Episode 48

The Intersection of Wellness in Workplace Design

The need to address inclusivity and belonging in the workplace along with recognized wellbeing attributes drove the team at QA to consider how and where to insert that in the design process. Kate Albee and Roderick Allen joined the ONEder podcast to describe their research process and learnings, as well as the toolkit they developed to integrate corporate values and holistic wellness into workplace design. The conversation is mind expandingly specific!

Featured on the Show
"In the very beginning, I think we were really focused on the methodology, how are we going to collect the research, how are we going to synthesize this data? But as we started talking to our clients and really peeling back their personal thoughts and layers, and the people specifically that we were talking to were our clients in the real estate and facility space, the ones who are really making decisions on the programming, the space planning, the leasing, the prime stakeholders that we were engaged with. We were finding that they had a lot of thoughts around this, but they didn't have a great way to synthesize their values and turn them into actionable design."


CCB: [00:00:04] Greetings and welcome to the ONEnder Podcast. This is your host CCB, and I have the pleasure today of introducing one of our 2022 ONEder Grant teams. And they're going to have a chat with us about the research that they tackled and the outcomes. And so, without further ado, I'm going to welcome Kate Albee and Roderick Allen from Q A. Kate, take it away.

Kate: [00:00:28] Hi. Thank you for having us. So, my name is Kate Albee. I'm the marketing director at Q A.

Roderick: [00:00:35] And I'm Roderick Allen, and I'm an interior designer at QA Roderick.

CCB: [00:00:42] Roderick, you might have to speak up because you're a little soft spoken.

Roderick: [00:00:45] Okay. Hi. Is that better?

CCB: [00:00:47] Yeah. That's great. Okay. Moving forward. Yes. Oh, do you want to take it away, Kate?

Kate: [00:00:55] Sure. Yeah. I'll just introduce a little bit about why we chose this topic and kind of what it's about for us. So, our real intention with this research was to provide designers with a tool to capture our belonging and well-being in the workplace. We're really seeing in the landscape how important it is to have a holistic view of these topics and designing workplaces where individuals can be authentic, and they can really thrive.

CCB: [00:01:24] And when you say belonging and well-being, in your research and footnote to everyone listening, the full research will be available on the ONEder page so that you'll be able to download the research and look at all of this more in depth. But you're very specific in your definitions because we've all been talking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and some people have been talking about belonging and some people have been talking about justice, and a lot of people are talking about wellness and well-being. But what do those mean to you guys in this particular project?

Kate: [00:02:01] Absolutely. I think that's a really great question and it's one of the first things we came to when speaking with our coaches and moving forward with this, is everyone defines belonging and well-being a little bit differently. And we really saw a need to have that level set exercise with our clients during our workshop phase to really collect their ideas of what those things mean. And then compile those into a definition that we felt were not universal, because I don't think there's ever going to be definitions that are truly universal, but that really defined what we're seeing in the current workplace landscape. So, in terms of belonging, it's really defined by the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion and identity. And so really it boils down to creating genuine feelings of belonging, and how that improves engagement and performance. And when we're talking about well-being, it's a state of happiness and contentment that comes down to overall good physical and mental health, and that translates to a good quality of life. So, I think both of those things are really important.

CCB: [00:03:13] Yeah, and you're, it's an interesting task you gave yourselves because a lot of people talk about well-being and wellness within the workplace and the work environment, and there are lots of different measurements, metrics that people are utilizing. But the nature of belonging to us felt like it went much broader than what we basically have been considering, I'm going to say, in our kind of workplace design thinking. So, I wonder, Roderick, if you could spend a little bit of time and just talk about how did you come at that definition of belonging and why was belonging so much more important today?

Roderick: [00:03:57] Well, I think we realized that when we first started to look at the lenses, kind of the overarching lenses that we were trying to look at, this overall ONEder grant and EDI was one of those important lenses. And we're in a state right now, I think, of the workplace where people are trying to redefine what does the workplace look like and how do I get people back to the office. And I think we all know now that like offering a coffee bar or a place to go to a cafeteria with free food is enticing, but it's not truly going to get your employees back to the office. They really just want to be in a place where they actually feel like they are represented. And so I think that's how we kind of came to this idea of belonging, is that truly belonging is what's going to get people back into the office.

CCB: [00:04:43] I also think it's interesting and you call it out that the context of the world has shifted so dramatically that people there is a heightened awareness of not just inclusivity, but how do you take that next step to make people feel comfortable? Because you could be included but not necessarily feel comfortable in whatever environment that is. So we're kind of dancing around why you chose the topic, but if you had to answer that question directly, why did why would QA choose this topic over anything else that you possibly could have?

Kate: [00:05:24] Well, speaking from my perspective, I think part of my job as a marketing director is to really identify what our firm's values are and how we project those out into the world. And we're a woman minority-owned firm. So those values have always held really true to us. But it's not enough to say, okay, we're going to embody values of representation and belonging in our own workplace, if we're not projecting those to our clients and having those tough conversations with our clients, then it really doesn't mean much more than the 30 people in our direct circle. So, we really wanted to be living our values out loud, and making sure that having an inclusive workplace that also incorporates wellbeing, sustainability, EDI that it's accessible to everybody because not everyone can afford specialists, especially our smaller clients. And we wanted to make sure that regardless of budget or scale, they have access to these values.

CCB: [00:06:27] Hmm. Roderick, do you have anything to add?

Roderick: [00:06:29] Yeah, I think for me, in terms of why it was an important topic, is that it's necessary; it's needed. It's no longer like a nice to have, right? I think conversations of inclusivity and belonging and well-being were nice to have kind of pre-pandemic. But as we've kind of mentioned before, there's been this shift in the world and I think there's been a movement of people being like, “I stand firm in my values, so I also need the place where I work to also represent the values that I'm in” So by us being able to generate a toolkit and kind of create a toolkit, we're helping our clients, I think, embody their values and really speak to their message of wellbeing and kind of inclusivity and sustainability, kind of all the other lenses that we've mentioned before. But then also then in turn reflecting that in their own space, which is kind of needs again, it's a necessity now, it's no longer nice to have.

CCB: [00:07:23] So you're bringing us to this great juncture of: here we have this concept, we have this thought, how did you conduct your research? What went into it to be able to kind of identify or illuminate the need? And then how did you develop something to support the need?

Kate: [00:07:43] Well, it's really. Go ahead.

Roderick: [00:07:46] I was going to say, I think kind of in terms of conducting our research, right, we were able to have kind of outside conversations with our clients. And really sit down and talk in length with them about kind of what they're seeing, the issues that they're having in their own workplaces, and start to identify maybe the gaps in areas where there are those opportunities to really find design, language and ethos that help and fill that gap, and make it kind of accessible and want their employees to come to the office. That would be one thing. And then, Kate, I can let you take the rest.

Kate: [00:08:25] Yeah, I think we, let me collect my thought on this…

CCB: [00:08:31] We're kind of talking about the conducting of the research. What did it end up looking like? Who was involved? So, for everybody gets a better feeling for what was the effort that was expended.

Kate: [00:08:45] Absolutely. Yes. So, in the very beginning, I think we were really focused on the methodology, like, how are we going to collect the research, how are we going to synthesize this data? But as we started talking to our clients and really peeling back their personal thoughts and layers, and the people specifically that we were talking to were our clients in the real estate and facility space. So the ones who are really making decisions on the programming, the space planning, the leasing. And so they're really the prime stakeholders that we were engaged with. We were finding that they had a lot of thoughts around this, but they didn't have a great way to synthesize their values and turn them into actionable design. So that's where we really saw the need. OK, it's not as much collecting quantitative data, it's about collecting qualitative data and then be able to synthesize it through this toolkit. So that when you have a design, there's really a purpose and an intention behind every move that we make. And it's not just, oh, this is pretty and let's infill some EDI and sustainability methodologies. It's like, no, from the very beginning, let's have that be the foundation and have the design come from that.

CCB: [00:10:01] I think when folks spend time and look at your research, they're going to be very impressed by virtue of the depth of process that actually is attached to this. Because I do think that often people find these conversations touchy-feely. So how do you quantify and you're talking about this, how do you actually grab data that demonstrates either practice of values or absence of practice, in which case, how do we fill that? And what does the workplace design look like? So, how about a little bit of explanation about the auras and the radiographs and how that all transpired. And who else was on the team? The two of you could not have done all this.

Kate: [00:10:53] Yes. We need to give a shout-out to our incredible team. And so we were led by, Julia Campbell, who primarily leads our interior architecture practice at our firm. So very involved in the day-to-day of our workplace design projects. And then besides Roderick and ourselves, there was Sam Aguilar, who really has been a leader in our office in terms of sustainability and wellness practices. So, we definitely felt important to include her. And then our graphic designer, Ben, really came in and helped us with the development of this toolkit and these physical auras, because there is a lot of work that goes into creating those, a lot of manual design that was born from those data points. And I think Roderick can explain more about the workshop and how we actually collect those data points.

Roderick: [00:11:45] Yeah. So, part of our toolkit is actually a series of surveys and workshops that we've developed to first, set a baseline with our clients to understand currently where their values are and where do they want their values to go. And with that, we ended up developing two sets of surveys one for individual contributors, more like employee level. And then we actually had a survey for stakeholders, more of that C-suite level. And the idea is to kind of give those out to both of those groups, and then start to take that data and distill it down to see if the values between both stakeholders and individual contributors actually align and where there are gaps, and how we can then help our stakeholders kind of re-tweak maybe some values or see where they can start to realign a little bit. So that was kind of the first portion, which then helps us learn a little bit about our client and then develop a workshop. Which is a series of kind of exercises that we go through to kind of understand based on the lenses and buckets that we've developed within our research. How do they feel about each of these lenses in buckets? So, we go through kind of some word workshops where we kind of ask them to give their own opinion on when you see the word physical security, what does that mean to you in a sense, Right? So, we start to kind of get the actual text wording behind each value and understand that.

Roderick: [00:13:14] And then we take that. And with each lens that we've created, go into a series of kind of sliding scale exercises where we go through each kind of type of space within the workplace or the project that we're working on. And essentially for each type of space, we're going through a sliding scale based on each lens and kind of getting an idea of where they land versus kind of like one way or the other way. Or are they very neutral? And then that kind of helps us then understand how each space really should be developed and understood. And from there, we kind of create these mini auras for each space that have a blend of all of these. But there's kind of some main points that start to happen. So, there may be one lens that is very primary and strong and greatly needed for this specific type of space, and we start to use that to kind of help inform adjacencies across the entire floor plate is the idea. And then it leads us to our final result.

CCB: [00:14:11] So one thing that I noted reading the research, which I thought was interesting, was it appeared as though a barrier to doing this kind of work some clients felt, was cost. And how do you think translate that? What did they think was going to cost more?

Kate: [00:14:32] Right. So, we've been seeing other people in the industry come out with thinking around EDI and sustainability in the workplace. And I think it's often associated with like a specialist title that you need to have like an inclusive design specialist, or you need to have some sort of add-on fee for LEED, Fitwell and WELL certifications. And when we were doing our research and kind of pulling out all the different aspects that those certifications, that are amazing certifications, we don't want to discredit the value that they bring. But we found a lot of our clients were like, I really just can't do that. That's on the back burner. That'd be a nice to have, but it's just not built into our standard budgeting process. And so, we're like, well, we don't want to overlook those concepts because they're really important. And so, it really became about, can we fold this into our process that already exists? And primarily our visioning process, because we did some experiments with these concepts later, after they'd already picked a space and gone through some, some space typing program, programmatic exercises, and they were already like, we can't go back now and talk about these topics. We've already picked our space, we've already decided how it's going to look. So, it's important to catch our clients in the right point of the process and really communicate how these values are bringing financial value to them as well, because they're going to have employees that are happier and perform better and want to show up, want to be part of a team. So, really communicating the value of what this is bringing to them more so than what it's going to cost them.

CCB: [00:16:18] You did a good job with the research, with documenting research and including a lot of that, either reference points and or the data itself that that supports that underlines all of what you're saying. And I would argue that almost anyone listening would have the same feeling. They would understand the challenge. And it has been I can attest to in some with some of our clients, it's been a struggle to try and work their way through. How do you figure this out? So, what was the most? Well, first off, describe the final tool kit deliverable so we can kind of get a better conceptual idea of that. And then kind of what was the most valuable learning that you think QA came out with.

Roderick: [00:17:10] Well, the toolkit itself essentially turned out to be, it's a two part kind of process. We have a toolkit that we've developed for our designers in-house that was kind of the surveying and the workshop process that we had explained earlier. That's meant to kind of be something that we can hand off to any designer in our office, and they can run through this series of exercises with their client, and then that in turn generates what is our external kind of toolkit or a deliverable, which ends up being a printer report that we essentially can hand to our client that outlines and graphically shows all of the survey results that we've gotten from them, the workshop results that we've gotten from them. And then it gives us a breakdown of kind of the various space types and the auras that came from those space types based on, again, the workshop and survey that they'd done. And then that will then in turn also there's a little section in the graphic that people can look at online that starts to boil down those space types and the actual physical attributes based on the lenses that we've created. So, in terms of sustainability, do we need any sort of biophilia in this space for security? Do we need locking doors, things like that? So, we actually started to boil down kind of a boilerplate template of room attributes based on the space type. And in the end, we actually show them how those auras in space types informed our space planning. And you get to kind of see that or itself radiated across the floor plate and the selected space plan. So, it becomes both a nice visual to look at, but then also has concrete data that the people in the C-suite level or stakeholders can actually look at and be like, okay, I see the value in this.

Kate: [00:18:57] And I think the database where we're collecting the design examples and how they relate to very specific data points that we're collecting from our clients has been one of the most exciting outcomes, because let's say we're talking about relativity and tactile touch. So, what does that actually mean if the client is valuing tactile touch? Well, it means there needs to be floor material changes. There needs to be lots of different materials in this space, natural wood, high-pile carpets, woven pillows. And just by having these things listed out in a very systematic way, we're hoping that it will grow into this living, breathing document that our designers can continuously be adding to as they're coming up with new innovative strategies around this thinking. And it really becomes an amazing reference tool, not only for us, but directly impacting our clients and their spaces.

CCB: [00:19:52] Um, yeah, ow. What impresses me about the research is the density of the thinking within, embedded in it. So, there's, I mean, you make reference points that everyone will be able to look at, in the research project. And reference influences, if you will. But to have synthesized it all and created this process is an impressive bit of work that we applaud enormously. I'm thinking, in the documentation it says you've actually only had the opportunity to run through the whole thing with one client at this moment in time. So, what's your, what is the goal for QA? I mean, you're talking about giving it to all designers and building that repository of information. How does that work?

Roderick: [00:20:54] I think it kind of, I was talking to Kate about this yesterday, actually. It kind of takes it back to this idea of design as exploration. And we're very much in a state of exploration right now, I think, with the office. And we can't really try to take old metrics from before the pandemic and then somehow rematch them and reconvert them into some metric that kind of works for nowadays, in what we're in right now. So it takes it back to kind of thinking about schematic design as truly envisioning as truly that exploratory period where you're kind of throwing ideas at the wall and seeing if they stick, and truly going through the conversation with your client and hopefully building this kind of team camaraderie because I think that produces the best projects in the end, right? So, it's built into that visioning phase where we have that time to really sit down and have conversations with our clients and talk to them and truly understand their values. So that's why we kind of found that to be the best place. And the idea is that any designer who's working on a project where you have a schematic visioning phase can use what we've created, take their client through that. And then from there, the idea is that we can start to get some data that helps inform how we see it going across various sectors and types of projects that we're working on. And see how auras maybe could be the same or different between different client types or clients in the same sector and things like that.

CCB: [00:22:25] Was there anything really surprising that you discovered during this process?

Roderick: [00:22:34] I think Kate had some really good statistics. Oh, I think your audio is out Kate.

CCB: [00:22:43] You're on mute. While Kate is looking for her audio. Roderick. What about how. How you'd like to see this um, grow outside of QA, this kind of awareness, this kind of thinking.

Roderick: [00:23:17] I think it's a topic and a phase that hopefully is going to kind of spread across the industry, right. And truly figuring out how to like, in a way offer these boutique solutions in more of a methodical way, Right? We don't want to keep applying. I think, the same design standard and way of thinking to each client, because we need to recognize that each client is different, and the people that make up those companies are different. So, kind of taking those values into account really, us being able to create this and then potentially thinking about how we can transform it into maybe more of like a dashboard or something that is, you take these surveys and you do the workshops and we can then deliver an automatic report. Instead of right now we're kind of manually taking data in, right, and then having to create the report. But if we can kind of automate this and digitize it, then it starts to become sort of this like open-source platform, right? Hopefully other people and designers can come to and use for their own clients.

CCB: [00:24:25] Yeah. I mean, I'm so struck by the constant conversation about making work more human, making the workplace a place that everyone can thrive. So is it nurturing people or is it, does it just provide that environment where growth can take place in a very healthy way? And so, you've encapsulated that, I think, really well with belonging and well-being as the major criteria, with all of the breakdown and support materials that go. That are, that are embedded in the project. Kate do we get your audio back or you.

Kate: [00:25:11] I think I'm back here.

CCB: [00:25:12] Yay sorry.

Kate: [00:25:15] Having a microphone problems, even though it looks fancy.

CCB: [00:25:17] It looks really good. Everyone, I'm going to tell you their microphone looks way better than anything I'm working with.

Kate: [00:25:23] Well, you know, we always have our tech issues no matter what. But you had asked me before what we found surprising. And I think just seeing how widespread this topic of mental health reaches far beyond the workplace, it really has become just something we talk about in our zeitgeist now. But we saw through the Mindshare Partners Mental Health at Work report that 84% of respondents said their workplace conditions had contributed to at least one mental health challenge. So, I think we have to step back and go, Oh my gosh, we need to take responsibility for that. It's not just a happenstance thing. It's like we really have a lot of I mean, you spend more time with your coworkers and I think it kind of than your family in some instances. So you really need to make sure it's a place where you feel like you belong, you feel safe. And not just physical safety, but mental safety and safety to be yourself. So that was something we really wanted to focus on. And in terms of working with these stakeholders who make these decisions, I think it was surprising how authentic they got with us. In terms of there's fear around being seen as not accommodating or being canceled. There's kind of this culture around that. And so, we were really careful in how we put together our survey and our workshop to not induce shame or guilt, but to really be about encapsulating values. And not putting a rating system in place that would say like, well, you failed in this category, you need to improve because you failed, but more so this is what you care about. This is what your employees care about. Let's design a space that celebrates that and really reflects it.

CCB: [00:27:05] Yeah, I mean, I think the concept and we've seen it in a number of different iterations, but of talking to both employees and leadership, that makes perfect sense, as opposed to in a much more robust way. I'm going to say then we may have done in the past. And the again, back to the kind of step-by-step and almost tedious step-by-step process that you all have articulated is, it captures, I don't know what the percentage is, but a very great percentage of I think what some of the concerns might be. And to your point, as you continue to add you, I'm sure we'll find additional material that needs to be incorporated into the design toolkit. So, this is we're wrapping it up. It's the end of our time. I want to give both Kate Albee and Roderick Allen high fives for doing a fantastic job describing the QA research. And you guys get any last comments that you'd like to make.

Kate: [00:28:18] Well, I'd like to give a shout-out to our coaches at one workplace. Kate Rancourt, Albert Ho. And they brought in Bonilee Perry at one point for conversation. All three of them were really instrumental in this research and really gave us the confidence that we were on the right track. We were looking at the right things and being really considerate of our research. So thank you to them.

CCB: [00:28:42] Thank you.

Roderick: [00:28:44] And I just want to give one more shout-out to our teammates, because I think we've created a really awesome tool, a very fresh tool, and a tool that I think has the ability to grow and really do some amazing things for the landscape of workplace design. So yay!

CCB: [00:29:01] Yay, yay QA, yay team. All ONEder Grant information will be on the ONEnder Grant page at the One Workplace website and we will have brief descriptions, we'll have an abstract, so that you can look at it in just a one-page overview. And then there's the depth of research that will be available to you. And there also will be links to all the folks that were involved in the team. So you could if you had a big question that you needed to get answered, burning questions, you'll be able to get in touch with them. Thank you again for your time on the ONEder podcast and I'm going to say goodbye.

Kate: [00:29:42] Thank you so much, bye.