Is Your Workplace Working? WDM & Leesman TALK Recap

A sold-out crowd gathered on April 18th at FOX Architects for Work Design Magazine’s latest TALK in partnership with Leesman. The event kicked off with three great presentations, followed by a lively panel discussion around the current research from Herman Miller, ASID and Leesman, and how it intersects with the reality of managing large workspace portfolios in today’s ever-changing work environment.

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

Bob Fox, publisher of Work Design Magazine, began the event with a few opening remarks about the inspiration behind the magazine. “Our purpose is predicated on sharing ideas with our peers, to be a platform and forum for interaction, to talk about the issues that are shaping the workplace today. We seek to challenge convention, for people, organizations and the global community.”

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

Part 1: The Presentations


Launching the discussion with a sneak preview of the latest research from Herman Miller, Joseph White got the ball rolling with an overview of how we are currently working to understand the total experience of work. Herman Miller’s original ground breaking “Living Office” framework examined the different modes that people can work in and promoted the evolving concepts around how work elements need to be examined and recombined in situations unique to the organizations that are seeking to improve the workplace experience for their employees.

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

Moving away from the rote industry standards, those in a position to effect change are starting to measure and refine how their workspace is configured and recognize that there is constant, gradual evolution of design solutions to support business goals. There is a relationship of workspace and business success, and companies need to balance the needs of those that occupy their spaces with the larger business goals of the company.

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

To better understand how this works in real-time, Herman Miller took a deep dive into the data from partnering with Leesman. They studied high-performance workplaces based on an analysis of their findings from larger studies showing where satisfaction levels were highest and where workplace changes had the best record of success. The research identified key types of workplace activities and measured pre- and post-occupancy changes to document where positive changes occurred and under what circumstances.

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

Utilizing the large data set and evaluating key data points gave them the ability to assess the metrics against what was really happening in the work environments they were studying. Building on the previous research and incorporating the new knowledge from the most recent studies helps us to better understand how design can influence organizational culture and improve the workplace experience. Reporting on this most recent study will be coming next month – be sure to check for the executive summary!


Moving from the broad to a more narrowly focused study, ASID’s Dr. Susan Chung shared the story of the impact that ASID’s new workspace had on employee performance and well-being. Be sure to check out our recent project profile on ASID’s new space for more robust background information on the office design and planning.

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

Susan’s presentation focused on how ASID took advantage of utilizing multiple research methods to inform the design and execution of their space. She also presented an overview of the results of the initial post-occupancy studies and discussed how ASID plans to use the information to continually fine-tune their workspace in the future. Many factors informed the carefully executed project to ensure that the project demonstrated how design impacts lives.

Working with their designated partners, ASID was able to track how employees evaluated and interacted in their workspace pre- and post-move. The data gathered at both ends of the endeavor created a baseline for where things stood prior to the move. Because they worked out of temporary co-working space, benchmarks were established after they moved with respect to not only the use of space, but employee health and wellbeing.

The data gathered assured ASID that their investment in planning and design yielded measurable improvement on several points:

  • Office design improves indoor environmental quality, environmental satisfaction, employee health and wellness, employee retention, employee performance, and resource efficiency.
  • Office design shapes the social environment and boosts employee performance.
  • Office design – especially when job demands, or office culture support the messages communicated through the design – intensifies the power to make cost savings.
Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

Utilizing several measurement techniques, ASID was able to get a comprehensive picture of where the new office succeeded in meeting their goals for a healthier, productive workspace. One tool that was especially useful was the Innovative Workplace Institute’s open source online assessment tool, CAPTIW©. Additional tools included the DELOS Well Building Pre- and Post-Occupancy Surveys, Cornell University 3C Design Study, which used sensor technology to track socio-metric physical data.

Susan reiterated that the data collection and evaluation of workplace effectiveness was not a one-time thing. They are continually looking for new ways to use their space as a living lab and as a tool to improve the work experience for the entire staff. Their experience in planning and designing their new headquarters proved the investment in not only time and research can have positive results but helps develop a roadmap to continue building a successful organization housed in a carefully constructed workplace.


Building on the momentum by Joseph and Susan, our keynote speaker, Eleanor Forster of Leesman, guided the audience through their ground breaking 250K research study published last year. Eleanor emphasized how the survey has evolved as vehicle to inform workplace strategy and become a business intelligence tool to bring all stakeholders into the conversation.

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

Working from the premise, “Is Your Workplace Working?” Leesman amassed data from over 250,000 people in over 2,000 workplaces. The survey investigated, without bias, what companies are learning about how their workplaces are being received by their employees. The results showed that 57 percent of employees did not think their workplace allowed them to work productively.

The analysis of the data showed that there are five key factors that affect workplace performance:

  • Productivity – an employee’s perception of how their workspace enables them to work productively
  • Demographic diversions – it’s not just the millennials. Understanding an employee’s role in the organization, length of tenure, and complexity of their role all affect elements of employee engagement and satisfaction.
  • New is no guarantee – Companies need to carefully examine what elements of new designs or refurbishment activities will best serve their employee’s needs. Higher performing workplaces are developed when there is a better understanding of employee needs and when there is partnering with employees as part of the design process.
  • De-demonizing the open plan – The open plan office is not necessarily the villain it’s made out to be. In the Leesman study, some of the highest performing workplaces were either predominantly or fully open plan. The differentiating factor may be where the other spaces that support the open plan work effectively take care of other activities that take place during the work day.
  • Managing Mobility – In the study of activity-based workspaces, consideration of employee behavior patterns will be key to effectively introducing new ways of working in new style of places for them to work.
Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

Part 2: The Panel Discussion

Measuring what works and evaluating ways to improve what does not was the recurring theme in each of our speaker’s presentations. This was reinforced by our panelists who each reiterated that there is a continuing need to examine what workplace changes are affecting their employees and supporting their work.

When queried on what’s happening in their organizations, our panelists emphasized that providing spaces that work for a variety of activities and making sure employees have easy access to those spaces was critical to the success of their workspace.

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

“We look at how people use spaces to create our products and design spaces that can give people choices where to do their work. The most important features for our employees are to have easy access to their colleagues, quiet spaces for heads down work and meeting spaces to support collaborative work” – Erin Mical, Capital One

“The emphasis is on collaboration spaces, if we can’t provide enough of those to meet demand, we lose people. The demand for those spaces is paramount.” Dean Edelman, Booz Allen Hamilton

 We have a mix of older floors that are cellular, newer open plans, 42” panel with benching. The more open space is quieter. We think it is more around change of behavior in the open spaces that makes the difference and how people perceive their work environment.” Steve Dunn, GDIT

Image courtesy of Erin Kelleher Photography

The conversation concluded with the agreement that many factors determine what makes for a high-performance workspace, but it is the human element that is the variable and that there are no “one size fits all” solutions. Each organization needs to define their culture and marry that to a space design that supports their business goal. Utilizing tools such as the Leesman Index, using data to inform their design decisions is an option that provides one path to achieving that goal.

Learn more about the presented research:

Leesman | Herman Miller | ASID

Thank you to our speakers, panelists, and sponsors!

 ASIDHerman MillerFOX ArchitectsPrice ModernHaworth and SM&W

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