6 Key Moments from Work Design TALKS: Chicago

As the third stop in our five city series, Work Design Magazine, SwingSpace, and WeWork recently took the conversation to Chicago!

On Tuesday, September 19th we reconvened our continuing discussion at WeWork Kinzie, in Chicago’s bustling River North neighborhood. Our attendees came from A&D, local businesses, corporate real estate and contract furniture industry. All shared the interest in hearing our dynamic panel pick up on some of the subjects discussed at our previous events in Washington, D.C. and Burbank, CA. Once again, moderated by Zak Kidd, Co-founder & COO of SwingSpace, our panel included: Chris-Tia Donaldson, Chief Executive Officer at Thank God It’s Natural; Megan Dodds, Community Director, Midwest at WeWork; Tom Marquardt, Vice President, Director of Interiors at HOK, Chicago; and Matt Ward, Senior Managing Director at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank.

The panel (L/R) Zak Kidd, Chris-Tia Donaldson, Tom Marquardt, Megan Dobbs and Matt Ward. Photo by Sam Weiss.

If you have been following our series of talks, we are focusing on the following questions, although the conversation at each talk has varied on how the panel took their path to determining what to discuss.

  • The real benefits that companies are getting out of their workplace today
  • What is important for businesses and leadership today?
  • How CEOs can use their workplaces as tools to drive innovation in their company
  • How the workplace industry has the power to create space and set the conditions for innovation
  • What are the lessons learned?

Zak opened the discussion by asking the panel where they thought workspace(s) add value to organizations. That began the conversation as a free-form dialogue which touched on many aspects of why where we work affects how we work and the changing tide of attitude and physical support of work across all business types. Here are some key snippets of the conversation:

Workplace is starting to accommodate the user, not the organization.

Think about it. The old break-room was insignificant space, housing a plain jane refrigerator, microwave, and coffee machine has now morphed into a centrally located, high-touch design amenity. It is now planned with people in mind, not just a place to keep your lunch and replenish your mug with probably stale brew. Today, there is cold brew coffee on tap and a basket of fruit.

The change that is occurring is putting consideration of the people in the workforce in front of the real estate and design decisions.

Priceless! The penny-lined kitchen at WeWork Kinzie. Photo by Keri Wiginton/Blue Sky courtesy Chicago Tribune.

There is an acceleration of measuring and providing for meaning and purpose that will drive how we work.

Once the corporate heads took notice of how and where people were working, the concept of “the Third Place” was born, supported by increasingly powerful, efficient and robust technology to support leading to a culture of “working in place” replacing “working in a single location.”

Corporate Real Estate is evolving as well. Cost per square foot is still a consideration. However, companies now consider that space is not just overhead, but it is also regarded as a productivity tool. Space layouts driven by cost efficiency are also evaluated by the value of the workplace to drive organizational change, collaboration, and innovation.

Photo by Keri Wiginton/Blue Sky. Courtesy Chicago Tribune.

Workspace is also a place for building a community.

In corporate and communal co-working facilities, there is a burgeoning agenda promoting the use of the space to foster a greater sense of belonging among those who share the space. Whether unified under one company logo, or a collection of independent workers there are now efforts to organize and deliver events to bring people together to share ideas, make additional business connections to enhance the overall work experience for participants.

Photo by Keri Wiginton/Blue Sky. Courtesy Chicago Tribune.

The new thinking is that we can use the work environment to promote change.

As companies consider retrofitting, updating or relocating, more thought, effort, design, and the cost is spent on incorporating structural organizational changes. Businesses or workspace providers are supplying space more appealing to a new generation(s) of workers, and leverage advances in technology that support the different ways we are using space today and will need to use it tomorrow. Often the reason for this “change of space” is to recruit and retain talent in a competitive market.

You can recruit until you are blue in the face but are they staying?

There are caveats to purely providing space that has appeal just based on design trends. The workspace has to work for the specific needs of the workers it is housing. Something that is beautiful by the standards of today’s current trends may not work for everybody. Consideration of employee’s individual needs and variables in the employee population should be evaluated as part of the design process. There are lots of options and features – putting the right mix in place is what determines success or failure. One question posed, that did not have an answer but offers food for thought. “Does anyone ever ask, when someone leaves a job if his or her workspace was a factor in the decision to leave?”

In conclusion, the consensus is that there is still enormous value in providing workspaces that are designed in ways that allow for all the types of personal and virtual interaction that make up the work experience. Just for fun, Zak asked the panel to describe what is the most important thing about their workspace.

Photo by Lauren Kallen. Courtesy Office Lovin’.

Tom – Sitting amongst others in a large open space – I like having small, accessible breakout rooms and ad hoc spaces and the ability to be flexible throughout the day.

Megan – Must be dog-friendly!

Chris-Tia – I have a small desk in the corner. It usually has so much stuff strewn about. The staff “stages” it when we have a photo shoot or other activity requiring it to look more pulled together. Considering that I started in the condo kitchen – I can work in any environment.

Matt – Surrounding myself by philosophy and meditation books that remind me that the core of my peace and happiness lies outside of my work.

WeWork Kinzie – Top Dog! This golden doodle was very satisfied with what he heard. Photo by Sam Weiss.

The evening’s discussion would not have been possible without the support of our sponsor: Kimball

Curious about what our Washington DC panel had to say about the same topic? Click here. Please plan to join us for our final two city discussions and see who is lined up to lend their thoughts in Atlanta and Toronto!


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