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Be a Change Agent for Your Workspaces


Kay Sargent, HOK

Kay Sargent, senior principal and director of HOK’s WorkPlace practice, speaking at iOffice customer and partner event

Change is continuous, and it’s happening faster than ever. This you know, perhaps because change is the only constant in your workplace. That’s not going to change -- no pun intended.
This reality is daunting enough, but have you considered that change will never move as slowly as it does today? “This is the part we have to buckle in and embrace,” said Kay Sargent, senior principal and director of HOK’s WorkPlace practice, speaking last week during a keynote talk at a customer and partner event put on by iOffice, a facilities management software provider.
In her role at HOK, a global building and space design firm, Sargent has worked on designs for 55 million square feet of workspace for 70 or so of the largest companies in the world. “We’re dealing with companies that have millions and millions of square feet of office space around the world, and they kind of want to know what’s coming,” she said.
While Sargent spoke largely to a group of facilities and corporate real estate managers, her message could easily have been for IT, HR, and any professionals involved in workplace development. When it comes to planning, Sargent identifies three types of people: Those who just kind of let things happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder “what the hell happened?
Sargent encouraged her audience to be the ones that make the future happen. But being a change agent means understanding what’s coming so you can truly prepare, she added. Based on what HOK sees in the workplace, here are the eight things you need to be focused on right now to stay ahead, Sargent said.
  1. User experience -- This should be everyone’s number one focus, because if you’re not delivering an enriched, engaged experience, you’re not going to be able attract or retain people, Sargent said. And today’s technology lets you create “multisensory spaces” that provide great experiences. You just need to be sure you’re asking the right questions about your people and the experiences they should have, she added. From HOK’s perspective, “We firmly believe that we are no longer just designing environments, we are designing the entire experience. And the question is, is it a good one?”
  2. Circularity -- This is about going beyond sustainability. “It’s about repurposing things, reusing things, and bringing things full circle,” Sargent said.
  3. Mindfulness -- Simply put, people aren’t able to concentrate in the workplace anymore. There’s too much coming at them, and “we’re stressing people out,” Sargent said. People need time and space for “deep, meaningful thinking,” and workspaces that allow people to “refocus on their focus work” are must-haves.
  4. Life integration -- This is already happening, but we need to figure out better ways to integrate work and life -- “and make sure neither one suffers for the cause,” she said.
  5. Divergent, or creative, thinking, and co-creation -- This is huge, Sargent said, predicting that in five to 10 years, “nobody is going to give a damn” about measuring productivity. “Incremental productivity isn’t the name of the game. Being able to create and innovate is what we’re going to be measured on,” she said. That’s one of the reasons so many corporate real estate groups now report into HR and, ultimately, everybody just might be reporting into a chief creative officer challenged with enabling people to innovate quickly.
  6. Space fusion -- This trend is about mashing up a space typical of one sort of establishment with a space typical of another -- creating a social work hub that has the look and feel of a trendy hotel lobby, for example, or featuring a Starbucks-style café as a casual in-building break and meeting spot. (For more on this trend, see examples in this HOK blog post.)
  7. Soft skills and emotional intelligence -- Rows and rows of cubicles doesn’t bring out the best in people. Collaborative spaces do.
  8. Demographic inclusion -- Workplaces are demographically rich, but too often we focus on just one generation. We need to stop that, and think beyond generational distinctions, too, Sargent said. For example, she argues that the distinction between introverts and extroverts is larger than that between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. “We need to break down the silos and stop just focusing on one group of people and realize that we have a diverse workforce and need to take care of everybody.

Beyond these here-and-now focus areas, Sargent shared a long list of more forward-looking concepts to get a handle on. Examples include:

  • Augmentation -- In a tech workplace report, HOK describes the purpose of augmentation as being able to create “an immersive and interactive realm that seamlessly interconnects the physical and virtual worlds.” With augmentation, computer-generated “perceptual information,” often multisensory, augments real-world objects.
  • Neurodiversity and inclusion -- In researching this topic for an upcoming report, Sargent said HOK has found that one in eight people are neurodiverse; they’re on the autism spectrum or are affected by ADHD, dyslexia, social anxiety disorders, and other conditions. This doesn’t account for the huge percentage of working adults who have gone undiagnosed, she added. Today’s workspaces aren’t designed for neurodiversity, but they need to be. “These people tend to be amazingly creative or incredibly analytical,” yet today’s workspaces set them up for failure. This needs to change, not only for corporate benefit but simply “because it’s the right thing to do.”
  • The Internet of Experiences -- The shift from the Internet of Things to the Internet of Experiences is coming, Sargent said. It’ll happen when the sensors aren’t just monitoring things but when people can tap into the IoT to improve their experiences, she explained. “That's when it will pick up speed. And that's when it will be universally accepted.”
  • Biomimicry and bio-layering -- “It's not enough to put plants in a space any more. We need to design, and think, and embed natural elements into the workplace – really take it to the next level.”
Lots of heady stuff, but there’s really only one question to ask, Sargent concluded:
“Are you going to let it happen, are you going to make it happen, or are you going to wonder what the hell happened?”
We hope you’re going to be among those who make change happen at your place of work!