buildings from an era when this was not a priority. That is reality. Overtime, however, we will continue to move this in the right direction and continue to look inside the building as well as at the exterior in order to ensure interiors with high performance.

We are having more and more conversations with clients who are making choices in their buildings, choosing a building because of access to natural light given all of the options out there. So those buildings that are less desirable from that perspective will have a more difficult time securing tenants over the long haul. So I think there is a growing priority towards this when choosing new sites for tenants.

Doug; A lot of the property owners and developers are going through this thought process that we are describing of really understanding what the sectors and tenants they are targeting, what their true needs are based on the changes happening in the workplace and in the demographics in these different sectors. They are fine-tuning in a much more precise way than in the past the way these products come to market. Outside of the historic product that is already out there, future products are going to be much more in line with the new market demand.

My perspective on this [requirements] is somewhere in-between. There is a certain amount of responsibility for public safety that requires regulations, but there is also pure market demand that is driving property owners to realize that they are not going to get the tenants they want if they don’t take care of all these key characteristics and attributes, whether it be off-gassing or other demanded things. I think that the market is going to respond to these things and hopefully address them. I don’t know if we want to regulate ourselves to death.

Heidi: I have heard more from clients that “I just want to do the right thing.” They are less willing to go through certification than they are willing to choose a team that is going to be an advocate, a team that is educated and intent on only putting the right specifications into the project that are as sustainable as they can be. But I like the fact that clients are saying, “I need to hear you are doing the right thing.” Many of our larger clients are actually giving us specifications of products that have been thoroughly vetted by third parties so that even we, as designers, are being monitored by clients to make sure we are adhering to their corporate standards. We are holding ourselves to a much higher bar.

Any last comments?

Heidi; I think communication is key; you can have all the great plans and all the great ideas in the world, but if you are not communicating with your client team and having a communication strategy with all the users, all the great ideas can be for naught unless you put the communic
ation strategy behind it.

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• Sheila Botting, partner, Canadian real estate leader

In 1999 the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Institute with the help of Steelcase set out ten trends that seem very close to the “tends” we see outlined today. Has the function of the office changed significantly or simply evolved over the last 10-15 years with the evolution of technology and creative work?

Digital disruption is challenging all businesses literally around the word. Whether you’re office is government, retail, manufacture or part of the supply chain, digital disruption is changing everything. If you believe in the big bang theory, some parts of our real estate markets, like retail, are facing a faster change than say some government or office space users. So that is the why there is change taking place.

Then you must layer into Canada the further element that we have a productivity challenge compared with our US colleagues. The productivity gap in Canada is 23% compared with the US. As a result of these changes and challenges, we are a believer that by changing your real estate portfolio, by changing the way we go about things helps to drive productivity.

So digital disruption is one and productivity is another.

When you start looking at productivity and our industries, we are not investing enough in information communication technology. For example, in the financial services sector we only spend 42% compared to the US on information communication technology. So, the facts are [we are] 23% less productive and we spend less on information communication technology. Then you start looking at things like competitiveness [and you find that] globally we are ranked 14th, down five places from 2009. You start thinking about our skill shortages, that 75% of new jobs are highly skilled yet 40% of people lack the abilities to meet the required standards. You think about absenteeism that is at an all time high of ten days a year and costing us $16.6 billion a year.

Putting together all these factors, what we are doing now, how we are behaving within our office environments and other real estate asset classes is very traditional and has not kept pace with the advances in technology in order to drive productivity for our country. This is the overwhelming why behind it. For Deloitte as a firm, the issue is we can use our real estate office space as a catalyst to drive productivity with productivity measured in very different ways. But we can drive productivity with collaboration, teamwork and enhancing the employee experience in order to make a better workplace overall. This is why Deloitte is doing this; but also why I am speaking with clients about this as well. Workforce transformation is an opportunity to embrace the digital revolution and drive productivity.

What are the key components within the office that drive productivity?

Let me go back to the why what we have now doesn’t work. Let’s look at our current workspace. If you go into the traditional office environment, it’s a cube farm. There are boxes for everybody, a cube for everybody; you’ve got particleboard separating you from somebody else and everyone sits in their cubes. It has largely been set up for a paper processing type of environment with hard line telephones.

And then you think about the corporate environment, that it is very territorial, hierarchical. All the offices are on the outside and there is no collaboration, socialization or teaming space and it is assumed that everyone is sitting at their seat eight hours a day in personal space. That is what is assumed and that is what it was designed to accommodate.

With digital disruption, people are not sitting in their seats. You walk around these offices and you find they are 50% vacant; no one is sitting at their seats during the day, they’re working other ways. They are walking around, they are teaming together; they are in boardrooms, they are in Starbucks, anywhere but sitting at their seats. If there is 50-60% vacancy rate it is not a wise use of our resources, our capital. So [that is why] Harvard wrote a wonderful Review Addition on “why we hate our offices.”

That tells you what doesn’t work so then you can go to what should you build, what is the right thing. When we start to look at what we should build, we have been on a journey. This is not a destination; this is a journey. Our new offices that we started building in Sherbrooke, Winnipeg, Regina and Langley assumed that everyone would have a seat. The physical design of the space was different but it assumed everyone would have a dedicated seat in the office environment. We designed Langley so that all the open spaces would be around the windows and the internal offices assigned to partners, directors and senior managers. So it gave everyone daylight so it was a wonderful model for assigned seating.

When we moved on to Ottawa, we then said “you know what, here is an opportunity to become 100% agile.” We went around the world, to Australia and Europe and looked at some of the best practices with completely agile environments. This was feed through the 300-person Ottawa office and the entire office decided they did not want assigned seating. Therefore, so my name is not on any door in Ottawa, but I can move around the office environment, as I need it and when I need it.

If I need to meet with my team, we meat in a small team room; if I need to give a client a presentation, I go do that [in an appropriate space]; if I need a touch down space or I have to have a conference call I can jump in an empty meeting room. That whole new work environment means you recalibrate how you work and you don’t assign 80% of the office to individual space. You decrease your individual space and enhance your cooperation and social space. And then it means you have to go electronic with very limited paper so document storage becomes a major topic in this transfer of the information process.

We have closed spaces and open work sites but no one’s name is on a door or a space. I use the space I need. In Langley, offices had assigned spaces but in Ottawa one has only a locker. Each office has a core of 18 different space types. In the old world you would have a private office or work station; in our new world it is more like a campus type of environment. It feels like a cool university campus with all kinds of seating, or like an Air Canada travel lounge. It becomes much more a collaborative space.

Are you working with a smaller footprint?

In our new office environment we are able to decrease our footprint by 20-25%.

What is the significance of health and well-being for staff?

Let me jump to the environment and sustainability first. I chaired the Green Building Conference a couple of years ago when we were in the middle of all this change and I spent a lot of time researching sustainable work environments. Where possible, we negotiate leases with our landlords for LEED certified buildings. Langley, St. Johns Newfoundland are all lead silver or gold and in Montreal and Toronto we have LEED platinum buildings. So having the LEED scoring for the buildings really matters. In Ottawa we went into existing space so here we have LEED interior. The United States Environmental Protection Agency finds the air inside [buildings] is 2 to 5 times worse than the air outside and this counts for significant loses in productivity.

Now you say, “if we spent some time looking at enhancing the air quality, upgrading the HVAC systems, making LEED or sustainable buildings, it can really help to make much better environment for your employees.” The research will tell you that green buildings and interiors can reduce employee absenteeism by up to 35%. Access to day light
, which means everyone is seeing outside, and fresh air drive productivity by up to 13%. That is why enclosed offices are being built on the interior walls to ensure everybody has access to daylight rather than just the big ego people.

In many of the buildings you go into the HVAC and air-handling systems are not that great so that by the time you are in the afternoon you feel sleepy. So think about it; if you have much better air handling systems, it can drive your productivity by up to 11%. And then there are some finer elements like temperature control.

Reducing carbon footprint is a big, big push on why you would do this.

Then you get into employee well-being. In our buildings we are doing a number of things to be able to foster wellness in the workplace. In Toronto and Montreal in our newest buildings we actually have a wellness center for our employees. We are just going though the program elements right now to sort out what exactly we will put in the wellness center; but it could [range] from yoga to nutrition classes to a whole range of elements. We do not put in fitness facilities within our Deloitte facilities because it makes no sense when across the street there are full fitness facilities in most of our locations. But having wellness in the office in terms of the physical presence of people who can come in and work with our people is really, really important whether it is massages or yoga or nutrition. This is one piece of the wellness program.

But then you think you would like to create an entire environment of wellness. [An] entire environment of wellness would mean that because you are mobile and agile in the work environment you are always moving around. As you have probably already heard, “sitting is the new smoking.” So you really want to encourage people to move around. In our bigger buildings we have staircases connecting the floors to force people to walk up and down stairs so they are usually more alive and energetic in the workplace. And, of course, ergonomically designed furniture, from chairs to tables that are the sit/stand tables [are required]. One fellow in our organization had a back problem so he had to have a table that he could both stand and sit at. So now we have tables like that all around the place so that everyone has that option to work with.

What about creativity and innovation?

Now lets talk about learning, about learning and innovation and what that means. Within all of our spaces we have learning environments. We will have classrooms where a lot of our people will go – we have a large accounting staff so there are often accounting or tax courses or leadership or management courses. In Dallas Texas there is a thing called the Deloitte University, it is a one million sq. ft. facility that is part of our global footprint. In our new office environments, we are actually bringing Deloitte University north into Toronto so it is becomes the Canadian center for learning and education in Canada.

The next extension of learning is around innovation and creativity. We actually have innovation zones in our offices; we have a “greenhouse,” which is our large innovation mode; a laboratory environment where we have big analytic and client interactive experiences; we have three-D printing; we have a whole range of other types of experiences for both our employees and our clients to drive innovation and productivity, And of course that innovation has to be married to an innovation in programs. So we have an innovation officer and Deloitte’s version of Dragon’s Den to foster that whole creative opportunity. You must, therefore match the physical space with these programs you offer.

There is equity in how we develop our space. The big partner no longer gets a big, enclosed corner office…it means everybody can have a corner office. Everyone is equitable in the work environment. You use that particular work environment of choice for that day. So today I am in Ottawa, I am in a giant room with eight of us around a table and we are focusing heavily on a project deliverable for a client. We are not sitting at our desk processing paper while sending emails and faxes back and forth. We are actually collaborating around a room with a high performance team environment. And that really is a critical difference.

What has been the experience with Langley in terms of the employee response?

There are a lot of misconceptions, “oh you just create one big open environment.” No, our environment has 18 environments; and as many of these are “me” spaces for focus as “we” spaces for collaboration and teaming. So you have to balance these spaces so people are not always in a giant bullpen environment. We have completely empowered the employee to go to work where they want, when they want, how they want and with whom they want with the projects they want. It is a totally empowered employee and technology is allowing them to be empowered. On the one hand you are saying “you the employee, we are giving you choice.” The change management around that is you are moving from a nine-to-five environment, you are moving from a command and control environment with lots of paper and emails and a linear process, all hardwired. [On the other hand, we are now] suddenly saying “we are giving you the power and the decision making process to be able to work any where, any time and how that you want within the work environment. So some clients will say to us “thanks for the agility in the workplace;” others will say “we will have a remote program that will allow employees to work one or two days a week at home” and some will even say they will have call centers from their homes. Just because you’re agile, however, you are not telling everyone to go home. These are two very distinct decisions that have to be made by any organization.

Are there any studies measuring employee satisfaction with the changes?

Oh sure; but it is soft right now. The post occupancy surveys are not yet ready. But everybody loves it; 95% of the people would never go back and that was consistent with the case studies that we learned about. The Macquarie Bank [Clive Wilkinson Architects] in Sydney Australia was one of the first organizations to go down this path; 94% of their staff said they would never go back to a traditional work environment. We have found the same thing in Ottawa and in St. Johns, Newfoundland. They love it. In managing the generations and the entitlements through that process is really important because you have to educate everyone about does it look like.

The biggest question is “what do I do with my stuff; what do I do with my shoe collection; what do I do with my papers, with my books.” You need to have a training process [on] how you manage your electronic environment; how you manage your people; how you handle electronic communication. My telephone is connected to my laptop so I can take it with me anywhere. If you were on my link-in program I could throw up the slide show I have up while we are talking now and share it with you. Here is what I am thinking as we walk through each one of these elements. To get there, technology is the key. We are calling it the “office a box.” Our technology platform has to have a balance that is user-friendly and intuitive – so it includes video conferencing, wireless, team presence, flexible printing, digital storage, remote network connections, mobile telephones, displays and mobile computing along with a whole bunch of stuff. Technology is driving this but it is becoming mainstream.

So all the banks have a program in this area. We are probably the first in the large professional firm sector in Canada and I think our structure is leading the world in this space because we are changing how and where people work. If you say to someone, “you go and work one day a week from home because you can do all your head down work at
your home office,” well, that is a whole breath of freedom to actually have that flexibility. So instead of commuting one hour each day, they can actually spend one day at home if they like. That is what you give back to people and you are in a more engaging, innovative foreword thinking environment.

Are there generational issues or differences?

What we found [in a 500 professional survey on their perspective on work life is] not much divides the millennials from the other generations. Some of the millennials may be more informal, more laid back in some of their requirements, but they still have the same requirements at work.

Has the re-urbanization of the office influenced Deloitte to consolidate in a very urban setting; and if so, is it at least a part of the preference of the emerging generation of young urbanite professionals?

Yes, for sure. We have done a lot of work in this area; I have spent my career looking at a lot at those trends. We give people a choice. In downtown Montreal, downtown Toronto we are located adjacent to public transit stations, very accessible to anyone across the metropolitan areas. That is really important to us. Downtown Toronto, at Bay and Adelaide is just a couple of blocks from Union Station that kooks up across the GTA. Staff comes in from St. Catherines, Guelph, Barrie, Oshawa, anywhere from where they want [to live.] It is very much our urban campus in downtown Toronto.

In addition to the amenities I mentioned to you – like the wellness-centre, the Deloitte University – we have a restaurant, a roof top deck, client meeting rooms, classrooms [makes] it very important for use to be in the heart of the city. We have also made a significant contribution to the City of Toronto in the form of economic development and the restoration of Young Street through the development of our new building.

The people love being downtown. By allowing them to have a live/work relationship is very important; but equally for anybody who decides to move out to the suburbs to have their kids and the housing, that proximity to transportation allows all generations to be there. But we will also have a location in Vaughan and a location in Burlington. Our goal is to give people choice.

Are there emerging variables, something that we might be on the cusp that is not yet quite here but might drive things in the future?

Technology, bottom line. Communication technology, digital, three D printing, robotics big data analytics, are all things I am living every day right now that have not yet hit the mainstream community. We are on a journey, on acceleration; when you start looking at manufacturing today it is just like the industrial revolution of the early 1800s. Things are accelerating so quickly through digital technology that in ten years the world will look very different. It is incredible that I am having this conversation about agility in the workplace and five years ago it wasn’t being done in Canada.

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• Jacqueline Castro, principal and workplace strategist

What is the state of the office in Canada today, that is, what is the reality for most workers vs what are desirable working conditions…..when we read about trends are we actually discussing what is emerging or what we would like to see happen?

It seems to be a mix at this point. I think we are still a little bit behind where we need to be. We have a lot of clients who start out with these grand ideas, but along the way they get a little bit scared. So they pare back a bit and they don’t quite make it there.

A part of that challenge is that when you are looking at these new ways of designing the office there are other parts of the organization that are key to how that space is going to operate, an example being IT. If you are talking about mobility and the ability to work from anywhere, you are looking at network issues or even people working from home and having to make sure they are set up properly. There is a lot of work on that end to come up with the required policies and procedures. And then there is the human resources side of things and its policies and procedures. These are the things that make people pull back a little bit.

In terms of the C-suite, I don’t think it is the same as in the past because we are a global economy. Even within our own organization, we are finding the C-suite is becoming more dispersed. You are typically looking for the best-of-the-best. So it does not always mean they are at head office. A lot of senior executive are now likely to be in other areas of the country and because of technology you have that ability for video conference calls and that kind of thing.

What about their support for making the changes?

I think it depends who is in the C-suite. We have some clients who are very forward thinking and it starts at the top and goes down. But I think some of them are still very traditional and they still do not have a grasp on it; so, I think it is very mixed as well.

Why should we change at this time; what is it that requires us to redesign the office?

I think the communication world we are in now means we are expected to be more productive, to be communicating all the time. So we have cell phones and Ipads and we are always connected. Part of this is the impact of globalization. The other thing is that changing the office is a part of the generational change. The new people that are coming in have different expectations; they work differently.

In 1999 the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Institute with the help of Steelcase set out ten trends that seem very close to the “tends” we see outlined today.

a. Has the function of the office changed significantly or simply evolved over the last 10-15 years with the evolution of technology and creative work?

b. Are there new dynamics we are on the cusp of seeing or is it about refining and consolidating what we know (e.g. return to urbanism; the twilight of the office park

Open workspace has been around for a long time, at least ten to fifteen years. The only difference now than what was in the traditional open workspaces are that the walls and the panels have still come down even lower. There does seem to be more collaboration happening. People who used to be scared of sitting in open space are changing; I don’t think it is quite what it used to be. People have gravitated toward accepting open space and have found out that it is an environment that enhances the work they are doing. It becomes a space in which they can learn things almost serendipitously. They don’t have to be in meetings but instead have the conversations from which they can learn. But other than that, I do not think the traditional office has changed a whole lot.

Understanding the need for balance is the phase we are in today. What exists today is a whole bunch of people in an open workspace but with no amenity spaces. They might have a copy room and they might have a kitchen and that is it. What we are moving toward today is taking our personal footprint down in size but we are going to give you choice. We are creating collaboration rooms that have technology in them. You can have five people go in into these rooms, hook up their laptops and then share their screens in order to see what is on each other’s laptop. We are creating small, two-person meeting rooms where you can just go in and have a chitchat. Or, we are creating meeting rooms that are just quiet rooms. If you need to focus on something you can just go into these spaces and do the work. We are creating open living room-type areas up against the windows so that people can go have small team meetings while enjoying the view. That is where we are progressin
g today.

How much are businesses prone to be “penny wise, pound foolish” in terms of the way they downsize their office footprints i.e. less space, less cost…. the rest are “perks”?

a. Are offices that are well balanced between, focus, collaboration and social interaction/well being really going to save much floor space or is it more about refocusing how floor space is used (as some have argued)?

b. Is a positive return on investment of well designed, collaborative but focus-balanced workplaces evidence-based?

Yes, but I see this changing. I am going through this exercise here in our Calgary office. We have open workspaces and interior closed offices but no amenity spaces. I am trying to consolidate two groups onto one floor and if I do it by todays standard it is not going to happen. So what we have done is take the individual workstations down in size. As a result, in the same amount of space that I fit the existing number of people with no amenity space, by taking that personal footprint down I am able to add another forty people to that floor. Plus, I can give them all those other types of spaces. All I have done is transfer that square footage each person is taking up and transferred that into the “we” space, the shared space; and, I am still able to get a higher density on the floor.

How many different types of spaces do new offices typically employ?

The number of different spaces required will depend on what the office is doing, what the work functions are. We are an architectural and engineering firm so we are need collaboration rooms and “huddle” rooms. We also have two large boardrooms on the floor that will open up to create an entertainment space. We have small telephone rooms that will seat one to two people. But then we have these big spans of open space where there is collaboration. We are doing a couch setting. We are doing a high bar setting. We are doing a kind of four-chair setting. Then, of course, we need libraries, places to put samples together; we have two of those areas. It depends on the nature of the work.

Is there evidence of increased productivity from such changes?

When it comes to measuring productivity it is a difficult one to put your thumb on; and how do you measure it. I don’t really have an answer for that.

What are the key principles for designing innovative, healthy, sustainable but cost efficient office design? Are these evidence-based or intuitive/deductive…or both? World Green Building Council’s Health Well-being and Productivity in Offices.

The approach to office space has to be flexible. We try to make the design so it is not too specific to the group. Human nature is such you can characterize the type of people who are working in a space. But it must be flexible enough so you can – from a facilities perspective – do a retrofit easily while not incurring heavy costs. The other thing for me is creating that “equality of space” for everybody. Not everybody is going to use every component of the various office spaces so we must ensure that the options are right for everybody.

• Access to light is a big one, and that is one that has been around forever. I think that there are studies that show it is good thing.

• In terms of the well-being of your employees, you must make sure what you are doing is ergonomically correct.

• Giving people choices about where to work and how to work. That is a new thing that is coming out; getting people together in different ways and having accidental bump in. Yes, people will talk about the weekend but usually the conversation will turn into a work conversation.

• It is important that people feel comfortable having social areas where people can talk socially but just may turn into a work conversation. Having a couch area to sit down and talk about their weekend.

• Another requirement from a wellness perspective is to get people up and out of their desks. You want people to get up and move around during the day. You don’t want them to be sitting at their desks all day. You do some things on purpose like having limited number of copier spaces so people must get up and move. Making people move, I think, is important.

Do you punch holes into floors to put in stairs?

No, that is one thing I am personally against. For me it’s about cost. Their really expensive and when you have a very large company, like we have, where you have ten floors and you punch a hole through two floors, what happens when you move people around and you have people from floor A and floor B no longer requiring connectivity; it becomes a waste.

I tend to think that if you are going to do a new building, however, the fire exit stairwells can be a little bigger and maybe a little brighter.

• There is a lot of moving downtown going on, a lot of revitalization in downtown cores. There are cores where there is no nightlife so when you do these things it becomes community building with things happening outside the office, outside the normal working hours. We are just building a new headquarters in Edmonton where we are going into a district that was not a good neighbourhood. But the new arena is also going there with a piazza, retail shops, restaurants and hotels. I think that is one of the big trends because the new generation wants to work where they live. They don’t want to commute.

Is the generational diversity issue overstated or is there a real divide in terms of developing an inter-generational workplace? E.g. Rex Miller – Even though we function in this digital world, we also miss most of the rhythm, pace, nuance, and value that only true digital natives understand. (Change Your Space; Change Your Culture)

I read an article that said today’s world is basically a shared economy. The latest generation won’t commit to buying things if they won’t use them at least 80% of the time. An example is a car. If they live and work downtown, they have no desire to purchase a car. If and when they need a car, they will rent it. We used to try to do this work/life balance; well not anymore as now it is basically about integrated work life. Everything is intertwined where you are doing personal stuff at work and work in you personal time.

They say the millennials are not loyal, but they are loyal just in a different way. We were always loyal to the company we worked for; these guys are loyal to their mentors. If the mentor leaves the company, they are more apt to leave the company. Their relationships are more personal. Part of the problem is the way offices are still often designed because they still rely on a hierarchical system. The people who have been there the longest get the best offices. The key we are trying to show clients is that the kids today are looking for a mentor and you cannot mentor behind a closed door. You can say your door is always open but you are not always there and they don’t get to see you enough.

In our own open workspaces, senior people will sit in the middle of the pods because the people around them are the people that need to learn from them. Even if they can just hear you on the phone talking to a client; if they can see how you are dealing with a problem, it helps them because they can hear what is going on. But it also helps you to teach them because you do not have to take specific time to teach them. They learn as they work. And that is how the new generation wants to be mentored; they don’t want to be told what to do. The mentoring is not like the old days.

Do we need legislation/regulation – such as in Europe – to ensure architectural design supports the desired outcomes through better office design – distance from light, level interconnectivity, sustainability standards, health standards (i.e. why should a devel
oper ever be allowed to use non-low, off-gassing materials?)

I think we do, although the LEED building standards provide some of that including LEED for interiors. To what degree I don’t know. A lot of the producers are now taking such issues as off-gassing into consideration. One thing I ask is why don’t we go back to operatable windows.

Are there new trends just emerging, just on the horizon?

The trends that we are implementing have actually been available for a while, thus the real requirement is to get people to buy into and implement them.

Maybe the future is less people in the office, more working outside, more mobility.

Furniture producers are some of the leaders out there. They are creating products that get ideas across. From a designer perspective it is a little harder because you are dealing with human nature, human beings. It is not like we can implement something and, yes it works. We have to take that product and teach people how to work with it.

In terms of sit-stand tables, it seems to be the way it is going. I am dealing with this right now as there was a big push to have sit-stand in our new offices. So, we will do that but we have also found that in terms of those employees who have a sit-stand table, only about 10% actually use it as a sit/stand with the 90% using the sit position. But this is something we can give them for their well-being and it then becomes their choice.

Final thoughts?

The pace that we are getting there is quite slow.

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• Andrea Wolf-Strike (industrial psychologist); Gensler – senior Strategist, Canadian lead, consulting practice

What is the state of the office in Canada today, that is, what is the reality for most workers vs what are desirable working conditions…..when we read about trends are we actually discussing what is emerging or what we would like to see happen?

It is a mix of both. Some have tried to redesign the office and over time adopted what works and removed what doesn’t. There are always those who do not like change; but the important components are getting worker support and [providing] options for how they do their work.

Your formative years as you are getting into the workplace, has a huge impact on how you see yourself and how you see authority. I would just say that generation-to-generation it is always going to change. GenY does have some different ways of thinking because they have grown up in a technology world and they are used to having things at their fingertips, they are used to finding information quickly. They don’t have to go to the library and research through books and pull out periodicals or look through magazine or newspaper articles. They just type it in and suddenly it just pops up. So I think their expectation is that it is going to be quicker, faster and more friendly but I don’t think that the way they work, to be honest, is any different. I still think they want a friendly place to work, they still want to have the amenities, and they still want to be rewarded for a job well done. I don’t think that differs from them to any other generation that has gone through the workforce.

In 1999 the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Institute with the help of Steelcase set out ten trends that seem very close to the “tends” we see outlined today. Has the function of the office changed significantly or simply evolved over the last 10-15 years with the evolution of technology and creative work? Are there new dynamics we are on the cusp of seeing or is it about refining and consolidating what we know. (e.g. return to urbanism, the twilight of the office park (Google), the 24/7 office such as found in global architecture and engineering practices)

I would definitely see that urbanism is emerging as a trend; it is almost to the point where it is not a trend anymore, it is just part of the natural cycle. But with more younger people conscious of the damaged environment, [they] are not choosing to drive and more are choosing to live in the kind of space they need at the specific time in their life; and, now they like to be downtown. You see the rise of all the high rises down in the south financial core [of Toronto] and basically any class b building that is in the position to be reconditioned and has the density allocation to be turned into a condominium is being turned into a condo. The drive is there because the jobs are there and people want to be close to where they work, they want to be close to where the action is. And they definitely want to have it as simple as possible where they need to go. I don’t think they see the world as you or our parents or me as we were growing up. Getting your license was a cool thing to do and having the car was the symbol of coming of age; and I think the newer generation has different symbols of coming of age.

You made the interesting point that tech companies are moving into the urban areas but I don’t know necessarily if that is [driven by] by the interests of the “talent” – although some of it is. [Offices] are coming closer to where their clients are. There was that whole movement out of the downtown core for taxes and costs. Some suburban communities were offering huge benefits and huge taxable relief to bring your operation to these communities. It was a time when these communities were growing. Now these communities are not giving these cost and tax benefits so the clients are increasingly not there either. Now they are coming back into the city to be closer to those they serve.

One of the Toronto issues is transportation. I think as the transportation thoroughfares become more and more congested, those individuals who do not live in the outlining areas (where many banks took some of their off-core business and where the some of the [older] tech businesses are) will not find the transportation to get out there. The people who used to live out there are now shifting; the demographic they are looking for are no longer living there.

How much are businesses prone to be “penny wise, pound foolish” in terms of the way they downsize their office footprints? Are offices that are well balanced between, focus, collaboration and social interaction/well being really going to save much floor space or is it about refocusing floor space?

I think that shrinking your space or reducing your footprint is one element; but I don’t think it is the element. I think it is about rebalancing your space. If we talk about ten year periods of time, which is often how long it takes to amortize your furniture and the build-out of your space, those businesses that did stuff ten year ago are now starting to rethink their offices.

Ten years ago it might have been bigger offices, bigger work spaces, fewer meeting rooms because everyone met in their offices. There were often a lot of complaints that there were not enough places to meet. Now things are more collaborative so it is about reallocation of your space and sometimes through your reallocation of that space you realize that you had wasted space that you can either recapture for something else or densify and give back. But I don’t know that it is always about shrinking space or the bottom line.

Do clients understand these issues?

Yes, I think they do; but it depends on to whom you are talking. If it is the C-suite, that level of the organization understands the business purpose of the organization and realizes it is not always about saving a dollar. I think more and more we are giving kudos to the employees who, theoretically, are our number one resource. A happy employee gives happy experiences to your clients and you then have happier clients who give you more business. All ha
ppens in a nice rotational cycle like that. If you have disgruntled employees because they are sitting in old and non-functional space, they might be coming to the office not as happy as they might be.

Is the positive return on good office space evidence based or intuitive/deductive?

Have you seen our 2013 workplace survey? It is evidence-based to an extent. We do not do research like a university or a social science institute might so there is not necessarily a strictly objective measure. The survey that we did for the 2013 Report goes out to multiple clients in multiple fields and asks them the same questions so at least when the information comes back we can compare with the information from past surveys. We know [improved innovation, engagement, productivity] are common themes across different industries and across different people; so, to me it is evidence-based. What the 2013 survey showed is that there are only a certain portion of people who are top performers, great in their productivity, great in their profitability. [This minority] has employees that are incredibly happy, they have a lower churn ratio and the evidence behind that is that all of those organizations had space that, whether it is old or new, provided the employees with balance, choice and focus.

And in respect to any of the studies we have done with respect to our WPI survey, focus is one of the key elements that everyone has to have at work regardless of how collaborative your group, regardless of how much camaraderie you have and no matter how much you love your organization. If you do not have the opportunity to take all that information that you have gathered throughout the day through your conversations and apply it somewhere, think about it and process it doesn’t really serve anybody anything. Having the opportunity to have a quiet place or a reflective space, an opportunity to restore, to jot down all those thoughts and all the information you need to carry out your work, is imperative for almost every single organization that we looked at.

To say I hate or like the open office is just too simplistic. You have to look at how is working done in this space; why was it designed that way; is it being used the way it was meant to be used; have people made sure that everyone understands what the objectives are of the space; how do you intend to do things differently in these different spaces; and finally what is the whole, overall intention of the space?

What are the key principles for designing innovative, healthy, sustainable but cost efficient office design? Are these evidence-based or intuitive/deductive…or both?

There is evidence-based planning now because organizations have implemented changes and been able to identify the benefits to their employees when spaces are done properly.

• If you are talking about health and wellness there are many articles now outlining how sitting is the new smoking, that not giving people the opportunity to not get up and walk around is just as bad as putting them in a dark room with no air. I think what we have neglected for a very long time is our health and wellness. Technology has sort of clouded our judgment on what we used to have to do [which required] getting up and doing things while now we are able to sit down and have most everything within arms length.

• But when you are planning the workplace there are some really key elements. I think it is important to make sure you have in and out of office work settings because this option improves engagement. It is hopefully also going to improve the performance of individuals if they are going to have get up and go somewhere or if they are given the permission to go work outside for a while if it is a nice day, or if they can go work in a cafeteria and just have a change in location to get their brain a little bit more refreshed.

• It is important to have privacy and private spaces for people to go for the same restorative reasons but also because there is a need for quiet times to sit down, think and be left alone.

• I think it is important that you give opportunity for people to use alternatives to elevators and escalators to reach their goals such as giving them stairs. There was an article that said climbing just two flights of stairs a day can lead to six lbs of weight loss each year. Stairs also provide greater connection between people and places on different levels.

• In the cafeteria it is important that you have healthy food options. To me that is obvious, but not every organization looks at it that way.

• Having access to natural light is huge from a health and wellness perspective.

• There are many studies that are out there that identify having access to seeing outside as very important. They have a much happier perspective on their day. A visual connection to nature also helps.

• Having a fitness center is important. We used to have them in a lot of buildings but they were taken away when excess space became a concern. [They lost out in the] “What should we keep; what should we get rid of” debate. But they are now on a comeback, even if it is just space for yoga mats.

• I think that looking at the ways you are including sustainability and how you advertise your sustainability to your employees is definitely another opportunity to highlight your commitment to health and wellness. It shows that you have a stake in the game, that you’re interested in sustainability and interested in preserving the environment and that you have your employee’s health under consideration. It promotes engagement from younger employees who are both concerned with their own health and with the impact on the environment.

• You must make sure that fresh air circulation is enough.

• There must be a “daylight harvesting system” that is maximizing the use of natural daylight versus artificial light.

• You must ensure that the artificial light you are using is appropriate from a visual perspective and is not contributing to such things as migraines.

• You must ensure that the kind of noise in the spaces is not going to contribute to hearing problems,

• You must ask the question “is the furniture you are using ergonomically correct?” Employers are now reporting that there has been a huge decrease in the number of ergonomic issues with furniture from ten years ago.

• The paint and the carpets that you are picking must not cause irritation or off-gassing.

• Materials being used should be recycled materials. There is a lot of evidence-based justification of how these individual things influence the well being of your employees even if not all of it is immediately popular such as forcing employees to get up and go to a central refuge bin. [By the way] this also helps the cleaning staff, it helps with controlling dirt, and it makes you think twice about what you are going to throw out.

Do we need legislation/regulation such as in Europe to ensure architectural design supports the desired outcomes through better office design – distance from light, level interconnectivity, sustainability standards, health standards (i.e. why should a developer ever be allowed to use non low, off-gassing materials?)

I think the market is driving the regulations. If you look at some of the new building code changes, they are incorporating principles of sustainability into them. Designers have a huge impact on what should be acceptable and what is acceptable. Going forward, a lot of that will be intrinsically just the way it is rather than requiring regulation.

As an industrial psychologist, my role involves a lot of up front research-based design. A lot of the information is gathered at the onset of a project [in order to] understand how people will behave in the space and why you need to design the space you need to design. This is the work that I do. Then the designers an
d the architects in the office take it from there and actually create the physical manifestation for an office design that reflects the information my team and I have gathered.

I worked for twenty years in real estate and it helped me to understand the bricks and mortars of the business; and from working with tenants I learned how they feel about their space and what would make it better or worse for them. I have worked also in insurance that has given me an appreciation of the risk for occupying space the way you do. It is a cool perspective to be able to sit in and to understand the holistic view about why space should be the way it should be.

Focusing on the human capital of your workplace and what drives, what motivates, what brings them into the workplace is what every organization should be looking at. And if it is not important to them now, it is going to be because the competitive advantage it will give you in attracting the best minds.

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• Peter Heys, associate

What is the state of the office in Canada today, that is, what is the reality for most workers vs what are desirable working conditions…..when we read about trends are we actually discussing what is emerging or what we would like to see happen?

Every client I have ever had was had the same goal over the 25 years I have done office design. They always talk the same thing. “We want to break down silos; we want to be more collaborative; we want to work smarter; we want to harness technology; we want sustainability.” It was always the same checklist. But they then always turned around and made decisions based on the dollar or on the aesthetics or on some other set of values or attributes. The difference over the last two or three years is that now clients mean it. Now they not only paying lip service to the drivers of what the office can do; they really get it. And that has been the big shift for me.

We are mainly talking about the offices of maybe not the one percent, but we are talking about the offices of the top 10 or 20% of firms that are the ones that fit into anything like what we talk about in the “trends.” We sometimes forget that the offices we talk about in interior design that are actually using our services don’t representing most of the people who work in offices. We all know of people who come into our offices and are totally blown away that anyone could possibly have such an incredible work space while their work places are like something that could have been done in 1965 and may not indeed been changed since 1972.

I would hate for you to use the term “elitist” in your article, but I think you know what I am talking about. We deal with the elite segment of businesses in North America. I bet there are still at least 50% of all design projects that are going on out there don’t have an interior designer or architect attached. Just like most homes that are built don’t have an architect attached to them.

In 1999 the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Institute with the help of Steelcase set out ten trends that seem very close to the “tends” we see outlined today. Has the function of the office changed significantly or simply evolved over the last 10-15 years with the evolution of technology and creative work? Are there new dynamics we are on the cusp of seeing or is it about refining and consolidating what we know. (e.g. return to urbanism, the twilight of the office park (Google), the 24/7 office such as found in global architecture and engineering practices)

I think there is a huge movement to urbanization and work within the context of community and the context of your life experience. So work is not a destination that you go to anymore. I think an office is more of a resource that allows work to happen. Work is something you do, not some place you go to. This is a lot more than about working from home or having a remote office; it is about the designer thinking about the office as not just a physical space but as a working tool that allows you to work at your most effective and allow you to tailor work to your needs and desires but within the corporate structure.

Are there other shifts that have happened over the last 15 years?

The most significant change would be the fact that no matter what the device you use, you are no longer tethered; you don’t need to be at the desk because you don’t need the wire to connect. Wireless networks are the most significant changes to the actual tool you are carrying.

The other big change – a “C-change” – such as in our own office, is the development of real collaborative work tools so that people can actually work together more effectively than in the past. There is no longer a “chain of work anymore”, instead there is a group working together. We talked about teaming fifteen years ago but no one uses that word anymore and it has become a bad word. Now it is true collaboration. Such collaboration is not when there is a series of tasks that get handed off from one person to the next, but a seamless group of work where it is hard to pin down who did what because everyone is doing everything. So these collaborative work tools – at IBI we use something called Workware by Haworth – allow one to plug in and allow two, three or four people to have everyone’s screen available and to toggle back and forth or grab anyone else’s screen in conjunction with the smart board to develop group solutions. In the Interior Design business this allows documentation of projects that has saved time, increased accuracy and been more effective and more creative.

What has been the impact of these changes on the design and function of the office?

I guess it is that age-old thing of carving out individual vs group space. The actual physical manifestation is probably that old thing of individual work stations getting smaller and smaller so you can accommodate more and more true collaborative zones, whether they are closed or open, formal or impromptu, short term or long term. All these sorts of thing come into play. I think you are truly starting to see a lot of imaginative and exploratory methods of collaboration now.

What about Google’s efforts to turn Mountain View into an actual urban community that even incorporates public inclusion?

I think that is a really valid point; but you need to be as big as Google or Apple to do that sort of thing. It is a unique way of solving a problem [the desire for an urban location]. Firms increasingly see the value in an urban community and a lifestyle where your office and your work becomes part of a cohesive community. It is not a separate thing you go home from and then go off to the little league game. It is all part our your life now.

How much are businesses prone to be “penny wise, pound foolish” in terms of the way they downsize their office footprints? Are offices that are well balanced between, focus, collaboration and social interaction/well being really going to save much floor space or is it about refocusing floor space?

With our clients it is not just about saving facility dollars. Having said that, we have a lot of corporate clients whose overall square foot is definitely decreasing. I think that may be the 8 by 8 foot workstation is gone and we are seeing so many clients going into benching and other forms of compact individual space. Certainly in the 1990s you saw companies just shrinking and shrinking by just making everything smaller. Now there has been a rebalance. There was a tipping point that going too far does not actually help one as an organization because you lose effectiveness and productivity and there is no longer a cost benefit.

Successful projects have always result when the drivers and the decision makers for the pro
ject are up in the C-suite and not at the facility management office level. At that latter level everyone’s performance is quite often based on their ability to get everything done on time and on budget. The value of all the other things [collaboration, innovation, etc.] we are talking about are lost and are no longer the motivator. Sub-consciously they know their entire evaluation will be done on what got done and came in on budget.

Is there evidence-based support for the positive return on investment in the open, collaborative office or does it remain intuitive and/or deductive?

As far as I know a lot of the evidence is intuitive and anecdotal. I haven’t seen a lot of hard assessments out there but if it does exist, it is the Genslers or the HOKs of the world that have them. But at this point it is a more intuitive argument.

Who is really leading in this in their own offices is Deloitte. They are transforming themselves as radically as any organization.

What are the key principles for designing innovative, healthy, sustainable but cost efficient office design? Are these evidence-based or intuitive/deductive…or both?

1. We always talk about giving people the ability to manipulate their physical environment as much as possible. This means everything from being able to change your work location during the day and being able to move around the space. Certainly the new buzz phrase is “sitting is the new smoking;” I hear that twice a week from a client. So giving people the opportunity to get up and move as well as to sit or stand at workstations recognizes that people need to be refreshed and a change in location can stimulate.

2. I think that embracing technology to the nth degree as it changes so rapidly in order to ensure working tools are adaptable and flexible is important. We always talk about creating the smart office like we talk about creating the smart city.

3. We talk about breaking down physical barriers to foster congeniality, to foster social connection. We talk about the value of transparency both figuratively and literally. This includes designing to increase knowledge transfer. We have worked with so many clients who tell the same type of stories. Employees in their 50s and 60s as they get near to retirement are from that generation when they were trained to be information hoarders. The biggest challenge is to get them to be information sharers. We try to create through physical space a way to prod people to be information sharers even if it is accidental. That strategy is being used more and more.

Is generational diversity overstated or is there a real divide that influences developing good office design?

I personally think it is vastly overstated because I don’t believe it is any different at any other point in history. There are always different generations working in the same office. I am not sure it is any wider than in the 60s when my grandfather would have been confronted by a pot-smoking hippie who listened to strange music. The divide would have been just as large as the one today and the divide today seems to be more technology focused. I have never believed that there is this sense of entitlement with the emerging generation; I think this is just a myth.

Within our own office we are hiring fantastic grads every year that bring new knowledge and new technology but they integrate into our teams and work well within the work processes we have set up and never felt they have this sense of entitlement

Do we need legislation/regulation such as in Europe to ensure architectural design supports the desired outcomes through better office design – distance from light, level interconnectivity, sustainability standards, health standards (i.e. why should a developer ever be allowed to use non low, off-gassing materials?)

Great Question. Inevitably there will be a role for regulation about these issues, in part because governments up here in Canada are more regulatory. I would not be surprised. But it is hard to dictate good design. By the time the regulations get in place, you are often moving on to other things so you’re regulating yesterday’s news. If we are to be more prescriptive we should be mandating outcomes instead of how to get there.

I could go both ways on regulations. If you required only raised floors with under wiring, I would object because the jury is still out on whether this is the best way of doing it. Most new office towers look at putting in under-floor systems but I m not sure how regulations helps or hinders that.