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A New Spirit of Work Life Place

Work places now include spaces and amenities meant to bring the comfort of home to the office. Image © Gensler

The lines between home and work are blurring. Work, lifestyle and community—once disconnected facets—are beginning to overlap, as people around the world are becoming more focused on health and wellness, high-performance, and cultural authenticity. Design must now play catch-up, so that it can support the new ways people want to experience everyday life.

Design is notoriously difficult to define and the benefits are hard to measure. But great design is certainly noticeable. Consider the tendency of people during trips to a new restaurant or hotel or even an amazing dinner party at a friend’s split-level apartment to remark on the incredible design. Many of the spaces we experience on a daily basis inspire us to comment on the influence of space and the importance of design. Unfortunately, our workplaces don’t tend to elicit such conversations. When people speak about their office or workspace however, they talk in more functional terms. They describe a sea of workstations or the lack of meeting space and technology. They rarely mention the words spirit, design or inspiration.

It’s time for that conversation to shift. Over the past few years, some of our most forward-thinking clients have begun asking for more than for desks and chairs. Then want workplaces that inspire, connect, energize and excite. This shift is positive and not just because it elevates the interest and quality of design. It’s important because design can deliver direct business value. The Harvard Business Review’s blog recently posted an article explaining why companies that lead with design outperform the market. Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, Herman Miller, IBM, Intuit, Newell-Rubbermaid, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, Walt Disney and Whirlpool were identified as businesses that use design as an integral part of their business strategy. And doing so paid off: While the S&P 500 grew by 75 percent from 2003 to 2013, the design-centric companies that were studied grew by 299 percent.

These companies understand the dual performance goals great design: Provide function and inspiration, performance and experience. People want brains and beauty; they crave the whole package.

But how do we elevate the places where we work to that level?

  • Step one: Reconsider the suite of spaces that support how we work in the modern workplace and break from the standard typologies and start thinking of space in terms of the experiences it supports.
  • Step two: Think about a new language that can define the spirit and components of Work Life spaces. Develop new vocabulary which can elevate the workplace from a functional environment to one that’s praised and celebrated. Like a familiar neighborhood restaurant or favorite hotel, our workplaces can be comfortable, soothing, transformational, exciting, luxurious, authentic, personal, rustic, lived-in; breathtaking…we just have to think of them that way and then build them that way.
  • Step three: Determine a framework for measurement, a specific set of criteria and methods to be used as a structure to design new metrics that quantifies the value of design.

We will be diving into this topic in detail at ICFF on Monday, May 19th and we’d love to have you join us! We are thrilled to have a panel of experts including Ken Pilot, President and Amy Chender, COO both of ABC home joining us to provide their unparalleled knowledge of home trends, and Gensler’s Tom Vecchione discussing the continuing infusion of those trends in workplace design. We look forward to a lively design discussion at the intersection of workplace and home design, and where the two may meet in the workplace of the not-so-distant future!

Sonya Dufner
Sonya Dufner is a Principal in the New York office of Gensler. Sonya’s background in interior design combined with her planning experience leads to an approach that synthesizes strategy and design to create fully integrated environments. Sonya works with global clients to rethink their use of technology, workflow, employees and the influence on company culture, productivity, and the correlation that workspaces have in attracting the best talent. Recently, Sonya has explored what is happening as more and more individuals choose to work in ‘third places’. Corporate clients have been fascinated with the creative culture of coworking communities and their support of entrepreneurial spirit. Contact her at sonya_dufner@gensler.com or follow her on Twitter @sonyadufner.

Reader Comments (6)


The timing is interesting. We had a visioning session with our Ellie Mae client yesterday, and one of the lingering phrases thatt stuck in my mind, was the cleints wish for "comfort, home and health" in the design of the future space. He mentioned the staff spending more time in the office than home and urged for a new consideration.

05.13.2014 | Unregistered Commenterdoug wittnebel
Hi Doug,

We totally agree with your observations. Our teams are hearing this across many of our practices area's - not just technology and the creatives.

05.14.2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonya
A more Positive, Successful and Active way of Re-thinking the Workplace Environment.
I believe this approach will allow Companies to retain there best Assets, reducing Turnover and making employees more Engaged with the Company culture, more Active, Focus and Efficient. Therefore a better Workplace Culture will result in better Financial Results.
Let's Get to Work and Be Happy! :)
"While the S&P 500 grew by 75 percent from 2003 to 2013, the design-centric companies that were studied grew by 299 percent."
-Huge takaway for any non-believers. Thanks for the post Sonya.
05.28.2014 | Unregistered CommenterTommy
So true. for years the office has been invading our homes, but to create real balance we need to bring elements of the home into the office. And we need to be thoughtful about how we design the work areas of our houses so they are more effective. We want to blur the lines, not erase them. Some separation is needed so we preserve the sanctuary of both.
05.30.2014 | Unregistered CommenterKay Sargent
Nicely stated Kay. I am looking forward to seeing you next month in NY!
05.30.2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonya

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