By: Elizabeth Mixson

4 Steps for Using Data-Driven Design to Build Customized Offices

Over the past decade, technology companies such as Google, Zappos and Facebook have made headlines for their innovative approaches to workplace design. As a result, even the oldest, most conservative companies started to embrace “startup-style” perks and design elements such as gaming areas, nap pods, bright colors and flexible workspaces in an effort to not only appeal more to millennial talent, but harness some of the innovation and creativity these new more playful workspaces were supposed to enable.

Unfortunately, not all of the redesign projects were successful. And so, in recent years, leading-edge companies have begun moving away from implementing the latest design trends and are now looking to create workspaces that are truly tailored to their organization’s unique workspace needs and culture. The key to this transition? Data.

To help you get started on your journey towards data driven design, we asked 2 of our advisory board members, - Tracy Hawkins, Global Head of Real Estate & Workplace at Twitter and  Sanjiv Awasthi, VP Global Real Estate at Cigna,  how they use data to ensure your office design projects reinforce their company’s unique culture and objectives. The following is a summary of what we learned.

The 4 Steps of Data- Driven Design

01 Collect + Synthesize Data

Data collection in offices has never been easier. Though, in the past, office use and activity were tracked through periodic, time-limited surveys, with the advent of automated space management software, sensors, IoT and other workplace optimization tools, office designers now have access to high quality data streams on an ongoing, real-time basis. Such data provides facilities leaders with even greater detail about how employees use space and resources, interact with one another as well as how the environment impacts satisfaction and productivity.

In fact, McKinsey estimates that by 2025, IoT data collection and, more importantly, insights will generate $70-150 billion in value for offices. In their 2017 report, McKinsey highlights a few categories of value, including organizational redesign and worker monitoring, augmented reality for training purposes, energy management and building security.

Specifically, McKinsey estimates that increased indoor sensing and activity monitoring could increase worker productivity on average by 5 percent, or $19-43 billion of total economic impact. Additionally, sensing will support indoor wayfinding and encourage collaboration with other employees. Lastly, source data from alternative sources such as employee surveys and relevant HR data (i.e. retention rates, health claims, etc.) to create baseline measures. This will help you identify specific design features that predict higher employee engagement scores, thereby showing a direct relationship between the physical work environment and business performance.

What are your data sources?

"We use feedback from our Helpdesk to inform us about recurring issues with our workspaces that we then use to continually improve our design. To monitor our space utilization, we use
WISP and a Business Intelligence tool."
- Tracy Hawkins


"Global Real Estate works closely with Security and IT to track badge utilization and Computer access points to track space utilization. The goal is to increase utilization from 55% to 70%
by improving workplace experience with technology tools, better site amenities, and inclusion of variety of work environments."
- Sanjiv Awasthi

02 Engage Stakeholders


At its core, data-driven design is all about understanding how people interact with spaces. Though data, whether pulled from sensors or employee surveys, should perfectly reflect what
stakeholders want and need, all too often, the metrics don’t align with reality. In order to give the information you collect context and meaning, you must partner with stakeholder to truly understand workspace data and deliver people-oriented workplace designs.

How do you engage your stakeholders?
"At Twitter we involve stakeholders right from the kick off of a project from site selection to design through to opening day. Communication is key! We work closely with the stakeholders in the office to understand their unique needs and requirements. We get to know our employees to understand where they take clients, where they like to hang out in their personal time and also observe how they work and what is important to them. Our goal is to create a blend of global Twitter design standards and locally influenced asthetics and elements without going down a cliched route ie red phone boxes and black taxis in our London offices would have been a no no. We then check in with our stakeholders at regular intervals to understand how the space is working for them. Its important to view our build out projects (which are often the start of a collaboration with an office) as the start of a long term relationship and to set our Workplace Operations team up for success going forwards. We also work closely with our Workplace Ops team to ensure their comments are implemented into the design, they also know the local stakeholders well and can help us ensure we build a space that fits their needs. They have great insights that are often overlooked and they have to take the space forward once it opens too so its crucial to have them on the project team." - Tracy Hawkins

"We have developed employee experience committee (IT, HR, RE, Food Services, Security) to develop holistic plans for our largest 30 sites. Global Real Estate works closely with Business Unit leadership to develop spaces reflective of functional needs. We deploy consistent space guidelines and furniture components across portfolio but the mix and scale of these components are dependent on the functional needs of the business units." - Sanjiv Awasthi


03 Translate Culture + Brand Into Design

Brand management today extends well beyond a company logo and corporate identity guidelines. By using elements of design to express your corporate values in your physical space, your company can shape the way you are perceived by employees, clients and investors. This is especially true for small businesses and agencies without the brand recognition of major corporations. Just as an office can work as an interactive portfolio it can also work as a glaring advertisements of any flaws in your brand image.

When your company’s values are strong, and your people are aligned with their work, then the right workspace can help make a good organization exceptional. But without clear direction and a purpose-driven design, it can fall flat on its face. A critical first step in any office re-design project is identifying and listing your organization’s core values to ensure they’re front and center from day one.

Ask yourself:

  • What are my business needs?
  • Do I want my employees to grow within my company? If so, does the office space allow for this?
  • Which aspects of the business are resolute vs. adaptable?
  • What do employees do on a daily basis, and how can we make their jobs more efficient?
  • How does technology orchestrate the workday?

How do you go about creating workspaces that reflect and reinforce Twitter’s core values?
"1. We infuse the brand across our spaces and the open transparent nature of our workspaces reflect the nature of our platform which is really important to us.
2. We don't work with just one architect or PM company globally, we tender every project and collaborate with firms that have a great presence locally and understand Twitter as a company. Sometimes that's big global firms & sometimes that's boutique companies.
3. We endeavor to use materials and finishes in our spaces that are sourced locally ie in our San Francisco offices you'll find tiles from a local factory in Sausalito and booth fabrics that come from a local company in the Mission district. The wood in our space even comes from the old Transbay Bus Terminal.
4. We constantly evolve, we're never done with the design!"
- Tracy Hawkins

04 Measure Success + Evolve

With the right data on how employees react to new design elements, you can continue to positively impact productivity and ensure overall organizational success. Some best practices for creating a systematic plan for measuring the success of office changes are:
Create a workplace balanced scorecard and metrics that reflect the desired financial and behavioral outcomes pertinent to performance.
Less-is-more. Select only a few high-impact metrics. Don’t collect any data unless you know in advance exactly how you plan to use it.
Meet regularly with department managers and stakeholders to collect feedback and discuss findings
Collect and report data regularly. Provide an ongoing stream of objective information that keeps your design investment aligned with business goals.
Make your reports simple, enabling everyone to understand and appreciate the results.

How do you measure the success of your workplace design projects?
"Senior management looks at space utilization as key measure on workplace success." - Sanjiv Awasthi

"No headaches created for the Workplace Operations team.
Check ins with the local business /feedback.
Retros with all the stakeholders and partners at the end of the project.
We continue to evolve our standards based on that feedback and retros.
Once again, we are never done!"
- Tracy Hawkins

Sanjiv will be leading a session at Future Offices Winter along with Matthew Morris the Director of Corporate Real Estate at Cigna on Designing Creative Workspaces Where Employees can Thrive. Take a look at the event guide for more information on his session.


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