May 20, 2019

New Data for a New Way of Working


How marrying multiple data sets can help companies create a better way to work.

Data has always taken a role in workplace design as a cost-forecasting and space-saving tool. Organizations applied historical metrics – occupancy and square footage, but data had little to do with employees – aside from how much each was costing the employer.

Then workplace culture changed. A new generation of people brought new skillsets and higher expectations for how they wanted to spend their 9-5 in the office. Organizations responded by offering perks. Ping-pong tables and snack rooms soon evolved into catered meal services, on-site spas, and fully-functioning arcades. Although perks served as an effective recruitment tool, they did little to answer the fundamental question of office productivity: how organizations create environments that give employees the tools they need to work more efficiently while also providing them with a sense of value and belonging.

Gone are the days of merely measuring square footage. To create an effective workplace, organizations must use data and a human-centered design approach to measure and build adaptability around who employees are and how they work.

Project URTO began as a simple redesign that ultimately changed how we work. To find out what happened when we became our own client, click here.

Curiosity: data gathering’s most important ingredient.

In 2017, we began to feel the same growing pains as many of our clients. Our Santa Clara headquarters began to feel dated and cramped. It was time for a redesign. The simple solution was to tear down a wall and expand into our warehouse to provide the square footage we needed. But instead of a sledgehammer, we decided to use data.

Using data to look beyond simple square footage measurements came from a company-wide culture of curiosity. We want to learn more about our environment. Constant experimentation helps us create a better workplace for us and better solutions for our clients. Being open to testing new theories and tools is partially fueled by working in the heart of Silicon Valley with some of the world’s most innovative companies as customers. It’s made us comfortable asking why and looking for newer, better ways to work.

But learning how our people work would only be half of the story. Getting to know them as people who form our culture would be the other half. This two-pronged effort would require bringing different types of data and metrics together and marrying them, so we’d have a complete picture of how our people like to work within our space – and also within our culture.

Mapping insights with Steelcase Workplace Advisor™

We’re fortunate enough to partner with Steelcase, one of the world’s leading office space innovators. The Steelcase Workplace Advisor™ is a cloud-based measurement tool that analyzes how, when, and why people use a given space. Some of the key metrics include:

Space Occupancy

Companies can understand space utilization by a single space, floor, or across global facilities.

Context-Driven Insights

Analyze areas with contextual space information including size, furniture, tools, and amenities to understand why spaces are used a certain way and how they can be improved.

Time-Specific Data

Companies can customize data by the date and time to understand peak demand and lull times for specific locations.

Placing Workplace Advisor™ sensors throughout our office revealed that expanding square footage wouldn’t solve our cramped overcrowded office. In fact, employees were only using 29% of the available seats most of the time. And that number never exceeded 40%.

Quantitative data also revealed how employees within the different areas of our office were utilizing spaces, which types of spaces were being utilized most often, and the common characteristics that tied them together. The types and quantity of private spaces didn’t align with how or for how long employees used them. Instead of overcrowding, we found that our space design, function, and culture were misaligned. A redesign needed to begin with discovering how employees preferred to work and then create a space that adapts to them throughout the day.

Complementing the quantitative with the qualitative

With the objective, non-discriminating data in place, we needed a subjective companion to provide more context into the qualitative data Workplace Advisor™ provided. We partnered with Culture Amp to create diagnostic, deep dive, and pulse surveys designed to garner unfiltered feedback around three core areas: employee engagement, experience, and effectiveness. Questions were centered around “factors” – definitive issue areas like social connection, purpose, management, and ownership – that created specific, actionable feedback that we could analyze and act on when designing our new space.

Additional surveys sought employee feedback on their specific relationship within our headquarters. We asked them which spaces they preferred for privacy, focus or collaboration. Their favorite place to take a phone call (which happened to be the parking lot), or their favorite place for meditation (a walk through the aisles of our adjacent warehouse).

A new office for a new way of working.

As we began to marry the different data sets, a clearer picture emerged of the workspace we wanted to design – along with an important lesson for any organization designing a workspace for a new way of working.

Many offices are still designed for linear work. They don’t account for the agile, rapid way teams and individuals move and stay productive throughout the day. They’re fixed for one activity when employees constantly switch and adjust depending on the task at hand. These spaces can’t adapt, and they ultimately leave employees feeling disconnected and unproductive. Additionally, modern employees and teams need to work with ease of access to their information, but since technology tools enable ubiquitous access, a permanent “home” or fixed desk is no longer necessary.

Ultimately, our data gathering, analyzing, and curiosity helped us create a living, breathing space. One that continually adapts across different activities and individuals. Employees now have access to personal as well as large-scale technology, collaborative spaces, focus spaces, and team spaces that integrate seamlessly with all technology. The result is an office that ebbs and flows throughout the day in a way that supports team activities while nurturing individual needs.

Creating multiple functional spaces within our office came with one big tradeoff. Many employees would no longer have an assigned work station to call home. While assigned work stations may not always be utilized, they do provide employees with a sense of belonging as well as ownership. If we were going to do away with individual “desks”, we had to replace them with something of like or improved value. To do that, we relied on the qualitative cultural data we gathered to create our new way of working, URTOnomy.

URTOnomy gives One Workplace employees the flexibility to choose when and where to do their work every day – and it accounts for remote work and flexible schedules according the time and place that suits the task at hand. URTOnomy taps into our shared company value for autonomy and freedom. It also creates a greater sense of value and belonging.

The human metric.

Today organizations have a new metric when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of their offices: the human metric. It seeks to understand activities and behaviors. It analyzes values and culture. And it’s designed around people. By combining different data sets and applying them in a human-centered way, spaces become places where teams and individuals can continually work in new ways, where ideas are shared more easily, and where people feel both connected and productive. This human-centered, data-driven approach also creates spaces that help organizations continual adapt and prepare for the unknown.

To find out more about URTOnomy and our Santa Clara headquarters redesign, click here.