Workplace Design: a Continuum of Multiple Disciplines

Mike Wagner is president of Kimball Office. Kimball, which was founded as a family business in 1970, today combines craft, design and technology to provide workplace solutions for its clients. Mike spoke to Jane McConnell their approach to work design. This case study was first published in “The Organization in the Digital Age” in December 2016.

Jane: How do you accommodate the preferences of different people?

I’m thinking some will prefer the open-plan physical environment or the white noise of an ESN. Others will prefer personal cubicles and subject-specific digital environments. How do you meet user need while ensuring that people, information and knowledge are open to all those who need access to it? That physical silos are not simply transferred to the digital domain?

Mike: Multi-purpose space has to be designed in conjunction with the digital and physical tools that enable people to quickly adapt. As digital and physical space continues to blur, it will become increasingly necessary for people to send cues that a specific work mode is desired at a specific time, thereby enabling continuous concentration or the availability of social interaction.

In a smart workplace, an organization’s speed, flexibility and productivity will be quantifiable. The disruptive nature of a silo to an organization’s productivity flow will become more obvious in a digital social workplace.

Jane: What different design disciplines do you bring together when thinking about the workplace?

Mike: Generally, we take into consideration three areas of design: First, there is “traditional design,” which deals with humanistic aspects that appeal to the senses. Second, there is “systemic design,” where ecosystems and processes are considered. Finally, there is “technological design,” where science and art intersect, such as in the design of a beautiful algorithm or digital application.

It does not matter if you are designing for a workplace or a brand strategy, all design is a continuum of these disciplines.

Jane: At what point do you involve the end user in the design process?

Mike: As the speed of change accelerates, gaining a deeper understanding of nascent or unmet needs of an organization (and its employees) will be critical to any new workplace platform.

Consequently, it will become increasingly important for early client interaction to occur. Without it, a workplace will never truly be optimized.

Jane: How adaptive and responsive to changing user needs is a workplace design?

Mike: Workplace design is at an early stage of transformation. As competition quickly raises the bar, there will be an intersection of design and technology that will shift the workplace into a highly responsive ecosystem.

Knowledge-based industries, like consulting and accounting, have been seeking alternative workplace strategies to support this direction, but even traditional blue-collar sectors, like manufacturing, are beginning to link workplace design to their strategic goals.

Jane: What is the timescale from initial design to implementation?

Mike: Like everything, the world expects faster results. As the technology and building integration models evolve, we will see rapid transformation of the entire building industry, which will continue to press for faster innovation and project execution.

Jane: How do you see the next 5-10 years evolving in workplace design?

Mike: The physical and digital workplaces will begin to mimic one another, and this will lead to a new level of design thinking, where the concept of organization will be re-engineered into a hyper-agile ecosystem. 

Traditional barriers will rapidly break down, and the new workplace design focus will be to unlock human and machine potential in an effort to maximize value flow.

An equally important focus will be on improving the lives of the people who operate in the work ecosystem. The WELL building standard is a good example of this. But it is just the beginning.

The future will be amazing!