Fast Company: Designing Workspaces to Empower People

  • January 20, 2017
  • Author: Meg Osman


Project: Zurich

Meg Osman has authored a new piece for Fast Company focused on how data, technology and new markets will inform our efforts in the year ahead: A Futuristic Office Is Less Important Than An Office That’s Good For Workers | Co.Exist | ideas + impact

The article references a new report from Glassdoor about America’s labor market and job trends that suggests “2016 was a landmark year for hiring” and that there are currently “5.85 million unfilled job openings in America” that translate to lost productivity and increased competition for talent. These realities make 2017 an exciting year for workplaces as organizations work to recruit, retain, train and empower their people.

Below are a few quick excerpts from the Fast Company article, which can be read in full online.


On corporate workplaces in new markets

One of the more fascinating shifts we’ve seen in recent years is the focus on corporate workplace strategy in unfamiliar spaces like hospitals and research labs. Organizations are recognizing the same principles that can improve workplaces for insurance companies and tech firms can also enrich these less accustomed buildings.

Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center in the Center for Advanced Cellular Therapies is one example of this trend. After initial plans called for the center’s four principal investigator teams (PI) to be separated across two floors, Penn Medicine engaged workplace design to increase efficiencies in its program. This 25% increase in efficiency enables all four PI teams to occupy a single floor, which will strengthen collaboration and communication in the team’s pursuit to eradicate cancer.

Read the full story online >

Incubator Spaces, Innovation Hubs – How to Design Workplaces for Big Ideas

  • February 26, 2016
  • Author: Meg Osman

Innovation isn’t just a buzzword.

It’s a requirement for survival in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace. Not surprisingly, businesses of all scales – from start-ups to corporations – spend great capital and focus on increasing innovation in their organizations. Whether it’s disruptive innovation that changes the marketplace entirely, or incremental innovation that improves one product from another competitors’ offerings – innovation is fuel in the business world.

In order to best instill an innovative culture, companies should consider the design of their office spaces and how they’re engineered to naturally spur the type of creative thinking that can turn an idea into a scalable innovation. It’s not enough to simply find an empty room and re-name it a think tank, incubator or hackerspace. Energizing the innovative spirit in an organization via design requires concrete strategies and intentional efforts – and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Here’s a look at three industries that can teach any organization a thing or two about catalyzing innovation.


Education: Innovation is not a 9-5 Job

Every successful entrepreneur knows the best ideas are rarely found while staring at a computer, checking e-mails or in between meetings with Finance and HR. Creative energy often finds us while out for a run, over a drink with friends or even late at night when we can’t sleep. Organizations need to find a way to ensure their people can channel their creative energy anytime, anywhere.

Lassonde Studios at the University of Utah, a first-of-its-kind education facility that merges a residence hall with an entrepreneurial garage, fully embraces this idea. Students living in Lassonde Studios have 24/7 access to 3Dprinters, prototype labs, co-working space and a slew of technology. If students wake up at 3 a.m. with a new concept, they can walk downstairs and begin ideating. They live, create and launch all in one space.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting emerging companies should ask their employees to live at the office. But companies do need to ensure they offer a continuum of workplace and IT infrastructure that empowers their people to connect anytime. The last thing organizations want to have happen is to lose new ideas simply because an employee can’t log in and access company tools from home. Moreover, organizations need to recognize that flexible schedules and cultures of wellness are good things for creative energy. A mid-day run does more than just help the employee get away from the workplace. It may set off a creative spark.

Medical Science: Bring People Together to Collaborate, Collaborate and Collaborate some more

The best way to find breakthrough ideas is not to lock oneself in a room and stay there until you’ve covered a wall in sticky notes. Game-changing ideas are often the result of ongoing brainstorming and collaboration driven by multiple teams and individuals. New science facilities like the Gates Vascular Institute and Clinical Translational Research Center (GVI/CTRC) in Buffalo, NY are designed to empower this radical caliber of idea-sharing. The academic medical center stacks a research building on top of a vascular institute and connects them with a collaborative core to enhance partnerships and innovation.

The collaborative core contains education and conference spaces, along with a 4,000 sf business incubator that allows doctors, researchers and entrepreneurs to meet in a variety of dynamic situations to accelerate and commercialize medical discoveries. This culture of collaboration is enhanced further by open-plan laboratories that allow for increased flexibility, adaptability and innovation.

While not every company is looking to build a massive hospital-like facility, the same principles can apply to smaller workplaces. It’s key that start-up spaces are designed to briCAN1494_N10_mediumng people together, not separate them. Creative ideas from one department can inform efforts in another and someone’s crazy idea might be the solution a different team needs. This doesn’t mean eliminating every wall in the workplace, but it does suggest organizations need to seek out workplace solutions that purposely bring people together, knock down traditional silos and encourage collaboration to achieve new ideas for business success.

Art: Give People Tools, Get Out of the Way

People often find their best ideas when they’re allowed to put different pieces together, try, modify, tweak and try again. The new Theater School at DePaul University welcomes this notion by providing expansive shop spaces for costume, makeup, prop and scene shops, rehearsal studios, lighting laboratories, movement studios, etc. where students and actors are encouraged to let their imaginations run wild.  All the tools and props they might require are placed along the walls of the shops and there are no set rules for how they need to be used or arranged. Instead, the entire space is an open canvas where these artists can work together to find creative solutions.

This is another ideal organizations can infuse into their workplaces. Rather than view the workplace as a place where prescriptive actions happen in set areas and specific people sit in the same place every day, it is okay to dedicate spaces where employees can arrange technology, furniture and lighting as they see fit for different activities. It’s okay to let employees sit and work amidst different people or departments for different efforts. This workplace freedom increases employee satisfaction and allows them to be more comfortable and creative each day.

Ultimately, start-ups and emerging companies rely on creativity and innovation to push forward. Organizations seeking to thrive in today’s knowledge economy need to ensure their workplaces are set up to help their employees innovate the key ideas that lead to differentiation and growth.

Learn more about our Workplace Expertise >

Healthy, Effective Office Design Make CEOs Lives Better Too

  • October 26, 2015
  • Author: Meg Osman

Companies investing in the strategic evolution of their workplaces are often focused on how it can make life better for their people. They recognize that providing a healthy, efficient and fun workplace will help their employees be productive and also help them recruit and retain talent over time. However, workplaces aren’t just spaces senior leadership help create and then walk away from – strategic, smart workplace design can also enrich the work experience for the CEOs and the C-Suite.

Office design discussion

A recent report from and Domo, How CEOs Spend Their Time, highlights some interesting information about how much CEOs work (a lot), how much they travel (most travel a lot) and how they spend their time. What’s important for organizations and designers is to take this data and then apply it to the workplace.

Below are a few trends revealed in the report and ideas for how the workplace should respond to them:

Workplaces Should Help CEOs Be Healthy
Long hours, long flights and little sleep is not the recipe for health, but that is often the reality for CEOS. The report states CEOs work 57.8 hours a week on average and 10-11 hours per day during the week. Additionally, CEOs sleep 6.7 hours a night, which is almost 20% less than the American average of 8.75 hours.

These trends aren’t likely to change in the future so CEOs need to try to reap as many health benefits as possible from their time in the office. One way to do that is to design an office with multiple types of work environments that allow for movement – private areas for quiet work, communal areas with standing-height tables for quick meetings and technology-rich meeting rooms that offer CEOs the opportunity so stand, sit or move around. One of the best ways to minimize negative health impacts caused by long hours is to stay moving. Plus, moving throughout the office allows for interaction and socialization with employees that can boost mental and emotional health.


CEOs should also think about how their workplace embraces nature. Ideally, work environments should be designed to allow as much daylight as possible. Multiple studies have proven that access to natural light helps employees be more efficient, motivated and happier. Other studies suggest that access to daylight can help minimize risks related to cardiovascular health and immune dysfunction. When possible, leaders should also look for ways their office can allow for people to access the outdoors. Not only does being outside increase access to daylight and fresh air, new research suggests spending time around trees may inherently lower your risk of strokes and heart attacks. CEOs are as much at risk of these health issues as those they work with, and a strategically design work environment can improve health for everyone.

Workplaces Should Help CEOs Maximize Their Time
CEOs that work all the time have no time to waste. During their long work days, CEOs spend an average of 2.5 hours every day in meetings. The majority of these meetings take place with other company executives and finance and operations are the two departments they meet with the most.

A well-designed workplace is geared to bring the people and departments that collaborate the most together. This kind of synergy isn’t just valuable for marketing and HR, it’s also critical for the C-Suite. Keeping key contacts, departments and appropriate meeting spaces nearby can limit delays and maximize productivity for leadership.

Additionally, CEOs looking to be more efficient for their company should take a hard look at their allocation of real estate. Often, the largest offices are reserved for executives that are constantly on the road. The new report suggests 86% of CEOs travel between 1-10 days a month and some travel more than half the month. When CannonDesign’s Chicago office relocated in 2012, our team devised a new workplace solution that moves 99% of our staff, regardless of rank or title, to open offices and provides necessary teaming and collaboration spaces throughout. The new strategy has driven measurable improvements in employee satisfaction, employee concentration, ability to meet face-to-face, ability to hold phone conversations and individual work in private areas for all levels in the organization.

Workplaces Should Help CEOs Connect
When time is limited, being able to connect is critical. Organizations often think of technology as solely and IT challenge but it’s not – it’s also about design. Ensuring the right technology is infused in the appropriate spaces can maximize productivity and efficiency which means better meetings, less lost time waiting for systems to connect and hopefully better results. It’s not just about work either, the report states that more than 25% of CEOs wish they could spend more time with their family. Having the appropriate mix of technology can make uploading and reviewing documents faster, sending e-mails from outside the office on the weekends easier and hopefully allow for better work-life balance.

In the end, the best workplaces find ways to bring health and efficiency to everyone in an organization – the CEO, management and staff. Based on this recent report, business leaders’ busy schedules and concerns are making having such a workplace even more critical than ever.

Learn more about our Corporate Commercial Expertise >

Workplace Metrics & Data: The Next Frontier of Employee Recruitment

  • October 14, 2015
  • Author: Meg Osman

New ways of measuring workplaces and the ways they help employees do their best work are informing organizations and designers around the world. It won’t be long before top talent uses such data to help in their career decisions.

DCI Artform

Project: DCI Artform

Every day the guesswork associated with changing employers grows smaller.

With websites like Glassdoor and The Vault offering people intelligent insight into how companies pay, manage and advance their people, top talent is more informed than ever before. They aren’t coming to interviews unprepared. Instead, they’re coming with perceptions they’ve developed through extensive online research confirmed or refuted. Or, if they don’t like what they read online in the first place, they’re not coming to interviews at all.

As transparency in recruitment and retention accelerates in the years ahead, it may not be long before top talent is also focused on workplace metrics and data. Leading companies and design organizations are finding successful tools and methods to help them verify if their workplaces are helping employees be productive, live healthy, communicate efficiently, enjoy privacy and use flexible workplace environments. This data is helping organizations design and create better workplaces and it soon may be data employees seek, debate and post online as they make career choices.

Consider Zurich North America and their workplace pilot efforts in advance of their new headquarters set to open outside Chicago in 2016. The company built a workplace testing environment where 150 employees spent three weeks in each of four uniquely configured office neighborhoods. The employees split time between individual workstations and shared spaces to experience different furniture, rooms and meeting spaces that could potentially be incorporated into the future headquarters. Before, during and after the pilot program, Zurich collected data from strategically designed surveys, town hall meetings and one-on-one discussions.

Here’s just a quick snapshot of their finding:

  • Employees were 64% more satisfied with flexibility to use different spaces over the course of a work day in the workplace test environment.
  • Employees spent 62% less time waiting for responses and saw team interaction increase by 19%
  • Enclaves (shared small private rooms) were people’s favorite aspect of the pilot, chosen by 65% of participants, while the social hub and access to natural light were the second and third favorite aspects.
  • More than 60% of employees involved in the pilot effort felt communication with their group improved in the test work environment.

This data will help Zurich create a new headquarters that works for their employees and business, but it’s also remarkably powerful for recruitment and retention. Few organizations have invested extensively in understanding their workplaces on this level. Fewer still have then leveraged such data to make design changes to improve the work experience. By holding up their pilot efforts and resulting data, Zurich can stand out as a potential employer that provides a positive work environment.


Project: Flexera

As more and more leading organizations begin to evolve their workplace environments with data-based design and promote the results, employees will continue to take notice. In the years ahead, top talent will expect employers to have such data on hand. They’ll want to know how the company has improved communications in the office in the past five years. They’ll ask about what percentage of employees have access to natural light from their desks. They’ll want to know about how privacy, collaboration and choice is accommodated for them to be able to successfully to function in their roles. They’ll seek it out, share it online, debate it and send LinkedIn messages to former employees to see if it’s true. Organizations that can provide such data and talk about how they’ve used it to improve the work environment will stand out in the war for talent.

Organizations should see data-based design as an opportunity.

There’s no going back to a world where employees can’t learn a great deal about salaries, culture and management practices online. However, companies that invest in data-based design can soon start evolving the conversation to talk about how their workplaces make them different, and they have the numbers to prove it.

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Stop the Endless Debate to Nowhere – It’s Time to Measure Workplace Performance.

  • April 7, 2015
  • Author: Meg Osman

Organizations seeking to empower their people and advance business goals need to stop listening to the never-ending debate about open vs. closed work environments and start engaging their people to achieve successful workplace strategies.

Rather than be confused by the constant stream of opinions, leadership teams contemplating workplace investments should start with powerful employee engagement strategies that drive results. Our team at CannonDesign has developed proven processes and metrics that allow organizations to best understand employees’ needs and ultimately create environments that drive culture, innovation and performance.

Zurich learned 57% of employees involved weren’t just happier with the prototype workplace but also enjoyed their work more.

Zurich North America is leading the way in this arena with its recent workplace pilot efforts. In advance of their new 750,000 sf North American headquarters set to open in Fall 2016, CannonDesign collaborated with Zurich to design and implement an extensive workplace pilot program with multiple prototypes that more than 150 employees were able to work in and test. These employees spent three weeks working in each of four neighborhoods and sharing time between individual workstations and shared spaces throughout the floor. Each neighborhood featured different styles of desks, chairs, enclaves, conference room and informal meeting spaces that could be potentially integrated into the future headquarters.


Zurich Feedback

Feedback was gathered from employees involved in the pilot program via pulse surveys, town hall meetings and focus group discussions. The initial data indicates improved satisfaction and performance:

  • Employees involved in the pilot program interacted within teams 19% more often while the average time people spent waiting for responses decreased 62%
  • Satisfaction with the workplace pilot environment increased by 21% for all generations
  • Employees were 64% more satisfied with the flexibility offered to use different spaces over the course of a day
  • Zurich learned 57% of employees involved weren’t just happier with the prototype workplace but also enjoyed their work more

“We want to ensure we are creating the right design to meet employee needs, enabling them to be effective and productive,” said Jennifer Kyung, headquarters business lead at Zurich North America. “We committed to engaging with our employees on the design from the beginning knowing that highly engaged employees lead to better results.”


Our collaboration with Follett, Inc. also drove measurable performance increases with its new headquarters thanks to extensive employee engagement. From the outset of its office relocation effort, Follett leadership met with employees through company-wide engagement efforts, group meetings and brainstorm sessions to gather ideas for the headquarters and also establish baseline metrics. Key findings realized only 45% of Follett’s employees were happy with the previous offices (the national average is 60%) and 65% of employees desired alternate places to work away from their desks. Follett also kept employees engaged with focus groups, town halls and powerful change management programming to ease the transition to the new space.

As a result of Follett’s strategic efforts, the new headquarters – which offers different flexible workplace settings integrated into neighborhoods – is driving improved performance. Initial data collected shows overall satisfaction with the workplace has grown by 38% for all generations and functions in the organizations. Other key areas seeing improvement are frequency of interaction with teammates (39% improved); communications amongst different groups (50% improved); and satisfaction with access to natural light (85% improved).

Strategic Solutions

The same performance metrics and methods implemented by Zurich and Follett can be applied by other organizations in pursuit of strategic workplace solutions that drive results. These best practices help company leadership step beyond the confusing debates about work environment and refocus on the people who will work in these spaces.

Moreover, focusing on employee engagement will empower us to collectively emerge from the historical approach of creating workspaces and hoping they perform. Now, we can strategically identify goals, understand business objectives and measure workplace success.

Want to improve Recruitment and Retention of Millennials? Focus on Workplace Design.

  • April 7, 2015
  • Author: Meg Osman

Workplace design is important to millennials

It’s an undeniable fact, companies need to successfully recruit and retain millennials to drive desired business results.

As of 2015, millennials make up the largest generation in the workforce and that number will continue to rise in the immediate years ahead. Millennials are no longer a sub-group of employees on the horizon, they are the people leading teams, redefining corporate goals and contributing business ideas for the future.

One constant amidst this shift in our workforce is that employee recruitment, compensation and training remains organizations’ largest expense. Successfully hiring and keeping strong employees is directly correlated to profit. It is estimated the cost of replacing a millennial employee ranges from $15-20K on average.

Attracting and keeping employees comes down to many factors, but leadership must not overlook the workplace as a tool. According to a 2015 report from The Millennial Impact, office environment is the fourth most important factor for millennials when they’re choosing an employer. Moreover, other top five factors like work culture and having a mission can be directly impacted by the workplace.

Our Corporate/Commercial team has identified four key ways the workplace influences millennial recruitment and ideas for strengthening your office environment.

1. Workplaces Must Empower Collaboration and Innovation

The millennial generation essentially demands a corporate culture anchored in collaboration. Recent studies show 82 percent of millennials believe collaboration is the key to innovation and aspire to work in companies that agree. This means organizations should invest in technology and spaces that encourage and drive collaboration while also enabling the type of work their people need to get done.

Ultimately, collaborative cultures can be strengthened through the strategic introduction of a variety of spaces from team zones, enclaves, relaxed social settings and even outdoor spaces. These spaces create workplace well-being essential to a happy and productive workforce. Creating these spaces and then infusing them with the necessary digital and mobile technology that allow employees to be productive and connected with the world is critical to shaping a collaborative culture.

Employees at Zurich test workplace environments as part of the company's workplace pilot efforts.

Employees at Zurich test workplace environments as part of the company’s workplace pilot efforts.

2. Workplaces Must Be Flexible

When it comes to where and how work gets done, the millennial generation loves freedom of choice. Able to get work done on laptops, smartphones and tablets, employees are no longer tethered to their desks as they were a decade ago. This means employers need to offer flexible workspaces that allow people to move, change positions and work in different areas throughout the day. Organizations at the forefront of responding to this demand are introducing “hubs” of flexible space that can offer up to 10 different types of work settings. These hubs then allow employees to sit, stand, lean, gain privacy and move around throughout the day as they feel necessary.

Zurich North America recently executed a workplace pilot that allowed employees to test out a variety of flexible workspaces to help inform the company’s new headquarters in 2016. While there were mild differences in the preferred flexible areas, overall satisfaction with the ability to use different spaces over the course of a work day increased by 64 percent.

graphicWorkplace flexibility is a key way to gain and retain generation X and Y talent. Studies have found that flexibility in the workplace or lack of it can sway the decision to stay or leave a company. As the baby boomer generation continues to leave the workforce this is going to be an even more important trend. Millennials consistently want to have freedom to make decisions about when and where they work to be most productive.

3. Workplaces Should Support Your Mission

The millennial generation believes business should do more than generate profit, it should also change the world. The 2014 Millennial Impact survey indicates that 97% of millennials want to use their skills to help a cause. This means organizations must do more than simply draft new values and mission statements, they should also consider aligning their workspace around their mission.

If a company says it is committed to being a steward for the environment, then millennials will expect its workspaces to reflect that with numerous sustainability features and a focus on energy conservation. If improving health around the world is a company’s focus, then its workspace better welcome natural light, encourage movement, offer healthy food and help its employees live healthier lives. Other ideas include investing in powerful interior graphics that keep employees immersed in the company’s mission and goals and/or creating spaces that allow community nonprofits to visit. Failing to align workspaces with organizational missions will be recognized by millennials and weaken recruitment and retention over time. The sooner organizations can take steps to strengthen the connection, the better.

4. Not sure where to start? Listen to Millennials.

The millennial generation believes it can and will drive change, and its members are very willing to step up, share ideas and help companies evolve their culture. Organizations not sure exactly how to reshape their work environment can consider strategic workplace pilots (testing environments that serve as key research tools in the creation of new work areas), internal focus groups and brainstorm sessions. Leadership teams may be surprised by the vision millennials can bring to workspaces. What one person sees as a tired conference room, another might see as a place for stand-up meetings. The small green space out back that nobody ever uses…maybe it can become a company garden. These are just some of the possibilities organizations might discover when they engage their millennials in the creation of better work environments.

Moving forward, workspaces must meet the needs of the millennial generation as they will continue to be the largest population in the workforce for the next decade. Failing to align corporate offices with the needs of employees could potentially have significant negative effects on company revenue and profit over time. There are numerous steps organizations can take to make their workplace an asset in recruitment and retention and the time to start is now.

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