Future Work

Reimagining the Office: Gensler’s Janet Pogue on Space Design for a New Era

Learn how to create high-performance workspaces that inspire and engage employees with insights from Gensler Global Head of Workplace Research, Janet Pogue.
Last updated on
June 26, 2024 5:00 PM
15
min read
reimagining-office-gensler-janet-pogue-space-design-new-era
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.

🎧 Listen Now:

In today’s episode, we talk with Janet Pogue, the Global Director of Workplace Research at Gensler, about office design in 2024. 

Janet shares her insights from over twenty years of research, including their latest study, which covered 15 countries and 16,000 office workers. 

We’ll discuss how the pandemic has accelerated changes in workplace expectations, the essential elements of high-performing workspaces, and practical tips for making your office a place where people truly want to be. 

Key Insights from Janet Pogue

Here are the actionable key takeaways from the conversation:

1. High-Performing Workspaces

Many offices remain unchanged post-pandemic, despite significant shifts in how we work.
As Janet says, people now spend about half of their workweek in the office, and more than ever, they come into the office to focus and get their work done.
Evaluate and update your office to align with new work habits and expectations. With more spaces for focused work, cocreation, informal and confidential conversations, hybrid meetings, and wellbeing.
And, make sure you involve employees in the design process to increase their engagement and satisfaction with the workspace. As Janet said: "When people feel like they had a say, they now have ownership."

2. Balancing Function and Experience

Successful workspaces balance functional efficiency with creating an engaging, welcoming environment.
But it’s not space alone. We need to be intentional about the experience by hosting events, and having team and core days, all to create a sense of vibrancy so that offices are a carrot, not a stick.
For innovation, the lifeblood of companies, to flourish, you need to have more people across teams, not just within a team.
So, beyond the office design, think about why people want to be there and how you facilitate this.

3. Leveraging Third Spaces

I loved Gensler's finding that you can extend the functionality and appeal of your office by using third spaces like coffee shops.
With employees already spending a third of their week outside of the office and home, help them find more opportunities to tap into coworking spaces, libraries, coffee shops, and outdoor spaces to complement the office setting.

4. Improving Technology

Effective technology integration is essential for successful hybrid work environments.
As Janet said, almost every meeting will have someone joining remotely.
Invest in technology that enhances communication and collaboration, ensuring remote and in-office workers are equally engaged. This includes not just better microphones and cameras but also optimizing the room's acoustics.

🔔 Available on:

Transcript:

Daan van Rossum: Can you explain to the audience a little bit about your role at Gensler? What do you focus on?

Janet Pogue: Sure. I'm the Global Director of Workplace Research. We've been doing this research for 20 years. We just completed our latest research, which involved 15 countries and 16,000 office workers across 10 different industries. I should back up the claim that Gensler is a global design firm. Our mission is really to make a positive impact on people who use the spaces we design, whether it's at the workplace or at the city level.

Daan van Rossum: Amazing. You are definitely the person to talk to when it comes to the office. Obviously, my experience doesn't go back that far, but could we say that the last couple of years have been some of the most transformational ones in the way that we use offices? 

Janet Pogue: You can clearly say that. We're going through a major transformation in not only how we work but also our expectations for where we work.

Daan van Rossum: But at the same time, I saw in that latest report that you mentioned that most offices actually haven't been changed, haven't been adapted after the pandemic, and that people started working from home more.

Janet Pogue: Yeah, isn't it crazy? The workplace has not kept pace with all the other changes in work life.

Daan van Rossum: What are some things that you found in terms of where offices should be versus where they truly are? 

Janet Pogue: At first, people were coming back to the office because it was a social place and they wanted to reconnect. And it was all that pent-up kind of demand for what we were missing during the pandemic.

But now we see that the key reason people want to come into the office is really to focus on their work and get it done. And that entails working with others but also working alone. And so, how do we think about creating a high-performing workplace where people can actually get their work done?

Daan van Rossum: This is obviously a big point of contention because somehow, even after a couple of years now, we are still in the raging debate about working from home versus working in the office. 

Do people come to the office to work, as you said, and they want to focus, and I understand that because I also don't really have the space at home to do all my work and to do that with the best facilities?

But then there's also the issue of the commute. So I have to somehow get to that office, and somehow, for a lot of people, it doesn't really feel like there's a good balance between the investment of commuting to an office. Then, arriving at that office and not getting the facilities that you need. So is that indeed something that the office needs to resolve?

Does the physical office need to change for that value equation to be better? 

Janet Pogue: We've been looking at this for a long time, and we did a deep dive in six US cities right before the holidays, right at the end of 2023. And we found that there's life issues. Like being the parents of young children, it is a commute. There's also work issues like distributed work. For example, you and I both work in different time zones than where we currently reside. So there are calls that happen early in the morning. There are calls that happen late at night. Oftentimes, that is at home, and there's work-place issues too.

But overall, we're seeing that people are spending about half of their typical work week at the office, and they're spending about 20% at home. And the surprise is that, for about a third of that week, all that balance is in an array of other places. Business travel is not being at your client's office; it's traveling to other offices within your company. It's co-working and it's third places—the coffee shops, other spaces that might be in your neighborhood near your office, or it could be your neighborhood near your home.

Daan van Rossum: That means that with that small fraction of time that people are actually spending in offices, the occupancy is lower than maybe what it was before the pandemic. And is that part of why now companies are looking into redesigning their offices, but at the same time, you said most companies are not?

Janet Pogue: I don't think it's an occupancy issue for many companies. It's like, How do we get our people back together? It's all about how we create high-performing workplaces for the people that are there. Because it's not that we're coming in certain days and staying home other days, which does occur in some hybrid work, but that we're in and out of the office all day long and all week long.

And so the best companies are no longer talking about days of the week. They're talking about a percentage of a typical work week, knowing that there's going to be times when you're in the office for days on end during a certain project, and then you may be working in other locations during other phases of that project.

All of those kinds of dynamics are still occurring. It's really about how we create better spaces when people are at the office, which in turn may bring more people back. And how do we create spaces—not for the few that are there—but how do we create events and vibrancy in the office so that more people are there at any one time?

It's not about leveling out and having different teams come together on different days, because for innovation to really flourish and for trust and those relationships to strengthen, you need to have more people across teams, not just within a team.

Daan van Rossum: That's a big conundrum, though, for most companies to get everyone together. It sounds nice. It's pretty hard to do. Again, there are many people who would say that there are great examples now of companies that are fully remote or mostly distributed, like Atlassian, Dropbox, or even NVIDIA, which is now the most valuable company in the world.

For those offices to adapt and for them to become more attractive, to make them great places for people to be, and to your point, and I think the report talks a lot about productivity hubs, make them places where people can actually do work. What are some of the changes that you would recommend based on the research you've done to adapt offices to become more like those productivity hubs? 

Janet Pogue: There are two things you really need to think about. One is: how can you make the workplace effective to get work done? And then the other is, how do you make a great experience where people really want to be? So think of these factors as two halves of a circle. One is about function and purpose. The other is about evoking an emotional connection, and think about it as if one is the heart. The other is the head. That's why you need both of those in order to create a high-performing workspace.

So we feel that those who are working in high-performing workspaces actually have stronger. They're more engaged employees. They have stronger team relationships, and they have a stronger culture of innovation. And so, as we're thinking about it, how do you create those spaces? What are those elements that are really important? I think it's really around how you design for some critical work activities. It's about focus and concentration, which need private spaces.

When you come into the office to work with others, there are co-creation spaces—those innovation hubs. But there's also space for informal conversations, so you're more impromptu. There's space for confidential conversations around coaching, mentoring, and growing the next generation of leaders.

But then there's also spaces that you need to have that are more for hybrid meetings, have video conferencing capability, and have the right technology in order to co-create when not everybody's in the room. And then finally, there's these spaces that are really around well-being: relaxing, recharging, and taking a break.

Those spaces are not amenities that are optional. They're really an important part of how we perform at our best.

Daan van Rossum: It sounds like you have a couple of categories of spaces that every office now should have. So it's focus and well-being. 

Janet Pogue: It's working with others in person, and it's working with others virtually.

Daan van Rossum: That's where you have that technology piece; it cannot just be a great room to meet in person with someone who is joining remotely, which again happened a lot before the pandemic, but obviously now that we're more accustomed to it, they need to be an equal participant in that conversation. So the technology part is also very important.

Janet Pogue: It's absolutely crucial. It's not only the space of how it's designed, but it's that technology piece of it so that it's seamless.

Daan van Rossum: It is very difficult to feel part of a meeting when everyone is like 10 people in one box and then you in one box, and that doesn't really feel quite as equal. 

Janet Pogue: Or worse, you've got one box that has 15 people sitting in a room, and you feel like you're an observer and not a participant and an equal participant.

Daan van Rossum: That really takes away from your ability to connect with people and to feel that you're all part of it. So one of the very small tweaks that we've done is that we're a very small team, but at every team meeting that we have, everyone has to open it on their own computer. We don't have money for big technology, but we do small things like that to make sure that the people who join remotely do get to see everyone face-to-face in an equal fashion, which I think is very small, but it works really well.

I'm very curious, like, what other elements of the technology should people now think of implementing? Because video is one, audio is probably another one. If you cannot hear people properly or you only hear the person sitting closest to the microphone, it is a very different experience and very difficult to work together.

Janet Pogue: That's right. And the acoustics in the room have a lot of bearing on it as well. How do you think about it? We've been doing a lot of labs and experimentation in our own offices in our San Francisco office. We have actually mocked up a number of hybrid meeting spaces that are out in the open.

They're not even enclosed rooms. So there are ways that you can use directional speakers and cameras that follow and zoom in. And you can actually have hybrid meetings. Beside each other, there's no conflict of noise, where the camera is following, and the like. I think the technology is only going to get better.

So it's up to us to think about all these various ways that we work together, co-create together, or have status meetings or one-on-ones. They all take up different types of spaces. In the past, we thought about it, as you need a conference room of these different sizes. Now we're thinking about it very differently.

I happen to be sitting in a room right now in our office that has a little sofa, and it has a little chair sitting to the side that's more soft seating. It does have a table in here; we have different ways of outfitting rooms and different types of furniture. And some are more with your standard whiteboards or flip charts, while others are very digital, and you need different types of rooms for different types of meetings.

Daan van Rossum: A lot of diversity is needed in the types of spaces. Obviously, you guys are designing and building for other people. So you have to have your office be a little bit of a showcase of what it should be. But then we do get to the question: Is this achievable for most companies? Because obviously, when you work with really big clients like you guys do, there's going to be a big budget.

I'm sure they will still feel like they don't have enough, but there's going to be a budget to do these really big office renovations and to build a really beautiful big office. Can you apply some of these principles without having that kind of budget? 

Janet Pogue: You absolutely can. So think about how you create zones even within your existing space. If people need privacy and they need a quiet zone or quiet spaces in order to do deep concentration, then take part in the office and say, This is a quiet car. I live on the East Coast, and there's Amtrak, and there's one car on the Amtrak train. That's a quiet car. Nobody can talk.

And so libraries are doing this resurgence in workplaces, which is putting out some books because everybody knows the rules of a library. Okay, in this zone, no talking. If you're working here, it's heads down; don't interrupt. And so we have that in our own office. But we created it; think about how you can extend the office beyond the boundaries of your lease space.

So think about what's in the building and what's outside, and go for walking meetings. How do you take advantage of the coffee shop down the street or even civic spaces like our actual library that may be down the block? And so we're seeing that workplaces are now an ecosystem of spaces both in and out of the office.

And that's one of the reasons why we see these third places really surging, and think about that as an extension of your workspace and office.

Daan van Rossum: I love this. This is so practical. First of all, I love the idea of just the contextual clue of seeing library-style books around you. And immediately you quiet down because we all know how hard it is to manage workplaces, even if you design them very well.

Then comes the other part of thinking about the extension beyond just the office—where can you encourage people? I'm just thinking about it. Like a new employee, you're going into a company. You walk into that office for the first time, and someone could introduce you to it. Oh, and there's a library around the corner where you can work too.

We all really like this coffee shop, and we also make use of that space. You have more practical tips like that. I love this. 

Janet Pogue: That's right. Be very selective with your interventions. Be an anthropologist and step back and observe where people are working well. What are they working around? Are there architectural barriers to fostering certain behaviors?

And then, what could we do with the clues? Sometimes, just lowering the lighting level will also bring the acoustic level down. Putting it differently, if well-being is an important part of what you're trying to signal to your employees, then put out hydration stations, water, and fresh fruit. Things like that do signal different behaviors and different attitudes.

I think that's particularly important for the younger generation. They're craving not only this variety of spaces but a variety of experiences; it includes work cafes and outdoor spaces, and a balance with those libraries for deep focus. Just having these different experiences as you move around the office will actually encourage people to get up and move and start to match what they're doing in terms of a work activity with the spaces.

Daan van Rossum: Are there a lot of differences between generations? Are there a lot of differences between what someone at a certain age would look for in an office and what someone, let's say, younger would look for? 

Janet Pogue: We did not see a huge difference in generations until after the pandemic. And then suddenly, we did see some big differences. So, generation Z, think about different stages of life and different stages of your career as well. Gen Z actually spends a little bit more time at the office than say boomers do.

But what's really fascinating is that they're spending about 56% of a typical work week. They say they ideally need the office 62% of the time, or two-thirds of the week. And in order to maximize their individual and team productivity, there is this drawback to the office.

And think about it: if you're a young generation, it was a long time ago that I was at an early stage of my own career, but that's where you're a sponge and you're absorbing it all.

You benefit from overhearing conversations and from observing how senior leaders are handling certain situations or making certain decisions. You're actually learning a lot from your peers. And so workplace design really needs to have this variety of spaces that are private, but they're visible, where you can start to see people, ask questions, start to observe, and then that senior leaders can also be accessible for those questions.

And so we are trying to create these places that people can move around. Fill a part of the community, but also learn and have spaces where you can just pull off and have a discussion like before and after a meeting as you're ramping up. Oh, be sure and do this. Give that debrief after the meeting. Oh, you did a great job with that.

Next time I do this and that kind of tweak. It's very hard to do when it's all virtual. That's one of the key reasons why we see the younger generations really craving coming back to the office so that they're a part of something and they're learning. And that is exactly how our corporate norms—the culture of an organization—are passed on. It's really observing and walking the talk.

Daan van Rossum: It sounds a lot more like a carrot than a stick, because I think in a lot of the debate about returning to office, it was a lot about the policy and the mandates. And you're talking much more about, like, how do you create attractive workplaces for people to come because they serve the function that they need? But also, it sounds like it's half the physical environment, which obviously you have to focus on, but it also sounds a bit about the company culture, the norms, and how people work.

Because again, if those senior leaders don't show up in the office, then there's still nothing for those youngsters to soak up. 

Janet Pogue: That's right.

Daan van Rossum: What's that component? When you're advising on office design, do you sometimes also have to sit down and say, Yeah, but you've got to act a bit differently too, and you cannot just let; it's not cosmetic. 

Janet Pogue: You do. Like you can lead a horse to water. We could build the space, but you have to activate it and put it into practice, kind of like the behaviors that you're trying to elicit. And we see some new best practices emerging. I think it's less about policy because no one wants to be told what to do. It's more about how you can activate the space differently. We're seeing core days start to reappear. That's when everybody tries to be in the office. It's about connecting different teams and ideas. We see scheduled learning events or social events where there's an additional incentive or purpose to come into the office.

We see teams reserving face-to-face time. I know our own team does this because there's nothing worse than coming into the office and realizing that there's no time available because everybody's on scheduled meetings. So we said, Look, let's table some of these standing meetings on the day that we're all together and just schedule time with each other.

If that standing meeting has to occur, make sure it's within our team, and let's just do this face-to-face. There's another one that's surfacing. I'm hearing more about, and that's no Zoom Fridays or having days that are really set aside for individual focus time so that we're not feeling like we're always on or always meeting.

Meetings can be very taxing. And I think it just came out in the news. So I think it was a Wall Street Journal article talking about loneliness, which has never been higher. And a lot of it is due to these kinds of meetings that just occur right after each other and take time to really be with one another.

We're social individuals, and that goes a long way toward feeding our souls, building a community, and building trust with one another. In these social relationships, trust and innovation are the outcomes of the currency of trust that we're building. I think it's really important to take time and just be together.

And so, be very intentional about it. And then we're seeing that we're designing the space to really underscore and reinforce that intention, even though that intention and purpose may be different from company to company. That's where the uniqueness of the design can also play a role, because the space is really the nudge to those behaviors.

Daan van Rossum: That's the nudge to the behavior that you're trying to evoke, but it sounds like people have to be a lot more thoughtful and a lot more intentional about when and where to get together. And it also means that this is not just something that you can just do at the top of the company and again push it down as a mandate or, like you said, the core day; there has to be a lot also from the middle manager and individual team leaders to now take on that role of becoming a community leader and making it exciting for people to come together and organizing things around. Maybe there's a serious meeting, but then we also go out for lunch.

Do companies now actually do this, or is this still something that's a bit hypothetical, and we have a couple of case studies, like, How practiced is this now? 

Janet Pogue: We're working with a number of leaders at the top of their various industries to do just that.

In some cases, we're working with companies to help design programs that aren't space-oriented but just about connecting people. There's one thing about creating this physical work environment: The other part is: how do you prepare people for the new space and new ways of working? And you need both, and you need the technology and the policy to come back and reinforce that.

But when you think about it as a system, it's all aligned. That's when the magic can really start to happen. And if you include the voice of everyone in the organization, at least they feel like they had a say in what it is: the design of the space. We have found that those are just wildly successful.

We've had a number of projects where it was 20% occupancy before we started designing, and after we moved in, it was 80% occupancy just because the space started to spur the behaviors and relationships that they were trying to get.

Daan van Rossum: You said that in that process, it's very important to get the input of the people working in that office. That sounds like a great best practice, which probably companies overstep quite a few times, maybe not with an engagement with a firm like yours where there's so much on the line and there's such a big investment that, of course, you want to get it right. 

How do you effectively get the voice of the employee into that design process?

Janet Pogue: You can do it in a number of ways. We've done that with interactive surveys. For example, tell us how you work, what's important, and what you value. We do it with focus groups, so we do a cross-section of different people, and whoever participates in that has an obligation to go back and share that and pull ideas back with their team, and we've got different team representatives.

You can also do a segment of just new employees. We're just those that have been here a long while or cross sections of various teams that may work very differently from one another and then bring back the design as it's getting developed, sharing, getting, seeking feedback, saying this is an open process, and we really want everyone involved because when people say feel like they had a say, they now have ownership. And they're behind it even more. And they know that their company cares about them as a person.

Daan van Rossum: It's actually a great opportunity to build and strengthen the relationship, from the company to the employee, and make everyone feel that they're part of something. I think I would much rather stick around in an office that I helped co-design than in some generic office that I didn't have any input on.

So hopefully, that will really help in the engagement and retention of key people. Again, making people much more valued. If they're a part of that process, it should be exciting. It should be something fun. To think about it, okay, we're going to redo this anyway. What can we make of it?

It sounds fantastic. 

Janet Pogue: Co-creating with our clients is definitely a fun process.

Daan van Rossum: Is it?

Janet Pogue: It is.

Daan van Rossum: This has all been very fascinating, Janet, because obviously I'm very passionate about beautiful offices that I have worked in, but I've also seen the other side of offices that you have to drag yourself to, and you really don't want to be there where, again, that home office suddenly becomes very alluring, especially if the commute isn't that great.

I love some of the very practical notes that you gave in terms of the kind of spaces that you want to introduce and the process to get there, but also extending it beyond your own office and looking at spaces around you and the connectivity between all of that. I think that technology is important too. What are some very practical tips if people just take away 2-3 tips? If they're thinking about redoing their office, or maybe they want to convince their boss that they should redo their office, what are some very practical things you would advise people to do?

Janet Pogue: I'd advise you to step back and look at how you work. How can we make that better? But then, how do we engage the emotions? You mentioned beauty. Beauty is very important. Having a space that you feel good about and good in, how can it feel inclusive? How can it feel welcoming to absolutely everybody, not only the people that work there but maybe your clients that also visit, and how can it be a place where people feel inspired to do their best work and engage at that level, not just functionally but also with their hearts?

Then think beyond the walls of your office. Think about the vibrancy of your neighborhood, and how can you take advantage of that? And how could you maybe contribute to it? We're all part of a community, and workplaces in cities go hand in hand, and we have an obligation to bring the vibrancy back to the cities in which we live as well.

So how can you be a good corporate citizen while also taking advantage of the neighborhood as part of your workspace?

Daan van Rossum: I love that. I think that's so great. And, maybe, to conclude, one wish you have for the future of work. 

Janet Pogue: Only one.

Daan van Rossum: One to start.

Janet Pogue: I think it's such an exciting time for the future of work and the future of workplace design because AI is going to fundamentally change how we work, which means that the physical work environments are also going to change and how we come together as well.

My wish is that we reimagine work in the fullest sense. It's an opportunity to rethink being together and how we create workplaces that are compelling destinations, and the people really want to be part of that community again where everybody feels included. And welcome to designing buildings that can not only respond but also start to anticipate our wants and needs.

And we leave at the end of the day knowing that we're actually healthier and happier than when we arrived that morning and that our cities and neighborhoods are even more vibrant. That's a big wish, but that's my wish.

Daan van Rossum: It's a beautiful wish. I think you've combined a few wishes there, but I'll take it, and I cannot wait to spend some time in one of the offices that you and your team have designed because that's the place that I would definitely love to go to. 

Janet Pogue: You are welcome anytime.

Daan van Rossum: Thanks so much for being on. I'll also link to the new research report in the show notes so that everyone can dive deeper into the data and get some of those practical recommendations on what to do.

Thanks so much for being on. 

Janet Pogue: Thank you.

🎧 Listen Now:

In today’s episode, we talk with Janet Pogue, the Global Director of Workplace Research at Gensler, about office design in 2024. 

Janet shares her insights from over twenty years of research, including their latest study, which covered 15 countries and 16,000 office workers. 

We’ll discuss how the pandemic has accelerated changes in workplace expectations, the essential elements of high-performing workspaces, and practical tips for making your office a place where people truly want to be. 

Key Insights from Janet Pogue

Here are the actionable key takeaways from the conversation:

1. High-Performing Workspaces

Many offices remain unchanged post-pandemic, despite significant shifts in how we work.
As Janet says, people now spend about half of their workweek in the office, and more than ever, they come into the office to focus and get their work done.
Evaluate and update your office to align with new work habits and expectations. With more spaces for focused work, cocreation, informal and confidential conversations, hybrid meetings, and wellbeing.
And, make sure you involve employees in the design process to increase their engagement and satisfaction with the workspace. As Janet said: "When people feel like they had a say, they now have ownership."

2. Balancing Function and Experience

Successful workspaces balance functional efficiency with creating an engaging, welcoming environment.
But it’s not space alone. We need to be intentional about the experience by hosting events, and having team and core days, all to create a sense of vibrancy so that offices are a carrot, not a stick.
For innovation, the lifeblood of companies, to flourish, you need to have more people across teams, not just within a team.
So, beyond the office design, think about why people want to be there and how you facilitate this.

3. Leveraging Third Spaces

I loved Gensler's finding that you can extend the functionality and appeal of your office by using third spaces like coffee shops.
With employees already spending a third of their week outside of the office and home, help them find more opportunities to tap into coworking spaces, libraries, coffee shops, and outdoor spaces to complement the office setting.

4. Improving Technology

Effective technology integration is essential for successful hybrid work environments.
As Janet said, almost every meeting will have someone joining remotely.
Invest in technology that enhances communication and collaboration, ensuring remote and in-office workers are equally engaged. This includes not just better microphones and cameras but also optimizing the room's acoustics.

🔔 Available on:

Transcript:

Daan van Rossum: Can you explain to the audience a little bit about your role at Gensler? What do you focus on?

Janet Pogue: Sure. I'm the Global Director of Workplace Research. We've been doing this research for 20 years. We just completed our latest research, which involved 15 countries and 16,000 office workers across 10 different industries. I should back up the claim that Gensler is a global design firm. Our mission is really to make a positive impact on people who use the spaces we design, whether it's at the workplace or at the city level.

Daan van Rossum: Amazing. You are definitely the person to talk to when it comes to the office. Obviously, my experience doesn't go back that far, but could we say that the last couple of years have been some of the most transformational ones in the way that we use offices? 

Janet Pogue: You can clearly say that. We're going through a major transformation in not only how we work but also our expectations for where we work.

Daan van Rossum: But at the same time, I saw in that latest report that you mentioned that most offices actually haven't been changed, haven't been adapted after the pandemic, and that people started working from home more.

Janet Pogue: Yeah, isn't it crazy? The workplace has not kept pace with all the other changes in work life.

Daan van Rossum: What are some things that you found in terms of where offices should be versus where they truly are? 

Janet Pogue: At first, people were coming back to the office because it was a social place and they wanted to reconnect. And it was all that pent-up kind of demand for what we were missing during the pandemic.

But now we see that the key reason people want to come into the office is really to focus on their work and get it done. And that entails working with others but also working alone. And so, how do we think about creating a high-performing workplace where people can actually get their work done?

Daan van Rossum: This is obviously a big point of contention because somehow, even after a couple of years now, we are still in the raging debate about working from home versus working in the office. 

Do people come to the office to work, as you said, and they want to focus, and I understand that because I also don't really have the space at home to do all my work and to do that with the best facilities?

But then there's also the issue of the commute. So I have to somehow get to that office, and somehow, for a lot of people, it doesn't really feel like there's a good balance between the investment of commuting to an office. Then, arriving at that office and not getting the facilities that you need. So is that indeed something that the office needs to resolve?

Does the physical office need to change for that value equation to be better? 

Janet Pogue: We've been looking at this for a long time, and we did a deep dive in six US cities right before the holidays, right at the end of 2023. And we found that there's life issues. Like being the parents of young children, it is a commute. There's also work issues like distributed work. For example, you and I both work in different time zones than where we currently reside. So there are calls that happen early in the morning. There are calls that happen late at night. Oftentimes, that is at home, and there's work-place issues too.

But overall, we're seeing that people are spending about half of their typical work week at the office, and they're spending about 20% at home. And the surprise is that, for about a third of that week, all that balance is in an array of other places. Business travel is not being at your client's office; it's traveling to other offices within your company. It's co-working and it's third places—the coffee shops, other spaces that might be in your neighborhood near your office, or it could be your neighborhood near your home.

Daan van Rossum: That means that with that small fraction of time that people are actually spending in offices, the occupancy is lower than maybe what it was before the pandemic. And is that part of why now companies are looking into redesigning their offices, but at the same time, you said most companies are not?

Janet Pogue: I don't think it's an occupancy issue for many companies. It's like, How do we get our people back together? It's all about how we create high-performing workplaces for the people that are there. Because it's not that we're coming in certain days and staying home other days, which does occur in some hybrid work, but that we're in and out of the office all day long and all week long.

And so the best companies are no longer talking about days of the week. They're talking about a percentage of a typical work week, knowing that there's going to be times when you're in the office for days on end during a certain project, and then you may be working in other locations during other phases of that project.

All of those kinds of dynamics are still occurring. It's really about how we create better spaces when people are at the office, which in turn may bring more people back. And how do we create spaces—not for the few that are there—but how do we create events and vibrancy in the office so that more people are there at any one time?

It's not about leveling out and having different teams come together on different days, because for innovation to really flourish and for trust and those relationships to strengthen, you need to have more people across teams, not just within a team.

Daan van Rossum: That's a big conundrum, though, for most companies to get everyone together. It sounds nice. It's pretty hard to do. Again, there are many people who would say that there are great examples now of companies that are fully remote or mostly distributed, like Atlassian, Dropbox, or even NVIDIA, which is now the most valuable company in the world.

For those offices to adapt and for them to become more attractive, to make them great places for people to be, and to your point, and I think the report talks a lot about productivity hubs, make them places where people can actually do work. What are some of the changes that you would recommend based on the research you've done to adapt offices to become more like those productivity hubs? 

Janet Pogue: There are two things you really need to think about. One is: how can you make the workplace effective to get work done? And then the other is, how do you make a great experience where people really want to be? So think of these factors as two halves of a circle. One is about function and purpose. The other is about evoking an emotional connection, and think about it as if one is the heart. The other is the head. That's why you need both of those in order to create a high-performing workspace.

So we feel that those who are working in high-performing workspaces actually have stronger. They're more engaged employees. They have stronger team relationships, and they have a stronger culture of innovation. And so, as we're thinking about it, how do you create those spaces? What are those elements that are really important? I think it's really around how you design for some critical work activities. It's about focus and concentration, which need private spaces.

When you come into the office to work with others, there are co-creation spaces—those innovation hubs. But there's also space for informal conversations, so you're more impromptu. There's space for confidential conversations around coaching, mentoring, and growing the next generation of leaders.

But then there's also spaces that you need to have that are more for hybrid meetings, have video conferencing capability, and have the right technology in order to co-create when not everybody's in the room. And then finally, there's these spaces that are really around well-being: relaxing, recharging, and taking a break.

Those spaces are not amenities that are optional. They're really an important part of how we perform at our best.

Daan van Rossum: It sounds like you have a couple of categories of spaces that every office now should have. So it's focus and well-being. 

Janet Pogue: It's working with others in person, and it's working with others virtually.

Daan van Rossum: That's where you have that technology piece; it cannot just be a great room to meet in person with someone who is joining remotely, which again happened a lot before the pandemic, but obviously now that we're more accustomed to it, they need to be an equal participant in that conversation. So the technology part is also very important.

Janet Pogue: It's absolutely crucial. It's not only the space of how it's designed, but it's that technology piece of it so that it's seamless.

Daan van Rossum: It is very difficult to feel part of a meeting when everyone is like 10 people in one box and then you in one box, and that doesn't really feel quite as equal. 

Janet Pogue: Or worse, you've got one box that has 15 people sitting in a room, and you feel like you're an observer and not a participant and an equal participant.

Daan van Rossum: That really takes away from your ability to connect with people and to feel that you're all part of it. So one of the very small tweaks that we've done is that we're a very small team, but at every team meeting that we have, everyone has to open it on their own computer. We don't have money for big technology, but we do small things like that to make sure that the people who join remotely do get to see everyone face-to-face in an equal fashion, which I think is very small, but it works really well.

I'm very curious, like, what other elements of the technology should people now think of implementing? Because video is one, audio is probably another one. If you cannot hear people properly or you only hear the person sitting closest to the microphone, it is a very different experience and very difficult to work together.

Janet Pogue: That's right. And the acoustics in the room have a lot of bearing on it as well. How do you think about it? We've been doing a lot of labs and experimentation in our own offices in our San Francisco office. We have actually mocked up a number of hybrid meeting spaces that are out in the open.

They're not even enclosed rooms. So there are ways that you can use directional speakers and cameras that follow and zoom in. And you can actually have hybrid meetings. Beside each other, there's no conflict of noise, where the camera is following, and the like. I think the technology is only going to get better.

So it's up to us to think about all these various ways that we work together, co-create together, or have status meetings or one-on-ones. They all take up different types of spaces. In the past, we thought about it, as you need a conference room of these different sizes. Now we're thinking about it very differently.

I happen to be sitting in a room right now in our office that has a little sofa, and it has a little chair sitting to the side that's more soft seating. It does have a table in here; we have different ways of outfitting rooms and different types of furniture. And some are more with your standard whiteboards or flip charts, while others are very digital, and you need different types of rooms for different types of meetings.

Daan van Rossum: A lot of diversity is needed in the types of spaces. Obviously, you guys are designing and building for other people. So you have to have your office be a little bit of a showcase of what it should be. But then we do get to the question: Is this achievable for most companies? Because obviously, when you work with really big clients like you guys do, there's going to be a big budget.

I'm sure they will still feel like they don't have enough, but there's going to be a budget to do these really big office renovations and to build a really beautiful big office. Can you apply some of these principles without having that kind of budget? 

Janet Pogue: You absolutely can. So think about how you create zones even within your existing space. If people need privacy and they need a quiet zone or quiet spaces in order to do deep concentration, then take part in the office and say, This is a quiet car. I live on the East Coast, and there's Amtrak, and there's one car on the Amtrak train. That's a quiet car. Nobody can talk.

And so libraries are doing this resurgence in workplaces, which is putting out some books because everybody knows the rules of a library. Okay, in this zone, no talking. If you're working here, it's heads down; don't interrupt. And so we have that in our own office. But we created it; think about how you can extend the office beyond the boundaries of your lease space.

So think about what's in the building and what's outside, and go for walking meetings. How do you take advantage of the coffee shop down the street or even civic spaces like our actual library that may be down the block? And so we're seeing that workplaces are now an ecosystem of spaces both in and out of the office.

And that's one of the reasons why we see these third places really surging, and think about that as an extension of your workspace and office.

Daan van Rossum: I love this. This is so practical. First of all, I love the idea of just the contextual clue of seeing library-style books around you. And immediately you quiet down because we all know how hard it is to manage workplaces, even if you design them very well.

Then comes the other part of thinking about the extension beyond just the office—where can you encourage people? I'm just thinking about it. Like a new employee, you're going into a company. You walk into that office for the first time, and someone could introduce you to it. Oh, and there's a library around the corner where you can work too.

We all really like this coffee shop, and we also make use of that space. You have more practical tips like that. I love this. 

Janet Pogue: That's right. Be very selective with your interventions. Be an anthropologist and step back and observe where people are working well. What are they working around? Are there architectural barriers to fostering certain behaviors?

And then, what could we do with the clues? Sometimes, just lowering the lighting level will also bring the acoustic level down. Putting it differently, if well-being is an important part of what you're trying to signal to your employees, then put out hydration stations, water, and fresh fruit. Things like that do signal different behaviors and different attitudes.

I think that's particularly important for the younger generation. They're craving not only this variety of spaces but a variety of experiences; it includes work cafes and outdoor spaces, and a balance with those libraries for deep focus. Just having these different experiences as you move around the office will actually encourage people to get up and move and start to match what they're doing in terms of a work activity with the spaces.

Daan van Rossum: Are there a lot of differences between generations? Are there a lot of differences between what someone at a certain age would look for in an office and what someone, let's say, younger would look for? 

Janet Pogue: We did not see a huge difference in generations until after the pandemic. And then suddenly, we did see some big differences. So, generation Z, think about different stages of life and different stages of your career as well. Gen Z actually spends a little bit more time at the office than say boomers do.

But what's really fascinating is that they're spending about 56% of a typical work week. They say they ideally need the office 62% of the time, or two-thirds of the week. And in order to maximize their individual and team productivity, there is this drawback to the office.

And think about it: if you're a young generation, it was a long time ago that I was at an early stage of my own career, but that's where you're a sponge and you're absorbing it all.

You benefit from overhearing conversations and from observing how senior leaders are handling certain situations or making certain decisions. You're actually learning a lot from your peers. And so workplace design really needs to have this variety of spaces that are private, but they're visible, where you can start to see people, ask questions, start to observe, and then that senior leaders can also be accessible for those questions.

And so we are trying to create these places that people can move around. Fill a part of the community, but also learn and have spaces where you can just pull off and have a discussion like before and after a meeting as you're ramping up. Oh, be sure and do this. Give that debrief after the meeting. Oh, you did a great job with that.

Next time I do this and that kind of tweak. It's very hard to do when it's all virtual. That's one of the key reasons why we see the younger generations really craving coming back to the office so that they're a part of something and they're learning. And that is exactly how our corporate norms—the culture of an organization—are passed on. It's really observing and walking the talk.

Daan van Rossum: It sounds a lot more like a carrot than a stick, because I think in a lot of the debate about returning to office, it was a lot about the policy and the mandates. And you're talking much more about, like, how do you create attractive workplaces for people to come because they serve the function that they need? But also, it sounds like it's half the physical environment, which obviously you have to focus on, but it also sounds a bit about the company culture, the norms, and how people work.

Because again, if those senior leaders don't show up in the office, then there's still nothing for those youngsters to soak up. 

Janet Pogue: That's right.

Daan van Rossum: What's that component? When you're advising on office design, do you sometimes also have to sit down and say, Yeah, but you've got to act a bit differently too, and you cannot just let; it's not cosmetic. 

Janet Pogue: You do. Like you can lead a horse to water. We could build the space, but you have to activate it and put it into practice, kind of like the behaviors that you're trying to elicit. And we see some new best practices emerging. I think it's less about policy because no one wants to be told what to do. It's more about how you can activate the space differently. We're seeing core days start to reappear. That's when everybody tries to be in the office. It's about connecting different teams and ideas. We see scheduled learning events or social events where there's an additional incentive or purpose to come into the office.

We see teams reserving face-to-face time. I know our own team does this because there's nothing worse than coming into the office and realizing that there's no time available because everybody's on scheduled meetings. So we said, Look, let's table some of these standing meetings on the day that we're all together and just schedule time with each other.

If that standing meeting has to occur, make sure it's within our team, and let's just do this face-to-face. There's another one that's surfacing. I'm hearing more about, and that's no Zoom Fridays or having days that are really set aside for individual focus time so that we're not feeling like we're always on or always meeting.

Meetings can be very taxing. And I think it just came out in the news. So I think it was a Wall Street Journal article talking about loneliness, which has never been higher. And a lot of it is due to these kinds of meetings that just occur right after each other and take time to really be with one another.

We're social individuals, and that goes a long way toward feeding our souls, building a community, and building trust with one another. In these social relationships, trust and innovation are the outcomes of the currency of trust that we're building. I think it's really important to take time and just be together.

And so, be very intentional about it. And then we're seeing that we're designing the space to really underscore and reinforce that intention, even though that intention and purpose may be different from company to company. That's where the uniqueness of the design can also play a role, because the space is really the nudge to those behaviors.

Daan van Rossum: That's the nudge to the behavior that you're trying to evoke, but it sounds like people have to be a lot more thoughtful and a lot more intentional about when and where to get together. And it also means that this is not just something that you can just do at the top of the company and again push it down as a mandate or, like you said, the core day; there has to be a lot also from the middle manager and individual team leaders to now take on that role of becoming a community leader and making it exciting for people to come together and organizing things around. Maybe there's a serious meeting, but then we also go out for lunch.

Do companies now actually do this, or is this still something that's a bit hypothetical, and we have a couple of case studies, like, How practiced is this now? 

Janet Pogue: We're working with a number of leaders at the top of their various industries to do just that.

In some cases, we're working with companies to help design programs that aren't space-oriented but just about connecting people. There's one thing about creating this physical work environment: The other part is: how do you prepare people for the new space and new ways of working? And you need both, and you need the technology and the policy to come back and reinforce that.

But when you think about it as a system, it's all aligned. That's when the magic can really start to happen. And if you include the voice of everyone in the organization, at least they feel like they had a say in what it is: the design of the space. We have found that those are just wildly successful.

We've had a number of projects where it was 20% occupancy before we started designing, and after we moved in, it was 80% occupancy just because the space started to spur the behaviors and relationships that they were trying to get.

Daan van Rossum: You said that in that process, it's very important to get the input of the people working in that office. That sounds like a great best practice, which probably companies overstep quite a few times, maybe not with an engagement with a firm like yours where there's so much on the line and there's such a big investment that, of course, you want to get it right. 

How do you effectively get the voice of the employee into that design process?

Janet Pogue: You can do it in a number of ways. We've done that with interactive surveys. For example, tell us how you work, what's important, and what you value. We do it with focus groups, so we do a cross-section of different people, and whoever participates in that has an obligation to go back and share that and pull ideas back with their team, and we've got different team representatives.

You can also do a segment of just new employees. We're just those that have been here a long while or cross sections of various teams that may work very differently from one another and then bring back the design as it's getting developed, sharing, getting, seeking feedback, saying this is an open process, and we really want everyone involved because when people say feel like they had a say, they now have ownership. And they're behind it even more. And they know that their company cares about them as a person.

Daan van Rossum: It's actually a great opportunity to build and strengthen the relationship, from the company to the employee, and make everyone feel that they're part of something. I think I would much rather stick around in an office that I helped co-design than in some generic office that I didn't have any input on.

So hopefully, that will really help in the engagement and retention of key people. Again, making people much more valued. If they're a part of that process, it should be exciting. It should be something fun. To think about it, okay, we're going to redo this anyway. What can we make of it?

It sounds fantastic. 

Janet Pogue: Co-creating with our clients is definitely a fun process.

Daan van Rossum: Is it?

Janet Pogue: It is.

Daan van Rossum: This has all been very fascinating, Janet, because obviously I'm very passionate about beautiful offices that I have worked in, but I've also seen the other side of offices that you have to drag yourself to, and you really don't want to be there where, again, that home office suddenly becomes very alluring, especially if the commute isn't that great.

I love some of the very practical notes that you gave in terms of the kind of spaces that you want to introduce and the process to get there, but also extending it beyond your own office and looking at spaces around you and the connectivity between all of that. I think that technology is important too. What are some very practical tips if people just take away 2-3 tips? If they're thinking about redoing their office, or maybe they want to convince their boss that they should redo their office, what are some very practical things you would advise people to do?

Janet Pogue: I'd advise you to step back and look at how you work. How can we make that better? But then, how do we engage the emotions? You mentioned beauty. Beauty is very important. Having a space that you feel good about and good in, how can it feel inclusive? How can it feel welcoming to absolutely everybody, not only the people that work there but maybe your clients that also visit, and how can it be a place where people feel inspired to do their best work and engage at that level, not just functionally but also with their hearts?

Then think beyond the walls of your office. Think about the vibrancy of your neighborhood, and how can you take advantage of that? And how could you maybe contribute to it? We're all part of a community, and workplaces in cities go hand in hand, and we have an obligation to bring the vibrancy back to the cities in which we live as well.

So how can you be a good corporate citizen while also taking advantage of the neighborhood as part of your workspace?

Daan van Rossum: I love that. I think that's so great. And, maybe, to conclude, one wish you have for the future of work. 

Janet Pogue: Only one.

Daan van Rossum: One to start.

Janet Pogue: I think it's such an exciting time for the future of work and the future of workplace design because AI is going to fundamentally change how we work, which means that the physical work environments are also going to change and how we come together as well.

My wish is that we reimagine work in the fullest sense. It's an opportunity to rethink being together and how we create workplaces that are compelling destinations, and the people really want to be part of that community again where everybody feels included. And welcome to designing buildings that can not only respond but also start to anticipate our wants and needs.

And we leave at the end of the day knowing that we're actually healthier and happier than when we arrived that morning and that our cities and neighborhoods are even more vibrant. That's a big wish, but that's my wish.

Daan van Rossum: It's a beautiful wish. I think you've combined a few wishes there, but I'll take it, and I cannot wait to spend some time in one of the offices that you and your team have designed because that's the place that I would definitely love to go to. 

Janet Pogue: You are welcome anytime.

Daan van Rossum: Thanks so much for being on. I'll also link to the new research report in the show notes so that everyone can dive deeper into the data and get some of those practical recommendations on what to do.

Thanks so much for being on. 

Janet Pogue: Thank you.

FlexOS | Future Work

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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.