1. Jeff Joerling - Solving the Privacy Crisis

Listen to this episode Jeff Joerling describes his work with Turnstone, a division of Steelcase, as a self-dubbed “analog collaboration advocate,” and his advice for overcoming the privacy crisis.

Connect with Jeff Joerling

Other Resources Mentioned in this Podcast

Tell us a little about about your role and how it relates to coworking.  

Jeff’s title at Turnstone (a division of Steelcase,) is “Analog Collaboration Advocate.”  His work focuses on creating spaces that allow people to come together and connect through coworking. Listen to the podcast for the full story on how he got his title!

What coworking space do you frequent most often?  

Jeff claims, “I try not to frequent any of them most often.  I gotta share the love and spread it around. I think it’s usually not when I’m at home, I think that I travel so much that when I'm at home I've got other people to meet with and frequent. So that I really don’t meet in the great spaces - you know Green Spaces, and Battery and Creative Density - some amazing spaces here in Denver that I never get to go hang out with.  I usually like to, whenever I fly into a new town, is to see that coworking space there [...] it’s fun to get to experience the new ones.  Luckily, I’m still in a phase that despite maybe seeing 80-100 different shared spaces that I still try to pick out a new one when I land somewhere.”

What’s the most unique coworking or office space you've encountered?  

Jeff: “They're all so different. I think looking at some of my favorite from a design standpoint, even though knowing what to expect is sometimes very valuable - it’s familiar, it’s comfortable - spaces like The Makers Space, in Seattle, the customization […] everything in there is so purposeful and sought out, and a piece of who they are. "


Our topic today is the “Privacy Crisis” brought on by the open plan office. The Washington Post published an article on Dec 30th, 2014 entitled: “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.” The author, a writer for a NYC-based ad agency, describes her transition to an open office plan. She says, quote, “It felt like my boss had ripped off my clothes and left me standing in my skivvies.” She goes on to say that her “personal performance at work has hit an all-time low,” and that “it’s like being in middle school with a bunch of adults.”  She sites that 70% of US offices have low or no partitions. Coworking spaces are not the only offices designed around open plans - Corporate America seems to be going all in.  And articles like this have us wondering. Have we totally messed up?

Jeff: “To steal a quote from our friend Mark Gilbreath from LiquidSpace, “when work becomes a decision and not a destination, where do you decide to work then?” [...] For big corporations, for their workers who don't have choice, how do they create these environments that are the type of places that people wanted? The open plan and the open collaborative spaces had these great energy and collaboration areas and serendipity that comes there, but like I said, the pendulum has swung too far in that you can’t force anyone into one setting. Just as the cubicle is wrong for a lot of workers, so is the open plan for a lot of other workers.  And I think it’s really creating, a term that we use at Steelcase,  a pallette of place.  It’s the power that comes from having a place to work that’s right for the type of work that you’re working on.”

Jeff: “Some of the work that we’ve done, we partnered with an amazing author, Susan Kane, who wrote the book on introverts […] As we look at the US population, and possibly globally, 30-50% of the population could self-relate to being an introvert.  If we think of the stereotypes that we think of being an introvert, and how that type of person wants to work, it is sometimes in a more private environment. It is sometimes in spaces that need a way to recharge and still be energized in a different way.”

Jeff discusses the question of how to create environments that support all workers, rather than isolating 30% of the customers and members of working spaces.  Jeff references the NY Times article that states that, “ancillary is the new primary, “ and that Turnstone is doing research about a lounge and other alternative postures in which people can work and recharge. He asks, “could this meet the need for someone who wants privacy or is an introvert, to still recharge during the day?” He then states that Turnstone is designing products that would support this sort of “lounge” work.

Questions for Jeff:

If I’m designing a workspace, what is the right framework for private vs. public spaces?  Jeff suggests that the designer should create zones that designate different working areas.  For example, he states that, “this is the area where we encourage you to be as loud and social as you want to be. This is the area that we designate to be a little quieter.” He says that simple changes like, “changing where the coffee pot is or where the TV is, or the color on the walls,” can help create a diverse environment. He said that a designer can use “artificial barriers,” for example, Turnstone’s “Big Screen,” that create artificial methods for privacy.  He said that this helps a space to support the needs of many types of users.

And if I already have a workspace that is really heavily weighted to the public space side, what can I do to balance it out? Jeff references three different forms of privacy: Acoustical, Visual, and Territorial.  As the oldest form of a “Do Not Disturb” sign, he chuckles at the use of headphones to create a barrier, yet he references Flocked and a Kickstarter that has created a USB green or red light that flips on the top of a laptop that welcomes or repels people as a privacy indicator.  He said that these are ways to think about how we create environments, without constructing walls, and that spaces will need to differentiate based on individuals’ needs as cities become more saturated with these coworking spaces.

Jeff uses the Turnstone Headquarters as an example for how spaces change and evolve according to need.  He said that they are under a constant redesign and he discusses their “cafeteria” that was transformed into a “work cafe.”  He said that they kept the food as the destination and enabled meeting space designed to encourage people to collaborate.  He said that it makes it more than just a space - it makes it a coworking community.

Jeff: “Sitting is the new smoking - How can we mitigate those health risks?  What if you were able to leave the office healthier - physically and emotionally. What would that do to your psyche?”

Jeff’s suggestions for designing an effective coworking space:

  • Read 360 articles and other research on the topic (on the Steelcase website)

  • Talk to the members of the coworking community - How did they get there?

  • Seek some professional help from a designer and ask spatial questions

  • Plan for different needs of different users and allow for them to have different levels of choice.

  • Just know - as you design your new space, you’re going to get something wrong.  Make it flexible and fluid enough that it can be improved over time.

  • Focus on connectivity: Social, Spatial, and Technological

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PodcastJamie Russo