Emphasizing Experiences Produce Positive Outcomes for All

The spaces within PopSockets’ new headquarters in Boulder are fun, flexible and designed with the employee experience top of mind. Courtesy James Ray Spahn


“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

Susan Kohuth, ASID, NCIDQ, LEED AP
Principal, OZ Architecture

Steve Jobs’ perspective on design would have made him an ideal keynote speaker at this year’s inaugural Outcome of Design Conference, an event focused on how thoughtfully designed built environments can positively shape occupants’ experiences and ultimately impact their lives.

It’s one thing to design an aesthetically beautiful workplace. It’s quite another to design a workplace for the ongoing influence it has on occupants’ mindset, productivity and general well-being. As more architects, designers and employer are coming to realize, the success of a workplace design project is ultimately measured by the elevated experiences it provides to users. Let’s look at the thought process behind this outcome-oriented approach to design:

What. Prioritize human experience. The design of a space plays an important role in shaping the culture of an organization and the sense of community people experience at work, as well how people go about their work collaboratively and individually. Providing positive workplace experiences for people requires space that is flexible and task-oriented: areas dedicated to collaborative creativity, for example, along with spaces for quiet, focused work, with the ability to easily move from one to the other during the day as needed.

This flex space at Trimble’s new office building is designed to accommodate individual work, informal socialization and group gatherings, all with nature and the outdoors as a backdrop.

From Baby Boomers to Gen Z and beyond, today’s multigenerational workforce expects a culture that offers flexibility in how and where they work – remotely, floating among multiple offices or moving among multiple spaces within a single office. The workplace environment thus must support that culture. It also must give occupants ownership of the space, with areas for introverts and areas for extroverts, spaces for escalation and socialization and spaces for focus and quiet contemplation. At the new PopSockets headquarters in Boulder, for example, there’s dedicated space for quiet work, for informal “collisions” and for formal meetings, along with a wellness center, game room, an outdoor deck accessed via a garage door in the kitchen, and a library hidden behind a speakeasy-style secret door. The experiences these spaces create are designed to support employees in their work, while integrating with and reinforcing the fun, flexible, wellness-focused culture PopSockets seeks to foster.

Why. If it’s good for employees, it’s likely also good for employers. Trimble’s new office building in Westminster includes a central indoor-outdoor gathering space that flexes for individuals to re-energize, make a call or work away from their desk. Then, by simply sliding a glass wall open, it becomes an all-hands meeting space. It’s an example of biophilic design, whereby a built environment fosters connections with nature and the outdoors, an approach that has been shown to elevate employee productivity and sense of well-being.

Not only do the people occupying these spaces get a better overall workplace experience, but also their employer benefits from a more productive workforce, and from the ability to attract and retain talent by delivering better workplace experiences. Ultimately, the outcome-focused design of the built environment connects directly back to – and reinforces – organizational business goals and a culture that prioritizes positive employee experiences, providing the support people need to consistently innovate and do their best work.

Those experiences and outcomes don’t happen by accident. Rather, they are the result of the designer/architect working with the organization to gather information and input via pre-occupancy evaluation where they invite employees to share (through surveys, focus groups, etc.) what they want and need from their workplace and workspaces, so the designer/architect enters the visioning process with a strong understanding of what people do in the workplace, as well as how they do it – and how they could benefit when their environment provides them with new choices and new tools.

The goal is for people to genuinely want to work while they’re at work. That’s accomplished by using design elements that give them a sense of ownership of their workspace, where they feel supported in and connected to that space, whatever their personality type, their work style or their needs in the moment.

Outcome. Is the space delivering the intended occupant experience? The process of designing for outcome doesn’t end just because a particular workplace design project is ready to be occupied. It’s incumbent on the designer/architect and the employer to make the effort to understand how the space is working once it’s being used. Have we created a place with purpose? Are the people-focused outcomes of the design project syncing with organizational culture and goals?

An aerial rendering of Trimble’s Phase 2 office building in Westminster and adjacent indoor/outdoor flex space.

Answering these questions entails collecting post-occupancy data and feedback from users, a process that’s just as important as the pre-occupancy evaluation. Based on user surveys, before/after usage data and other metrics, how can the workplace environment be further adjusted to continue to improve the employee experience? Because organizational culture, business goals, technology and employee expectations evolve over time, the workplace environment must evolve, too. With a solid ongoing partnership in place between the designer of a space and the employer and employees occupying that space, the design outcomes can continue to be positive, even as the space evolves.

Published in the December 2019 issue of Building Dialogue.

Edited by Building Dialogue