What We Learned in D.C. about Designing for Choice in the Workplace

Photos and key takeaways from our June 22 Work Design TALK.

The graphic recording of the conversation by the talented Jim Nuttle, and made possible by Allsteel and OEII.
More than words: The graphic recording of the conversation by the talented Jim Nuttle, and made possible by Allsteel and OEII.

We brought our general “choice in the workplace” TALK theme back to D.C. last Wednesday night, but this time, we gave it a twist: we didn’t just talk about choice. Instead, we stacked the panel with designers only, and talked about designing for it. Cheryl Durst, the executive vice president and CEO of IIDA, the International Interior Design Association, joined us as guest moderator, and CallisonRTKL hosted us in their big, bright office, where early-arriving attendees got to tour the new Arcadis space upstairs.

As if that weren’t enough excitement (or, dare I say, choice), our hosts, along with Kimball Office and FurnitureSpeak, sponsored another “TALKing Heads” video (check it out here), and, with support from Allsteel and OEII, we were able to have the talented Jim Nuttle along to capture the highlights of the conversation in a way uniquely his own (see above).

Scroll for four key takeaways from the conversation.

Meet the panelists, from left to right: Steve Polo of OPX, Stefana Scinta of CallisonRTKL, Marie Moutsos of FOX Architects, moderator Cheryl Durst of IIDA, and Arnold Levin of SmithGroupJJR. Photo by Erin Kelleher.

The paradox of choice

“This is a ridiculously important topic,” said Durst. “Choice is this amazing, interesting conundrum. Just enough of it and we feel empowered; in control.” But, she added — and this is a caveat that I think panelists at each of our TALKs under this topic have addressed — “when we have too much choice, it’s a stressor. We’ve gone from a society who wants our coffee black to one who wants a triple mocha, half-caf, frappe with cream, three shots, and whip.”

The antidote to this, said panelist Steve Polo, a managing partner at OPX, is “understanding how to connect choice to what [the company’s] really doing.”

The panelists encouraged the audience to think about the choices that suit their clients, both at the individual and the company-wide level. Durst’s suggestions inlcuded asking, “Where do we want to work? How do we want it to be? Who do we want to be? A mentor, a coach, entrepreneurial, heads down… ?”

Photo by Erin Kelleher.
Photo by Erin Kelleher.

Increasingly, choice is an employee expectation

This is where more of the right choices could help you attract and retain talent.

“Millennials do work differently,” said panelist Stefana Scinta, a senior workplace strategist at CallisonRTKL. “So when we talk about choice, it seems like a naturally attractive [thing] to them.”

Panelist Marie Moutsos, design director at FOX Architects, agreed that employees have come to expect a certain amount of flexibility and choice, indicating how glad she was to have had the choice earlier in the day to leave her desk and book a conference room to prepare for the panel discussion.

Photo by Erin Kelleher.
Photo by Erin Kelleher.

Choice requires leadership to lead by example

Ultimately, once the choices have been decided upon and provided for, the panelists agreed that the success of the environment requires leadership to lead by example, showing staff that, hey, it’s ok to work this way. Nobody is going to shame you for not being at your desk, if you still have one.

“Whether we give people choices or not, they’re still going to make them,” added Polo. And there are myriad wrong choices to make: not utilizing the spaces you’ve designed, using them but using them in the wrong way, or “voting with their feet”, a phrase we hear a lot, and choosing to work elsewhere if they don’t feel comfortable or able to take advantage of the new options.

Photo by Erin Kelleher.
Photo by Erin Kelleher.

Choice isn’t just another trend

“Too often we use the word collaboration as a buzzword to sell design services and furniture,” said panelist Arnold Levin, a principal in the workplace strategy group at SmithGroupJJR. “The biggest disservice we’ve done for our clients is workplace strategy based on trends. Instead of a true understanding of an organization, and the substantial changes they’re going through.”

His point? Don’t let the same thing happen to choice.

“Collaboration is something that we do,” he said. “But choice is DNA-deep.”

And ultimately, Durst said, that’s why choice won’t be just another trend.

Thank you to everyone who made it out to the event last week! And as always, we want to extend special thank you to our event sponsors:

AgilQuest 150 x 150 NG          CallisonRTKL 150x150

Turner 150x150 NG copy          BusinessInteriorsbyStaples150x150logo

Allsteel 150 x 150 NG          GPI 150 x 150 NG

OEII 150 x 150 NG          ADI Construction logo 150x150

CertainTeed 150x150 logo           Steelcase 150x150 logo

FurnitureSpeak 150x150 logo           KimballOffice150x150 logo

FOX 150 x 150 NG          knoll150x150ng

MOI150x150          IIDA 150 x 150 NG


If you are interested in sponsoring another upcoming TALK like this one, please email [email protected] for sponsorship details. We’d love to have you along!

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