30. Natalie Grasso on Workplace Design Trends

Welcome to episode #30 of the Everything Coworking Podcast!

This episode is brought to you by the Global Workspace Association

In this episode, I chat with Natalie Grasso, Senior Editor for Work Design Magazine. We talk about modern workplace design trends and their new event series on exploring choice in the workplace. If you have not yet come across Work Design Magazine, it’s a fantastic resource for anyone involved in how people work today. They cover architecture, design, culture, wellbeing, furniture, lighting. They also host events in cities around the US. Their current series is on choice in the workplace and Natalie shares some learnings from the first two events in Washington DC and Seattle. The series continues in Chicago in April and another event in June in Washington DC.

Tell us about Work Design Magazine, about you and you are about and who you serve.  Work Design is a digital publication.  We are dedicated to exploring the ideas that are shaping the workplace today and we serve what we call the workplace industry that’s made up of Designers, Architects, Facility Managers, HR Leaders, Commercial Real Estate People, Furniture Manufacturers and even the end users who are ultimately working in these workplaces. We serve weekly content on workdesign.com as well as through a series of case studies videos, webinars and events.

You serve such a broad range and you know the workplace topic has really started to encompass a much broader audience as it’s become so interesting and so innovative; you know what the leading folks in the Industry are doing.  Where are some of the biggest trends in workplace that you are covering right now?  One thing that keeps cropping up, is this widespread recognition of how important people are - you know the humans in these spaces that we are designing, and the value that people bring to the corporate world.  We think so much of business today depends on creativity and innovation and that comes of course from people so we are watching folks in the workplace industry recognise that they have to create environments that are conducive to that.  I actually think Jamie it was at Worktech in New York last year that you talked about how we can’t just check our well being at the door of our office - we want to go work in places that support us first as people and then we can really produce and be creative.

You are doing an event series on exploring choice in the workplace.  You’ve had a couple of events so far, one in DC and one in Seattle.  Tell us about that series and what the topics are and where you host them and give us the rundown on those.  Our regular readers know that in addition to our weekly digital contact we also host these live panel discussions in cities around the country.  We call them our Work Design Talks.  The inspiration for this current series which is exploring choice in the workplace actually came from last year’s series of talks when we focused on the workplaces of the billion dollar startups.  The one thing all those conversations seem have in common was that there was a super high level of creativity and interaction, which is needed to support innovation at the level of these billion dollar start-ups and that’s what really inspired this series: We wanted to look at all of the different choices you have when it comes to creating spaces and even the policies to support that creativity and the interaction that leads to innovation within organizations.

So, you’ve done one in DC and Seattle - tell us about the host locations and the themes that are coming out, what are you seeing?  Sure so, the DC event was held at the end of January and it was hosted at Social Tables, an event planning software, which is a really fast growing start up base here in DC.  The panel was talking about how we are faced with a tremendous variety of different ways and places to work.  Not only are there more choice in today’s workplace, there is an unprecedented variety, and the choices that make up that variety keep changing.  

In Seattle, the event was held at Coterie which is a coworking facility in Seattle. From what I understand it’s a super cool space which is upscale - a really professional environment that means community in French. I thought that was so interesting because increasingly in coworking spaces we are seeing more and more exclusive spaces, not just in the “country club” sense, but in the sense that there are different flavours dedicated to certain type of worker.

Do you think at some point there is too much choice, is that possible?  There’s kind of a tyranny of choice, that’s part of what people are grappling with.  Even personally, with my position in Work Design Magazine, I have the choice to work from home, but sometimes I wish somebody would just make me come to work. The choice of flexibility is in your position, whether it’s to work from home or the office, or if it’s a choice to work somewhere different within the office, they’re good choices to have.

How do they compel people to come into the office?  If the policy says you get to pick, then how do you help people make the right choices and even educate people to get where they might do the best work? One of things that came out of our DC talk which was hosted at Social Tables was that we had their CEO Don Burger on the panel and he jumped in and said after one of the questions, “Hey I think a lot of our decisions and policies aren’t about this variety of choices it’s about limiting choices.”  At Social Tables you’ll see as you come off the elevator and you go into the space which is painted their brand color, deep magenta, and if you turn one way you walk into this huge community space which is where we held the event, or you can turn the other way and you can walk into the hallway but it’s actually just glass so you couldn’t go the other direction.  Don Burger said that this was an important choice, we wanted anybody who came to the office whether they're a guest, whether they’re an employee, whether it’s a client, you want them to be forced to flow through this great community space.  

Do you see the geographical differences and how people are thinking about the workplace, either among the coast or the Mid-West?  Any trends that are popping up there?  I was thinking about this and it’s not a geographical difference necessarily, but rather a difference by industry. It’s just the cities and the cultures are so different - but definitely we see clear differences by industry. I was just telling you about Social Tables, which is this really cool start up, but the CEO has decided that you’re here, you don’t have the choice of flexibility to work from home.  Sitting right next to Don, the guy from Social Tables, on that panel in DC we had a lead workplace Designer from GSA, so now we are talking about the government and I guess it is kind of geographical, the government is in DC, it’s very buttoned up, but they’re the exact opposite from Social Tables - they’ve got a ton of employees working from home - this was one of the big case studies we just did. As a whole the government is trying to cut down their footprint and the way they are doing that is by going unassigned in their buildings. Employees book a desk for the day they are on site, so now you have these Government employees choosing not only when they are going to be in the office but where they are going to plug in once they are there.

What other cities are you hitting with your series this year?  We are taking Exploring Choice In The Workplace to Chicago in April, Houston in May and then in DC we are back in DC in June with a little twist - it’s going to be a panel of only designers and we are only going to talk specifically about designing for choices in the workplace and then we will be back in Chicago in July, San Francisco in August, and then round up the year at another event in DC. We are based in DC, so it’s a good local market and we are going to hit Philadelphia and Charlotte.

You just launched a premium content series, tell us a little about that.  Our premium content, that’s another thing we are really excited about and we haven’t changed. Anybody who is used to reading Work Design Magazine, we’re not changing any of our weekly content in terms of publishing different projects and products, tips and trends and expert insights.  The premium content is a whole additional layer of deeper insights from some of our favorite thought leaders and experts.  Currently we are publishing them twice a month so you can either become an annual subscriber and get access to each of those articles as well a free copy of our first ever print piece, our Work Design Magazine print companion which should be in the mail by the end of March, or you can buy access to the premium articles one off, I think they are 3.99 a piece.

Tell me about the decision to do a print piece in this digital age.  It started as just we were really hankering for something tangible and this first print companion is going to be made up of five of our most popular recent articles. There is one about coworking, what the corporate world can learn from coworking, there is one about mindfulness in the workplace, there is one about the importance of company culture when you know you're creating your work environment - so we see these as hot topics that also have some shelf life. We are hoping that people will find it valuable to have this tangible thing they can put on their shelf or keep on their desk and reference back to.

What else are you guys working on this year that we should know about.  We are going to keep driving this premium content, we want to keep making it better and better and eventually start publishing more than twice a month and we are also making a new push to create more case studies, videos and then events that are directly related to the spaces featured in those case studies.  Our most recent case study was the GSA project that I mentioned the title is “Work is not what you do, it’s where you are” so we’ve had a great case study, a great video and what we’d like to do down the road with those projects featured in that way is then host an event onsite or at the design firm who is responsible for creating it to get the project team together and talk about it live.

Tell us if people want to learn more about Work Design Magazine, where can they find you online.

Work Design Magazine Online

Work Design Magazine on Twitter - @workdesignmag

Work Design Magazine on Facebook

Work Design Magazine on LinkedIn

Resources from this podcast:

Worktech NYC

Coterie Worklounge Seattle

Social Tables

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PodcastJamie Russo