How to influence change through people, design & technology - Urban Café Episode 3
Estimates suggest that we spend 90% of our time indoors. Wouldn't it then make sense for buildings to be designed around people? Unfortunately, that's not always the case, especially when it comes to the places we work. Environmental factors, rising energy costs, the pandemic and employee attrition have highlighted the need to create sustainable buildings and offices among business leaders. In this episode of the Urban Café, we're delighted to welcome three experts to discuss people, technology and design. How can companies create a holistic roadmap to successfully execute a workplace strategy that leads to lasting change? My name is Tamara Hamdan, and this is the Urban Café. Joining me today are Dr. Cristina Banks.
She is Director of Interdisciplinary Center of Healthy Workplaces. It's a global research center at the University of California, Berkeley. We also have Ryan Anderson from MillerKnoll, where he is the VP of Global Research and Insights. Ryan is based in Michigan, and he's seeking to understand how to create better spaces for working and living. Last but not least, we've got Stefan Schwab, CEO of Comfy and Enlighted, being at the helm of two companies he has double duties.
Stefan is the CEO of Enlighted, a Silicon Valley-based IoT solutions company and Comfy, a workplace intelligence platform. Welcome to the Urban Café. I hope you have a freshly brewed cup of coffee or tea with you, and let's get right into it. Why don't we start by defining what human centric design actually is? Stefan, maybe we can start with you. Yeah. Thanks, Tamara. For me, human-centric design means that when we have a problem and we try to find a solution, that in every step of defining the solution, we involve humans, consumers, users.
It depends on actually what the solution is we are looking for. Great. Cristina, what do you think? So by definition, humans have to be the large part of the equation of any kind of solution.
So you start with the problems that humans have or the features that humans want, and then you design around it as opposed to designing around features and just seeing how people use it. Ryan, any thoughts on that? Sure. I'll just add a little bit. I completely agree with both of both of those responses. I think the key for anybody who's creating something, whether it's a building or a technology platform, is to not get too wrapped up in what you're creating, but instead to remain focused on the people that you're helping. And in particular, I often think about what are their needs, their patterns of behaviors, their expectations? Because the minute you get too invested in the engineering or the code or the building itself and you lose sight of the user, then you've departed from user-centered design.
Amendment to this, and that is you should do no harm. Whatever you create, it should not result in any harm. And it seems like a no-brainer that buildings are occupied by people. They're used by people, so they should be designed for people. But here we are discussing this and we'll look at the role that technology also plays in creating human-centric offices and buildings. So, Stefan, let's kick it off with you.
As a CEO of two technology companies, Comfy and Enlighted. What do you think are some of the ways that technology is helping create human-centric, sustainable workplaces? Yeah. Let me start this one thing. I've been in this industry now for over ten years, but I have to say, this is the most exciting time to be in this industry because of the changes. Unfortunately, we needed a pandemic to go through these changes. And when you look at the building sector, it actually represents one of the largest opportunities for energy savings and decarbonisation.
And on top of what you just mentioned as well is that there are so many humans in buildings. So this is actually a perfect connection in my opinion. And when you look at buildings in general, they and I have to read the stats because there are many figures, generate nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions. And actually of these 40%, another 28% are related to operating these buildings on an annual basis. And when I look at our two technology companies focusing on humans, focusing on the building, on lighting, what we can do there, 70% of the electricity consumed in buildings – that's a US survey from CBECS – is actually accounting for lighting.
And, besides the others, which is, I think, the lump sum of many, many things, this is the single biggest consumer in a building of energy: lighting. So very interesting. Ryan, let me come to you as the VP of Global Research and Insights at MillerKnoll. Your company is one of the leading providers of workspace solutions in the world. Can you share some insights on how space design can help create sustainable workplaces? Sure. Well, I think if I look back building off what Stefan said in terms of the pandemic hitting a little bit of a reset button for us, the design of buildings and the design of workspace had some major advancements in the 20 or 30 years previous to the pandemic.
But a lot of it was focused on the buildings themselves to get back to this idea of user centricity, right? So what worked very well was there was more consideration being put into how to create buildings sustainably, how to manage them over time and in some cases how to dispose of them. And if I think of things like lead certification, in fact, Herman Miller, one of the MillerKnoll brands, helped to basically pilot what became lead certification with the architect William McDonough back in the late eighties, early nineties. So this has been growing for a while. There were some really good things happening, but there was also some misses and some of it related to just the ways that the buildings do or do not serve people. And this is where space design comes in.
To answer that question, what do people want, that brings me to you, Cristina. You're the Director of Interdisciplinary Studies of Healthy Workplaces at UC Berkeley. And we understand that human behavior is a big part of the equation when it comes to the shift towards sustainability. What do you think is the first step to creating human-centric workplaces? We have to design around basic human needs. If we really want to understand what human-centric means, it's that we are designing for needs' satisfaction, and the reason why we need to get back to basic human needs is that is the gateway to health, well-being and productivity.
What we don't understand across the board is that people are more productive when they have positive health and have a sense ??? The opposite is not true is that when they are pressed and stressed to the limit, they are not as productive as they could be. So the question is: What are the basic needs that we need to design for? And then: What is the best way to design it so that it meets the business needs? If you think about it, the home has been a nest for people during the pandemic, and they're used to that. They're used to being highly productive away from the mothership. So the question for workplace designers and strategists is how to bring those qualities back to the workplace. How can you design it out so people can satisfy those needs? Because people were pretty happy with those aspects.
But on top of it, how can they build in more connection to the part that they lost by working remotely? So that means connection with their friends, connections with their coworkers, with their teams, but most importantly with their managers, their supervisors and the leadership, and to be part of something bigger than themselves. So these are all aspects of basic human needs that we do need to pay attention to. We talk a lot about smart buildings. So creating smart buildings that interact, learn and adapt to the people who use them.
And to do that, we need the right data. What data points do we need to inform our strategies for more sustainable, human-centric workplaces? I personally have the luxury to have to two companies. One is a human-centric workplace experience where you get a lot of data by humans interacting with the building. So a lot of feedback. On the other side, we have an IoT company where we, with our sensors, populate real-time data, what's actually going on on the floor. And this correlation of this data is very important because we get far more information on how coming back to us, what Ryan and Cristina said before, how the space is used.
And a lot of times we also run into this problem. And I heard a lot of times before that we see a design which is very old and, because of the delay in all these construction projects, we are just implementing it now and technology has evolved. So that is actually also something we have to somehow tackle, in my opinion, because a lot of times you are occupied in a building which is not state of the art anymore. So coming back, these correlating two sets of data really help building operators to make informed decisions. And also we get overloaded with data.
We also have to filter what data is relevant because there's a lot of data available, which doesn't help us to make an informed decision. So in more practical terms, Stefan, how does understanding occupant needs and behaviors help us design that sustainable space that we're all after? Actually two things. Firstly, what I said as well, you figure out, do I need more space or do I have already enough space? And secondly, do I know what kind of space do I need to design? Because you figure out with human interaction with the space, what are the preferences where people want to work in and also what other preference when they want to come. When we talk about hybrid work into the office because it's competition against every other place they can work from these days. So you have to be aware that you have to be up for this competition keeping in mind that an office space is where innovation happens, creating a sense of belonging for humans.
I mean, also a big topic in my opinion, culture of a company. And again, with the data points, we create IoT sensors, but also on the other side, human interaction with the space by an application. This is actually really helpful then to drive decisions for our customers.
And yeah, this is what we see today. That's great. And because sustainability is so much more than than just reducing your carbon footprint, right? So we talk about it in the sense of well-being as well.
And Ryan, let me come to you in terms of workplace trends that we see right now. So two big trends are decarbonization and user centricity. How do you think one informs the other? What is the correlation that we see here? Yeah, there definitely is a correlation. And you're right, I think thinking about the long-term carbon impact of buildings is probably for me the hottest topic, particularly in Western Europe these days. It should be everywhere.
But as we discussed previously, I think the the heightened awareness of different use patterns is what's causing a lot of conversation around user centricity. There's a couple of things that come to my mind. One is I do think we need to be mindful that in this way I previously said that we want spaces that are desirable and actively used, but used in a in a sustainable way. I think technology in particular allows a degree of responsiveness that helps people to have a better experience. So as an example, if there is more choice and variety within the workplace, what does it look like to navigate that? How do we engage people and knowing that they have choice? If I think specifically of thermal comfort, the International Facilities Management Association for years had a survey asking people about their complaints and what they like and don't like about their workplace.
The number one and number two complaints for years over years were always the same, but inverted. It's too hot or it's too cold. All of us have been in that spot being in a space where we're just shivering or we're sweating. That's so unpleasant that I think that we see the intersection, particularly with a platform like Comfy as an example, at how do we make things more enjoyable for people, but also do so in a more responsible way? Because the old way was simply that on one part of the floor they asked building maintenance to turn on the AC, another part that asked them to turn on the heat. And these systems were competing with each other. But long term, if I zoom way out, this is about helping to create spaces that evolve. During this discussion, we touched on the importance of considering the workplace from different angles.
We talked about space efficiency, adapting to natural human behavior and needs, and to creating a space that's equitable for both remote and in-office employees. So I'd like to ask all of you to comment on this briefly. What is the most important success metric that companies need to consider after implementing workplace changes? What should they think about when they're implementing that strategy? I think in terms of success metrics, a lot of organizations are just beginning that journey and understandably, they're starting with utilization, which is really good, it's almost like the equivalent of taking a pulse when you go to the physician. It's a good way of saying, Okay, is this a proxy for how desirable the space is or what do we know about the use of the space? But it isn't the full picture to me. If we only measure the success of a space by how much it's used, we're missing something because we don't do that with other spaces in our lives.
We don't say, Oh, I built an island in my kitchen and it was used 7.2 hours last year per week, but now it's only used 4.2. What we do is we say, Well, how valuable is it to our experience within this space? So value and whether or not the employees actually care about having something to me is the other side of the coin of utilization and it might even be a little higher order metric. So as an example, we might see a conference room that's in use 60% of the time, which by the way, as far as utilization goes, that's really high. Don't ever expect that we're going to see 90%, but it might be in use 60% of the time because of its proximity.
It's just close to where some people have their desks, but they might not like it. They might think it sucks. And if only 20% of them say it's any good, that's not a successful space for me.
But you might find a space that's only used 20% of the time. Say it's a space for one-on-one conversations between a manager and her employees or whatever. If 85% of the people say, Yeah, that space is really valuable, then to me that's a higher order metric.
And so ultimately what organizations need to do is to determine how to create spaces that their people really value while doing so responsibly, while making sure that the energy usage, the materials that go into that space, the way the space evolves over time, is done with the least negative impact and ideal to the earth, and ideally the most positive impact for the people working there and ultimately seek out this balance, because that has not been the paradigm traditionally in the past. How do you go about measuring those other elements that you mentioned in terms of people satisfaction? Any thoughts you can share there? What's most helpful is to create a simple baseline, understand your utilization, don't just do bad swipes in because that tells you how many people show up to a building but try to understand the utilization of different space types and then ideally use a very simple metric and it could be a survey, it could be a workplace experience, app or tool, something to say, Okay, tell us what here you really value, and augment that with user groups, focus groups, things of that nature to ultimately paint a picture of: We know where people are driving the most value from their space. And then at any given point, you couple up those metrics around how well is it used, how important is it? And if you see that either of them are way off, you can begin to know where to make those evolutionary changes. But I will say that in some ways the systems to do that are not as well developed as you might think they were, simply because for so long the office had a monopoly on where work was done, at least in theory it did. Now, to Stefan's point, it's in competition.
And so the people who manage facilities are thinking more like marketers. Who are my customers? How do we measure their demand? How do we measure their satisfaction with the product that we've provided them? which is where smart building technology has huge potential. Thank you. Cristina, would you like to share your thoughts on the most important metrics for companies to focus on? The most basic thing about our behavior and emotions is these drivers inside of us called these basic needs.
And so the needs are autonomy, belonging, competence and mastery, fairness, sense of meaning and purpose and safety. These are things that drive our behavior. So the question is, how do we translate that into design principles? Well, we actually have a pathway to those design principles, and they are things like connection. How do you build space that multiplies the connections that people can have both to each other and to the organization? So we can then ask, how satisfied are you with the degree of connection that you have within the organization? And it could be manifested many different ways. Other design principles are predictability.
Now, this isn't something that we normally think about, but it also goes back to what Stefan said, which is collecting data, which talks about utilization and the reservation system. And I applaud the effort to try to collect the kind of data that allows people to get equal access to the resources in the organization, because that is the key to predictability that when you know you can use space when you need it, not 3 hours later or ten days later or whatever it is, but when they need it and also reliability, so reliable wifi and technology – that goes a long way as well. Another aspect is flexibility. Now, there's a lot of flexibility being built into workplaces. Thank goodness we have different typologies of spaces that match different work activities, but it also refers to their ability to trade off personal needs with workplace needs, comfort, a lot of emphasis on comfort, both psychological and physical comfort. And then safety, we've articulated that both in terms of physical and psychological safety.
A lot of discussion now about psychological safety and how that can translate into freedom from harassment. Freedom from disruption, freedom from other kinds of harms. And then finally, fairness. And I want to dwell on this just a minute, because fairness is one of the things that is the biggest trigger for people to resign.
And now the bar has increased in terms of expectations that employees have about their company being fair towards them and providing fair treatment. And so to the extent equal access is not real to resources, then people will make different choices. They will leave and go to places where they feel like they have that equal access.
And so we're not just talking about bodies having access. We're talking about subgroups of people and organisations who have not had equal access before, and how can we create that equal access in the future? So the metrics are satisfaction with the design principles, the design aspects in the organisation in the many ways it can be articulated, but also whether there truly is equal access to resources because when it doesn't, people will vote with their feet. Thank you, Cristina. Stefan, so many thoughts have been shared so far. Anything you'd like to add to the metrics point? Defining metrics is far more complex than it was in the past because things converge. There are far more things to consider.
And also we are tackling one of the big topic challenges I believe we are facing besides some others like about well-being of employees or creating hybrid work, a buzzword at the moment everybody's trying to figure out what it means, and sustainability. So it's not actually that simple. But what I like and going back to what Ryan said before, because this is something, especially when I think about Comfy, I heard all the time: too hot, too cold. So what is the biggest complaint? As Ryan said, too hot, too cold. And then every corporate real estate executive was screaming, Hey, give me something that I don't get 500 calls a day that it's too hot and too cold. And then coming also back to how can you correlate that with sustainability so you can actually democratize the temperature in an office, but you also can show to individuals what it does to the overall sustainability piece of the building.
So you give them the feedback when they would increase the temperature, what this means overall so they can also make informed decisions. So I think that is also coming back of the power when you do the correlation of different datasets, which we have done in a silo in the past. And then also let me add what we see these days, that employees become more powerful when it comes to making technology decisions and design. So also we as a company have to think more, like I always call it, consumerized, because these employees are used to getting treated top-notch from companies like Amazon, Google, when they use any kind of application any kind of friction is actually not good. So we have to think human-centric, but also have to think more that these are consumers of technology and they have an increased power when companies make decisions.
So that is also very important. And then last but not least, what Cristina said as well, bringing this also all together, I heard the great resignation. Companies also have to do something because they still want and have to attract talent, and the topic of well-being and sustainability is a lot of things applicants look into these days. What is a company doing about it? So again, this also shows the power of employees, applicants is getting bigger and bigger.
And on the other side, it also shows what needs to be done. Fantastic. Well, thank you all so much. I really enjoyed our discussion today. And it just shows us that we've come a long way, but there's still so much to do when it comes to creating human-centric workplaces. Thank you, and looking forward to seeing you in the next episode of The Urban Café.