An employee for Google works at the internet company's new office space inside the historic Chelsea Market June 23, 2008 in New York City. The new space, which is across the street from the older Google office, will house around 300 employees bringing the total number of Google employees in New York City to around 1,500.

An employee for Google works at the internet company's new office space inside the historic Chelsea Market June 23, 2008 in New York City. The new space, which is across the street from the older Google office, will house around 300 employees bringing the total number of Google employees in New York City to around 1,500.

Office design has evolved alongside the changing nature of our work. As businesses shifted toward more collaboration, the physical barriers came tumbling down. As management structures morphed, some got rid of the corner office. Today, 70 percent of office spaces in the U.S. have an open floor plan. Meant to foster communication and stoke innovation, critics say we may have gone too far and that perhaps we’ve sacrificed focus for the free-flow of ideas. Diane and her guests discuss how workplace design affect workers, businesses and the bottom line.


  • Janet Pogue Principal, Gensler.
  • Gloria Mark Informatics professor, University of California, Irvine.
  • Christine Porath Associate professor of business administration, Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.
  • Allison Arieff Editor of The Urbanist, the magazine of SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research).


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Ringing phones, pinging emails, a co-worker asks you a question, another speaks into a headset so loudly you can't concentrate -- these are just some of the hazards of the modern open office workplace. And researchers say they're taking a toll.

  • 11:07:17

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to explore how workplace design has led to this situation: Janet Pogue, principal of the Gensler design firm, Christine Porath of Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, and, from a studio at KQED in San Francisco, Allison Arieff of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR. I know many of you perhaps have your own issues. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

  • 11:08:06

    MS. JANET POGUEGlad to be here.

  • 11:08:06

    MS. CHRISTINE PORATHThank you for having us.

  • 11:08:09

    MS. ALLISON ARIEFFThank you.

  • 11:08:09

    REHMAnd, Allison, if I could start with you, how much do you believe workplace design really matters?

  • 11:08:24

    ARIEFFI think it matters a lot. This is a topic that I've written quite a lot about for The New York Times and other publications and, you know, assessed the workplace design issue from a design point of view. I think what's important to understand is that all the furniture and all the space planning in the world can't make a terrific workplace.

  • 11:08:46

    ARIEFFAnd I think it's really important to introduce into the discussion the issue of company culture and autonomy because ultimately I think you can make a not great situation work if you have the freedom to get up and go work in a cafe, or there's a variety of different places that you can do your work. If you are in an open-plan workspace where there are people sneaking up behind you, chewing gum, all the things that you mentioned, and you have to stay there and have no freedom in your job to go be more flexible in the way you do your work, I think that actually has perhaps the greatest impact. So...

  • 11:09:19


  • 11:09:20's really as much about autonomy as design.

  • 11:09:23

    REHMAnd that is the voice of Alison Arieff. She's design and architecture writer for The New York Times and editor of The Urbanist, the magazine of public policy think tank SPUR. And that is the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research. And, Janet Pogue, turning to you, talk to us about the evolution of office space, how it's changed over the years.

  • 11:09:59

    POGUEWell, open-plan workstations really came into vogue to provide flexible space for teams to work. But over time, real estate efficiency starting becoming more a priority, and cubes got smaller as people were trying to get more people into the space. And everyone got the same kind of space, so people -- you could move furniture -- didn't have to move furniture, and you move people instead.

  • 11:10:23

    POGUEAnd panels gave the illusion of privacy, so it became kind of the Dilbert world that no one likes. And that was at the expense of all the other types of spaces that we need in order to be successful. And if you think about the pace of work today, it's fast and ever changing, and we do a wide variety of activities throughout the day.

  • 11:10:43

    POGUEAnd so -- and technology allows us to do that work, really, anywhere. And on average, people only spend 40 to 50 percent of their time at their desk. So that has really brought around a revolution about how we think about workplace design now. And I agree with Allison that it's really around choice. And we think that's one of the key drivers behind what the new workplace of today is all about. The best companies really empower their people with as many options as possible.

  • 11:11:19

    REHM'Cause I was about to say, whose choice, when you talk about choice.

  • 11:11:26

    POGUEYeah. It's really around the individual employee. We all work differently. We have different work styles. We do different things within our organization. And so being able to have a choice in when and where and that autonomy to be able to select the types of spaces we want to work in and when we want to do that really does bring meaning to the workplace and helps with employee engagement.

  • 11:11:54

    REHMJanet Pogue, she's a principal at Gensler here in Washington, D.C. And turning to you, Christine Porath of Georgetown University's School of Business, how do you see it? Is workplace space -- should it be a matter of choice? Or does it come down to what works for the organization perhaps?

  • 11:12:31

    PORATHWell, I absolutely agree with what's been said, you know, piggybacking on what Janet just remarked about. The individual -- it's really about the individual and their needs and preferences. And so if the organization can find a way to deliver in that regard, they'll definitely increase the engagement. So providing greater autonomy when and where people do work is extremely important and as far as increasing one's sense of thriving, so a sense of vitality in the workplace, as well as a sense of learning and development.

  • 11:13:06

    PORATHAnd so, you know, workplace design is playing an increasing role not only with the attention given to employees but also the idea of increasing a sense of relatedness at work. You want people to really feel plugged in and care about coming and working with individuals. This is particularly relevant nowadays in work where so much of work, over 70 percent, is done with collaboration.

  • 11:13:33

    PORATHSo organizations that really want innovation, creativity, high performance over the long term, you want to build in that sense of relatedness. And I know Janet and Gensler are doing a great job of designing workplace environments which bring people together much more often.

  • 11:13:51

    REHMDoes that mean, Janet, that you're looking toward more open spaces or individually-marked spaces?

  • 11:14:03

    POGUEI think it's more of a matter of how do you find the right balance? As we have been doing our survey work -- and I've had 30 years at Gensler, and we've been looking at how the nature of work has really changed. And we've been measuring that. And we measured it in 2008 and then came back just recently and did another survey and looked at the difference.

  • 11:14:25

    POGUEAnd we're seeing that people are actually focusing more often -- they're spending more of their time in focused mode, and they're doing less collaborations over the last 5 years. And we know that trying to create this balanced work environment that allows you to do both is absolutely critical.

  • 11:14:45


  • 11:14:47

    POGUEAnd the most innovative companies, especially looking at, like, the technology companies, go back and forth between focus work and collaborative work at a very, very fast pace. So you need to be able to have both environments in, you know, readily proximity.

  • 11:15:05

    REHMSo, Allison, how does that actually work out that you have both environments where you can have that collaboration and yet still have privacy?

  • 11:15:22

    ARIEFFWell, there's been some great design solutions. And I'll give a shout-out to Gensler for being one of the few firms that actually goes back to companies to see how those workplaces they've designed are actually working. So kudos to them for doing that. I think Steelcase is designing some great new sort of office furniture that allows for this flexibility.

  • 11:15:42

    ARIEFFI think if an office can duplicate -- what I like to talk about is sort of the college library model. You know, when you're in college and you had a serious project to work on, you kind of sequestered yourself in a corral where you couldn't talk to anybody. When you maybe had some work to do that required a little bit less focus, you sat in a student lounge where there might be some noise, but you could still concentrate.

  • 11:16:03

    ARIEFFAnd then maybe there was another seating area in the library for a different sort of work you were doing. I think if offices can kind of borrow from that model and provide a variety of different options for their employees, you get that same kind of kind of amazing freedom that you would have felt in the library. Where am I going to go today? And I think, to the extent that an office environment could replicate that level of choice and autonomy and interest in engaging environments, they'd be on the right track. So I kind of feel that's the best model.

  • 11:16:33

    REHM'Course, Christine, that implies the amount of space that you would ideally have to create both that sense of I can be quiet and private, and yet, when I choose, I can be in touch with my colleagues.

  • 11:16:56

    PORATHAbsolutely. So there's been some great examples recently. Microsoft building -- they have a research building called 99 Building where they really planned very carefully having things like the café at the bottom floor, having interactions there, but then also having soundproof rooms where individuals could go to be extremely focused, having rooms with whiteboards from floor to ceiling where individuals could collaborate together.

  • 11:17:23

    PORATHAlso, Cisco, who I think Gensler worked with as well, they designed workspaces to kind of maximize efficiency across these various different ways. But the idea is to have different spaces to cater to these various needs. And employees really respond well to this. I did some research with Tony Schwartz in the Harvard Business Review where we have 14,000 people across industries and continents and so forth recently.

  • 11:17:50

    PORATHAnd the people that have workspace conducive to focus and productivity, 59 percent are more likely to stay with the organization. So focus is a big area of concern for people. You know, we're always on, and so it increases not only their thriving work and 50 percent more focus, but also it really dramatically increases their likelihood of staying with the organization.

  • 11:18:16

    REHMInteresting. Christine Porath, she's associate professor of management at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. When we come back, we'll talk more, build in your phone calls, your ideas, 800-433-8850. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the design of office space. And as many of you may know, WAMU is now in new headquarters at 4401 Connecticut Avenue. Gensler, who's representative Janet Pogue is here, did in fact design the office space that is here in our new building. And so we're talking to her, to Christine Porath of Georgetown University and to Allison Arieff of SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research.

  • 11:20:52

    REHMShe's also design and architectural writer for the New York Times. Allison, tell us what happened to the cubicle office space? I just had a tweet that says: I work in a cubicle setting. And if I did not have my headphones, I'd go crazy.

  • 11:21:21

    ARIEFFIt's interesting. There's an amazing documentary about the cubicle. I'm not recalling the title, it may just be "The Cubicle." And even 10 years ago when the cubicle was ubiquitous, this documentary shows how people were really miserable because what happened is the cubicle started getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

  • 11:21:39

    REHMSmaller and smaller and smaller.

  • 11:21:42

    ARIEFFAnd just became prison basically.

  • 11:21:45


  • 11:21:45

    ARIEFFNow, I think, the irony is that there are a lot of people who are sort of nostalgic for the cubicle because at least it afforded them some measure of privacy, which has now been tossed out the window with the open plan. So each generation gets its sort of office punishment. So now we wanted to get out of the enclosed structure and now we're sort of dying to have it again. So it's -- I think it's just a case of extremes.

  • 11:22:12

    ARIEFFYou know, the pendulum had swung way too far in terms of basically boxing people up like cattle. Now it's got them out in the pasture and they want a little structure.

  • 11:22:22

    REHMSo what do you see as the middle ground there?

  • 11:22:28

    ARIEFFI think by not turning it into a either/or situation, it's not that you have all cubicles or all open space, but as I sort of referred to earlier is that you can offer a variety of sitting options. One, depending on the tasks that people are doing, also depending on things like how much are they traveling? If someone is traveling, as many people do, 20, 30, 40 percent of their time, they need less space in office than someone who's maybe in the support function that needs to be there all the time.

  • 11:22:58

    ARIEFFSo there's new furniture being designed, new space plan that's happening to sort of accommodate these varying work types. And I think the recognition that people do work differently and different spaces are needed to facilitate that provides the best model moving forward.

  • 11:23:12

    REHMAnd, Christine, for you, here's an email from Kyle in Maine. He says: I was wondering what your guest think about telework. In the government, there's a large push for telework. I'm curious as to what your panel thinks about the benefits.

  • 11:23:35

    PORATHWell, again, most recently this data that we collected shows that people really have a strong desire to at least work remotely some of the time. It provides much greater flexibility. It allows you to balance your work and life much more so. So people tend to be a bunch more satisfied not only in their jobs but with life overall. And, for example, those people that were afforded the opportunity to work remotely at least some of the time, claim that they were 24 percent more engaged.

  • 11:24:08

    PORATHThey experience 35 percent greater thriving at work. They were able to have 35 percent more greater focus and prioritization and were 45 percent more likely to stay with the organization. So, at least what our data has told us so far is that people very much want again that autonomy or greater control over when and where they do their work if at all possible.

  • 11:24:36

    REHMAnd of course there is some situations that probably adapt better to telework than others.

  • 11:24:45

    PORATHYeah, absolutely. So I think one key piece of it is, do you need to collaborate with others? And if you do, oftentimes there's a real benefit to some face-to-face interaction.

  • 11:24:56


  • 11:24:57

    PORATHIt really tends to build trust and sharing of information and, again, really enhances creativity. So you have to be careful to strike that balance if you do require collaborative work.

  • 11:25:11

    REHMBut, you know, even having Allison on Skype with me this morning helps a great deal in my interaction with guests when they're joining us remotely. I can see her nodding her head. I can signal to her when we're almost out of time. All that makes a huge difference.

  • 11:25:39

    PORATHAbsolutely. So I would always suggest that you strike -- try to come up with the richest form of communication possible. About 70 percent of communication is nonverbal. So only 7 percent roughly is communicated verbally. And so we really want -- you want to be able to read as many signals as possible.

  • 11:26:02

    REHMExactly. Janet, here is a question posted on our website. Please discuss standing desks. We now know that sitting all day is very bad for health. Modern offices should be designed so that workers have the option of standing for at least part of the day.

  • 11:26:28

    POGUEI couldn't agree more. We are seeing that sitting is almost the new smoking. That sitting leads to, if you're sitting all day and you're not moving, it really is kind of a health hazard. And so trying to create shared spaces that people can actually stand during the day, we actually have some in our own office and we have some employees that prefer to stand actually all day long. We're seeing a big trend in desks that can raise up at standing height and be able to lower back down at sitting height.

  • 11:27:05

    POGUEYou're also seeing some trends with even treadmills in the office.

  • 11:27:08


  • 11:27:09

    POGUEThat somebody can go over and, you know, check email or read as they're walking on a treadmill. But I think it goes back to how can we make our offices more active? How can we encourage people to get up and move around? I often call it planned inconveniences. You know, sometimes I think we had made things too convenient to everybody. The workstation became the place for absolutely all activities.

  • 11:27:38

    POGUEAnd we now know it can't do it all. So being able to design space that actually encourages people to get up, take the stairs, you know, walk over and get a cup of coffee, bump into your colleague, strike a conversation, that may actually lead to better ideas or breakthrough ideas.

  • 11:27:59

    REHMAllison, any comment?

  • 11:28:02

    ARIEFFYes, a couple. You mentioned Skype. I was at Steelcase last year visiting them to learn about some of the new office innovations they were working on. And they were very keen on what they call living on video and had designed a number of new systems of furniture and environments that facilitated video conferencing. They're located in Michigan. They have subsidiaries around the world and there are people who work there who just as you and I are seeing each other onscreen, they'll just set up that all day.

  • 11:28:31


  • 11:28:32

    ARIEFFSo they have a colleague in a different time zone but they're just looking at each other doing their work and sort of interacting. And they were really seeing as that as the future of so much as there are so many companies that are now global and have different hours. It sort of allows that work to happen all the time and certainly when it needs to. So that's one big thing. The sort of planned inconveniences that were mentioned.

  • 11:28:56

    ARIEFFI think this is happening more and more in office design. And this can happen in the most mundane of ways. Lots of people have a recycling bin at their desk, say. If you put that recycling bin at one place on the office floor, then you're forced to walk across the office to throw out your recycling. It can be really as silly as that.

  • 11:29:16


  • 11:29:16

    ARIEFFI mean, the challenge is always in designing for human behavior because people don't always do what you want. There's numerous examples of buildings putting in staircases so people will use them. But then, people are still managing to take the elevator a single floor. I mean, you can't control all the activity that people are engaging in, but you can make it a lot easier for them. I think there's also an interest by some more progressive companies in having walking meetings.

  • 11:29:42

    ARIEFFYou know, just sort of walking and you're seeing corporate campuses that have walking trails and have sited their buildings in such a way that there's, like, really lovely pedestrian paths going from one to another to really encourage people to sort of get outside and move that way.

  • 11:29:58

    REHMWhat a great idea.

  • 11:29:59

    ARIEFFYeah, instead of talking for 20 minutes in a conference room, why not walk around the campus and get some exercise (unintelligible).

  • 11:30:05

    REHMSure, great idea. You know, for a while I thought I might be able to set up a studio at home and do my program from home, sort of having people on Skype. But I realized I would truly miss being here with my colleagues and, you know, seeing them face-to-face not just on screen would make a huge difference.

  • 11:30:41

    PORATHI think it's building that social capital. And if you think about it, we're all basically social people. But in our recent research, we actually looked at and asked people where did they prefer to focus. And overwhelmingly, 73 percent said they would rather focus at the office despite the fact of, you know, distractions, interruptions and the like, they still want to be around other people. And I think you start to build a community and feel like you're part of the whole. And that's absolutely crucial.

  • 11:31:16

    REHMAll right, I'm going to open the phones and take a few calls. Here let's go first to Michael in Hialeah, FL. You're on the air.

  • 11:31:30

    MICHAELHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:31:32

    REHMAnd you're most welcome.

  • 11:31:35

    MICHAELMy question is for Janet and Christine, mostly for Christine being that she's a professor. I'm a professor too down here in South Florida and my concern is how I deal -- the classroom design or how classroom instruction is geared somehow for the individual or cubicle mentality. But yet, at the same time, the classroom trends or education trends are focusing on a new paradigm shift, leading towards collaborative learning.

  • 11:32:04

    MICHAELAnd I would like to know how the impact of education for these young college students, you know, getting ready to enter the workforce how their classroom experience impacts the workforce, you know, all in the context of design.

  • 11:32:17


  • 11:32:18

    PORATHYeah, it's a great question. I mean, we do our best to try to build in, collaborative experiences, not only with team projects and the like but, for example, you know, I teach MBAs and I teach in a case room, if you will. So, you know, there's opportunities to have class discussions. But I send them to break-out rooms actually to dig into cases that we tackle to have discussion group time essentially.

  • 11:32:47

    PORATHAnd then I bring them back to speak about it as a larger group. And I think this strikes a nice balance, particularly for them, because it gives more of them a voice and it tends to increase their engagement in the material, where they're able to test out their ideas in teams and then come together and we all learn.

  • 11:33:10

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And joining us now by phone from Cleveland, OH, Gloria Mark. She is professor of informatics at the University of California at Irvine. Gloria, thanks for being with us.

  • 11:33:32

    MS. GLORIA MARKMy pleasure.

  • 11:33:33

    REHMI gather your research zeroes in on the problem of interruption in the workplace. How distracted are we really?

  • 11:33:46

    MARKWell, people are quite distracted. But let me explain first how we measure distractions. So we've sent observers into the workplace and we shadowed people. And every time they changed activities, every time they were interrupted, we would time their actions to the second. And now we use logging of their computer activity. We use biosensors to measure stress. But we find that people switch activities about every three minutes on average.

  • 11:34:27

    MARKThat's day in and day out because we've looked at people over multiple days. Now if you -- you might think maybe it's not so bad to switch activities if we're working on the same project. So if you're working on an article and you use the phone and then you use the internet, then you use email and then maybe you use instant messaging, maybe it's not so bad. But if we look at how often people switch projects, they switch about every 10 and a half minutes.

  • 11:35:01

    MARKAnd that's very little time to really get engaged in a project. The other thing I will mention about interruptions is that people are almost as likely to self-interrupt as to be interrupted by some external force such as email or someone coming into your cubicle, (word?) through the cubicle wall. So there's -- it's this habitual behavior that people have developed in working in a digital environment.

  • 11:35:35

    REHMSo are you suggesting that the open office plan may be more conducive to interruption or is it going to be about the same whether you're in a cubicle or in an open office space?

  • 11:35:59

    MARKSo we actually studied that and we found that when people were in an open office plan, they were more likely to experience interruptions from their co-workers. We also looked at the type of interruptions. And these interruptions were more likely to do with work that's peripheral to what they were doing. So, you know, you're being dragged into other people's work, you know, consulting, you know, giving advice. So it's really a shift from the -- your own work.

  • 11:36:37

    REHMBut isn't that all part of collaboration?

  • 11:36:42

    MARKSorry, can you repeat that?

  • 11:36:43

    REHMIsn't that all part of collaboration?

  • 11:36:48

    MARKWell, it is. It is. I mean, the open office plan creates a culture of participation. But there's different kinds of collaborations. There's collaboration on work that's very central to what you're doing. The results of this kind of peripheral collaboration where you're shifting gears and working on something else. So it's a different, you know, it's also a spectrum of different kinds of collaborative activities.

  • 11:37:18

    REHMAll right. Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at the University of California at Irvine. Thanks for joining us. And when we come back, we'll take more of your calls. Stay with us.

  • 11:39:58

    REHMAnd we are back. I see that many of you have comments and thoughts about your own office design. Here's one from Constance who says, "Good office design is for the happy few. For lower tier and temporary employees, the employer's attitude is like it or lump it. Employers know that, in this economy, workers have little choice and will stick with whatever jobs they get, regardless of workplace conditions.

  • 11:40:39

    REHM"Employers don't have to spend money making the workplace pleasant or even tolerable. At my last office job, five of us were working on folding tables in a busy office kitchen less than five feet from the coffee machine." Allison.

  • 11:41:05

    ARIEFFThat's a horrible story, but not surprising. I want to just make a quick shift from sort of white-collar work here to every other -- people who have to work in, say, the back office of a warehouse or on the factory floor, something I attempted very unsuccessfully to do some research about sort of improved office design and working conditions at sort of outside the sphere of white-collar work that we're talking about and was absolutely hard-pressed to find any examples of really any improvements being done.

  • 11:41:40

    ARIEFFOne firm that I talked to said, oh, well, we've painted inspirational quotes and painted some walls in bright colors to kind of improve morale. And I thought that's horrible.

  • 11:41:50

    REHMWow. Wow.

  • 11:41:53

    ARIEFFSo, yeah, I mean, the more forward-thinking companies, companies who want to recruit employees and have successful businesses...

  • 11:41:58

    REHMAnd retain them. Yeah.

  • 11:42:00

    ARIEFF...and retain them are thinking of these things.

  • 11:42:01


  • 11:42:02

    ARIEFFI mean, here in San Francisco, which is of course another planet right now in terms of the economy and job growth, employers especially in the tech sector are bending over backwards. They feed their employees three meals a day. They have gyms. They have roof gardens. You know, I hope that some of this trickles down to a larger populace. I mean...

  • 11:42:21


  • 11:42:21

    ARIEFF...a lot of these companies go overboard, in my opinion. But some of what they're doing to enhance productivity and desire for those employees to stay should definitely be looked at by other companies wanting to grow and make their employees happy.

  • 11:42:34


  • 11:42:35

    PORATHYes. So we actually do have some data in blue-collar settings around thriving in the workplace. And what was surprising to us was we actually found that these higher-thriving employees, as compared to lower-thriving employees, in blue-collar settings, there were larger performance differences. In other words, it mattered even more that you paid attention to them, that they felt a greater sense of thriving, if you will.

  • 11:43:01

    REHMBelonging and participating and being part of the organization.

  • 11:43:02

    PORATHAbsolutely. Yes. And absolutely. And I really do believe that the Fortune 100 -- 75 of the Fortune 100 firms were involved in the conference board annual meeting, and thriving was the focus. And they were absolutely, you know, invested in terms of safety performance in particular. So higher thrivers perform almost 30 percent better than those that feel like they're maybe more neglected, if you will.

  • 11:43:33


  • 11:43:34

    POGUEI think it is a sad fact that a lot of people don't have optimal work environments. In Gensler's 2013 workplace survey -- this research that we just completed -- we found that only one in four companies really have optimal workspace. And it came down to the items that we've been talking about, around focus, around balance, and around choice. And when you're able to provide that -- those elements, the business performance, the innovation scores, and employee engagement just soared.

  • 11:44:09

    REHMAll right. Let's go to, let's see, Amber in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.

  • 11:44:21

    AMBERHi, Diane. Love the show. Thanks for having me.

  • 11:44:23

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:44:25

    AMBERSo I worked for the same nonprofit organization in Chicago for about seven years. And I just recently moved to Washington, D.C., and I've been here for a couple months. I'm still with the same organization, but I'm working full-time remotely. And it's a very, very different experience from your previous person you had talking about interruptions. I've definitely found that I can get a lot more done when I'm working by myself.

  • 11:44:48

    AMBERAnd I remember reading research that it can take you from six to 25 minutes to get back to original path after you've been interrupted. So in that way, it's been a great experience. But I find that I miss so much not being in the office. I miss -- in terms of just those informal interactions and how much they inform my work. And that's something that, even with utilizing Skype and these kinds of technologies, that's been a real challenge for me.

  • 11:45:14

    REHMThat's interesting. Allison.

  • 11:45:18

    ARIEFFI think that's true. And that just goes back to the idea of balance that we were talking about. I mean, I worked 100 percent remotely for a company for about a year, and it got quite lonely. And we did sort of two-hour conference calls with a conference system that didn't work well, and you couldn't speak. And the level of frustration that comes with that sort of exclusion is big. I think that lots of people do work remotely full time. Again, I think if you can have a little bit of both, you're going get a more optimum situation.

  • 11:45:50

    REHMSure. Yeah. Absolutely. Let's go to Dallas, Texas. Hi there, Melvin.

  • 11:45:58

    MELVINGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:45:59


  • 11:46:01

    MELVINOne of the things that I really wanted to mention, I'm an acoustical consultant, and what we find is that satisfaction has a lot to do with the acoustical environment. And one of the biggest things that you have to make sure that you take care of is the acoustical environment in terms of absorbing sounds, blocking sounds, and covering it with sound masking. So I wanted to see what your panelists had to say about acoustics in the open-plan office and satisfaction from a worker's standpoint.

  • 11:46:26


  • 11:46:27

    POGUESure. In Gensler's survey, we found that 77 percent of respondents wanted a quiet environment. And it goes to all those issues that you just mentioned. You know, as a designer, we have to figure out how to make it quiet enough and yet not too quiet that you can still hear every conversation. Sound masking and some of the things that you just talked about go a long way. But so does zoning, you know, noisy activities away from quiet, starting to create quiet zones. We've even seen technology-free zones come in to kind of vogue, if you will.

  • 11:47:02

    REHMYou know, all of a sudden, I'm put in mind of the original newspaper office where typewriters were going all the time. And yet newspapers did get put out.

  • 11:47:18

    POGUEAnd we can seem to work in Starbucks, right?

  • 11:47:20


  • 11:47:20

    POGUEAnd I think it's because we're not vested in the conversations around us, whereas at the office, you hear something -- you know, it becomes a distraction, or you suddenly perk up. And so how do you make sure you hear the good conversations and block out the bad?

  • 11:47:34

    REHMExactly. Let's go to David in Indianapolis. You're on the air.

  • 11:47:41

    DAVIDWell, hi, Diane. Thank you. I appreciate the conversation, especially about the noise and acoustics. We work with architects regularly, and we love our architects. But we do find, really, the majority of architects are not that familiar with task concentration, speech privacy, which often is called masking.

  • 11:48:01

    DAVIDAnd what we also find is it's not an integrated workspace. So task concentration suffers a lot due to the lack of integration of the building disciplines. And we find that the biggest challenge for our clients is to integrate that space acoustically...

  • 11:48:21


  • 11:48:21

    DAVID...noise control, masking, et cetera, which we just encourage the architects to understand that that is an integrated function which we see very few really actually trying to address fully. And so, with that being said, noise control, masking in particular, task concentration, speech privacy can raise productivity about 10 to 15 percent per employee per year, which all employers, I'm sure, would be interested in.

  • 11:48:47


  • 11:48:49

    ARIEFFWell, it's interesting. I'm actually working on a sound design piece right now. And I think this is going to be a definitely growing part of the field of architecture that has been heretofore neglected. Arup in particular has this amazing sound lab where you can approximate the sounds of buildings. You can do a comparative study, say, of all the symphony halls worldwide to kind of get at the exact acoustic resolution that you want for your particular building.

  • 11:49:13

    REHMHmm. Hmm.

  • 11:49:15

    ARIEFFI can see office design definitely adopting this technology to -- you could actually approximate what the office would sound like when people are in it. And if you think about all the environments that we're in -- not just offices but airports, hospitals, et cetera -- sound is so essential and can affect so positively or negatively our experiences in those places. And it's often overlooked, and I appreciate the caller pointing that out because I think it's an absolutely huge factor in the issue that we're talking about.

  • 11:49:45

    REHMYou know, if you go into restaurants these days, you hear people speaking so much more loudly than they used to. They've gotten into the habit of, you know, just talking at the top of their lungs. And that means that people at the next table have to sort of talk even louder. What's happened there? Why -- I realize that this is somewhat a tangential issue. But do we have to be trained to talk more softly in offices than we allow ourselves to talk outside of the office, Janet?

  • 11:50:39

    POGUEWell, I think that's an interesting point because we have noticed that as the panels came down and got lower, and suddenly you were aware of who was around you, where, when you had tall panels, you didn't know if you really had privacy or not. You may talk loud on a conference call or put it on speakerphone, not realizing somebody's there. But when you're able to see somebody, all of a sudden you're able to modify your behavior.

  • 11:51:03


  • 11:51:04

    POGUEAnd -- but the idea, you know, in a restaurant of suddenly, you know, escalating, I'm not sure of the full phenomenon of that. But in the office environment, it's holding each other accountable. It's giving that signal, hey, I'm on a phone. You know, bring it down.

  • 11:51:21

    REHMI wish we could do that at restaurants and make tables farther and farther apart, so we could have private conversations. Let's go to Fayetteville, Penn. Hi, Robert.

  • 11:51:38

    ROBERTHi, Diane. Thank you for calling. (sic) I -- restaurant is another program, which you must do.

  • 11:51:44

    REHMYes, I must do.

  • 11:51:48

    ROBERTAny case, (unintelligible) 1980, '81, '82, I hired a company to help -- I was running an opera company. And they have -- the MG Taylor Corporation essentially invented entire systems for leveraging creativity. And since all of my life I've worked in the arts, but through this process of environmental development and using all of the intelligences that have been discussed by several people -- I wish I could remember the guys' names -- visual and spatial and movement and kinetic intelligences, the environments have been designed to really leverage people's attention spans as well as the notion of what we can do to get out of our cubicles and really make innovation happen.

  • 11:52:36

    ROBERTWe've done in these environments, these design spaces from Turin, Italy and several other places in Europe to -- and I've worked with Boeing and Coca-Cola as well as Hewlett-Packard. They had a place called a nowhere store in Palo Alto, and we worked with lots of the high tech companies out there. And it may be of use to see how creativity does leverage with these environments you've been talking about. It's an important development which has been going on in multiple places across the globe.

  • 11:53:09

    REHMGood. I'm glad you called, Robert. Do you want to comment, Allison?

  • 11:53:17

    ARIEFFI think leveraging creativity is the goal of so many companies right now. I think it's difficult to quantify the leveraging of creativity, but certainly a good goal. Again, I think it comes back to creating an environment that removes as many of these irritations and interruptions as possible. But sometimes your creativity comes sort of in the shower or on a walk. So you have to allow for that.

  • 11:53:42

    REHMYou're absolutely right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think as we go forward, what do you see as new trends in office design, Janet?

  • 11:53:58

    POGUEI think it's more and more about the individual. So we have to still create a framework that works for an entire organization, so you've got the flexibility and adaptability, but start to create within that some individual choices. And, you know, it seems like our projects that are particularly human resource led are some of the most creative and interesting challenges that we get, that it really comes down to the people in the space.

  • 11:54:24

    REHMAnd, Allison, what is new on the horizon? What do you see as the ideas going forward?

  • 11:54:33

    ARIEFFWell, I think, just to echo what Janet said, I also think something that didn't come up today, but this idea of hoteling, that you don't actually have a desk but you can sort of come and check in to a workspace, sort of online, like, oh, is desk number 42, that on I like by the window, available today? And, you know, whereas a generation ago, you had your kid's picture and a little plant, sort of a workspace that was your own, that clearly seems less and less the way of the future.

  • 11:54:59

    ARIEFFIt's more about where can you put your laptop today? And maybe that's at a desk. Maybe that's a café table, and maybe that's not even at the office. But I see more of that level of autonomy happening. And also a lot of the things that we talked about, sort of walking desks, walking meetings, things to get people moving around and really focusing on the connection between quality of life and company productivity.

  • 11:55:21

    REHMAnd last to you, Christine.

  • 11:55:24

    PORATHWell, I think the design really affects people's energy and their energy management. And so the physical space affects how you feel at work, particularly your ability to focus, so the mental energy, and also just the emotional side of things that's meeting people's needs as far as collaboration of relatedness. We heard so many comments today about people feeling that need to feel connected at least part of the time, and so designing workplaces with that in mind, I think, will spur greater satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.

  • 11:55:54

    REHMWell, here's the last tweet I'm going to read to you. Pardon me. It's from Stephen who says, "Bye-bye, introverts."

  • 11:56:09

    REHMDo you agree with that?

  • 11:56:11

    POGUEWell, you know, we did our research, and we're not finding huge differences between what introverts need and extroverts. But it's basic people needs, but, yes, it's time, I guess, to come out of your shell.

  • 11:56:25

    REHMJanet Pogue, she's a principal at Gensler in their Washington, D.C. office. Christine Porath, she's at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. And Allison Arieff, design and architecture writer for The New York Times, and she works with the think tank SPUR that stands for San Francisco Planning and Urban Research. Thank you all so much.

  • 11:57:01

    POGUEThank you.

  • 11:57:01

    PORATHThank you.

  • 11:57:02

    ARIEFFThank you.

  • 11:57:02

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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