Episode 37 – Inclusive Design: Exploring Respite, Place Attachment & Hoteling – with Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson, VP of Global Research and Insights at MillerKnoll, shares his research, deep passion, and appreciation for inclusive design. Ryan suggests that we must dramatically rethink our workspaces in order to better reflect our biological, mental, and emotional needs at work. Ryan talks about the current need for “spaces for everyone”, including those who identify as neurodivergent. In addition, he discusses place attachment, the human tendency to form connections with physical spaces, and the challenges and limited opportunities offered by the practice of hoteling. The discussion underscores Clare’s often made point that if you design for wellbeing performance will flow.
Ryan Anderson serves as Vice President of Global Research and Insights at MillerKnoll, renowned workspace and furniture design company. Ryan’s team leads MillerKnoll’s research, shares insights publicly across the world, and provides workplace strategy and design services to MillerKnoll customers.
With nearly thirty years of industry experience, Ryan’s work has centered on how the places we inhabit can be better designed to support healthy, inclusive, and productive communities. Ryan hosts MillerKnoll’s “About Place” podcast on the future of the workplace and regularly speaks at public events about MillerKnoll’s historical and current research.
He is a member of the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) Executive Network, an Executive Fellow at Woxsen University in Hyderabad India, and has been featured in a wide variety of publications such as The Wall Street Journal, NPR, the BBC, Fortune, Bloomberg, and beyond.
05:49 The role of belonging cues in inclusive design
11:28 The business case for inclusive design
19:24 The future of workspace design and commercial real estate
22:55 Respite spaces in the workspace
26:34 The impact of diversity and culture on workspace design
28:49 Sustainable productivity
30:40 The role of leadership in promoting wellbeing and preventing burnout
35:08 Hotelling and depersonalization of office space
40:27 The importance of team-based workplace design
42:13 The need for empathy in the workplace
Learn more about and follow Ryan:
Highly sensitive executive coach and productivity catalyst, Clare Kumar, explores the intersection of productivity and inclusivity continually asking how can we invite the richest contribution from all. She coaches individuals in sidestepping burnout and cultivating sustainable performance, and inspires leaders to design inclusive performance thereby inviting teams to reach their full potential. As a speaker, Clare mic-drops “thought balms” in keynotes and workshops, whether virtual or in-person. She invites connection through her online community committed to designing sustainable and inclusive performance, the Happy Space Pod. Why? Because everyone deserves a Happy Space.
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Audio and Video Editing: Jaclyn Enchin
Production Assistant: Luis Rodriguez
Song Credit: Cali by WatR. from Pixabay
Ryan Anderson: We all, when we join an organization, want to belong to something that feels meaningful. Yes, we get paid to, you know, give a certain amount of our productivity to an organization, but we want to be part of something.
So allowing people to have more of a vested voice and interest in how these investments in this case in physical spaces affect them and the planet. It's smart business.
Clare Kumar: You're listening to episode 37 of the Happy Space Podcast. And today I speak with Ryan Anderson, global research lead for Miller Knoll about his love and appreciation of the great value of inclusive design.
Hello and welcome. I'm excited to have you join for this conversation with Ryan Anderson. He's the Vice President of Global Research and Insights at Miller Knoll. You'll recognize Miller Knoll for many of their iconic furniture pieces the Herman Miller line and many, many more in their, in their family of companies.
What I love is Ryan's going to share in our conversation his. Absolute love of inclusive design. You'll hear how that if you have a possibility of designing inclusively from the beginning, not only can it make your design less expensive, it can make it more beautiful. So for this and other insights, please enjoy this episode.
You'll enjoy Ryan. Definitely find out where he is on all the socials. Check out the show notes for those and enjoy this conversation again with Ryan Anderson of Miller Knoll.
Ryan, welcome to the Happy Space Podcast. I am thrilled to be in conversation with you. I've been following your work and certainly Miller Knoll for a long time. And I want to kick off by just asking you to give us a little bit of an idea of what brings you to the work that you're doing.
Ryan Anderson: Oh, well, first of all, thank you for having me. I'm really excited to talk to you too. What brings me to the work that I'm doing is that the physical spaces that we spend so much of our time in matter, they affect our lives in ways that people don't expect. And by understanding that relationship between the built environment and our lives, we can make it better.
So a lot of that is around the workplace, but our work at Miller Knoll, because we're a family of companies that creates design for products for offices, home health care environments. We like to study a lot of these environments and they can teach each other a few things, so to speak and I find it to be really interesting work.
I'm very thankful for it.
Clare Kumar: Did you train as a designer and then become part of Miller Knoll? What's your background?
Ryan Anderson: No, I actually studied marketing. I was very interested just in kind of understanding customer needs. And, I've been in this industry, the furniture industry for almost 30 years.
I really started with the focus just on office space, and I remember when WiFi started to get really common, seeing people working in whole new ways and realizing that these spaces that were designed with rows of desks for people to sit at computers all day long, by the way, a lot of them still look that way, that they weren't going to be relevant.
So it drew me more to the research and development side. And, I did have some market research background, but I had to learn about ethnographic research, quantitative research. And I'm really thankful to now be building on a really long tradition because some of our companies and our family of brands like Herman Miller have research going back to you.
Clare Kumar: The sixties and even before, yeah, there's a legacy of incredible design and research to your point. So, when you look at the opportunity, now you talk about inclusive design being the big opportunity. Can you help our listeners understand what you mean by that? And then talk to about, talk to us about the opportunity.
Ryan Anderson: I'll preface it by saying it is the topic that I am most passionate about. And so I'm going to edit. I'm not going to be as long winded as I could be, but basically inclusive design is a more participative approach to design where you include a more diverse group of people. In the process.
There's a concept within the world of design called universal design, which I think is super aspirational. It's this idea that we can create some sort of design, a product design, a place, whatever works for everyone, but it doesn't always tell you how to go about it. So inclusive design for me is a little bit more about the how, and when it comes specifically to workplace, the roots of office design, I'm going back to like the 1800s.
It was all about supervising work, expressing status. It was about what the bosses, because back in that era, you'd call them the bosses, not the workers wanted. And, over time that shifted a little bit, but one of my team members, Joseph White, who's our director of design strategy, often says the future will be designing with not just for, so it's about including the people who use a design.
The more diverse you are in terms of thinking about who you talk to, the more you uncover unique needs that aren't often just unique to that person. You might find that someone that has a unique need actually helps you design something that's better for everyone.
Clare Kumar: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I've worked mostly as a productivity coach over the past 15 years and working with people who are neurodivergent, ADHD, executive function challenge.
All of the strategies that really help someone with ADHD perform better generally help most people. So yeah, I get your point. And it's super valid. It's interesting. There's a challenge that I run into where I expect to experience potentially. There's some swimming pools here in Toronto, where they made gender inclusive bathrooms and shower rooms.
But they haven't really put like a room, you know, a shower stall with a lock. They've just sort of set a curtain. Yeah. And I'm thinking at the best of time, curtains don't stay in place in showers. I'm thinking, okay, I get your nod to inclusivity here, but I'm not feeling safe as a user. So I'm going to what?
Not take my bathing suit off now? Therefore I'm not going to be clean because the chlorine is, you know, we need to get rid of it. I'm thinking to your point of it being aspirational. Definitely. I'm seeing the same thing with bike lanes. We're asking a lot of our old city streets with pedestrians, scooters, bikes, cars, and then we think of people with disabilities driving a car. They can't park and get out without absolutely fearing for their lives because we don't have a very patient culture. So I think all of that to say is when I look at it, I think we need greater intention and understanding, you know, who we're designing for.
But there's a patience that's required in the design process. And then there may be a patience in the use process too, because things shift and they're different than what we've expected there to be, what do you think about that?
Ryan Anderson: Yeah, no, I think you're spot on. The examples you used are what we would consider to be belonging cues, spatial belonging cues.
So you should, you know, we should all be very empathetic and attuned to how the design of a space can communicate to someone that it's either for them or not for them. I'm not sure I feel safe changing here tells you that it was designed with some assumptions about what somebody might like that probably was not representative of all. When it comes to offices, I'm going to get really specific with offices.
There's this tremendous catalyst right now because more flexible work policies has generally reduced occupancy levels. By the way, one of the things you'll find if you try to be more inclusive, not just to people with motor, unique motor needs. A little bit more generous use of space is usually a good thing.
Nobody wants to be in a tight, confined space. So there's extra space to be more inclusive right now. But the big thing is that organizations are saying: what's the future of our office space of our workspace? Well, now is a pretty good time to realize that if the space isn't working for the employees, then it's not working like there is no return on that investment.
We can't continue with the design process, which was somewhat common in the past of asking a departmental leader. What do your people need? Well, how's that person supposed to know the more we can get in and talk? And yes, it does take a little bit more time. But interestingly, the results are often not much more expensive and often a whole lot more beautiful because if you look at spaces that are designed kind of the middle of the bell curve and then you try to accommodate other people with unique needs, that's when you get into retrofitting with bars or other sort of things that people don't love.
But if you do it right from the first time, it's usually more usable for everybody and a whole lot more beautiful.
Clare Kumar: Yeah, you know, I hadn't thought of that. I was in conversation over Facebook this morning with somebody who wants to have their mother in law up to their cottage at Christmas, and it's a new building.
And they said she's in a wheelchair and we can't get her in. And I'm thinking, not to take away from the office discussion, but, we can't, how is it that we don't have designed thinking as inclusive. In the cases so that you could design the ramp,, this is standard, what we do, we put a ramp and we put railings and we put stairs like, you know, we haven't got there in, in terms of that universal design aspirational goal yet.
Ryan Anderson: It's just not near as ubiquitous as it should be. So you might know, I have the privilege of hosting Miller Knoll podcast, which we just recently changed the name to About Place. And I hosted senator Tom Harkin, who sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act this year. And he was talking a little bit about how it was an amazing thing to be able to see that legislation pass, but it didn't apply to homes, and it still doesn't, believe it or not, and we had the chance to collaborate on a building for his institute, the Harkin Institute of Public Policy, where we had the chance to do some of this.
So like, as an example, it is multi floor, but there's a very multi floor building. spacious ramp that allows people to get from the different floors without stairs, but it also allows people that are either in wheelchairs or somebody that may not be able to hear very well to walk side by side with someone to be able to make eye contact, to see their lips if they need to.
And guess what? It's just a beautiful ramp. Like, it's the sort of space kind of like at Guggenheim or elsewhere where you'd see a really sculptural sort of element in the space as opposed to the sort of retrofit that, you know, a lot of organizations find that they have to do later if they don't take this consideration
Clare Kumar: So this opportunity to get it right from the beginning. New builds are particularly exciting then because you can actually get really creative and design it in.
Ryan Anderson: That's true. Although what's interesting is that in the world of, particularly commercial real estate.
There's also a major emphasis on adaptive reuse because the environmental impacts of tearing buildings down, building new buildings is so significant that we're at a really interesting kind of crossroads for the design of spaces where the questions are being asked. How do you use existing structures?
How do you take an older building that might not be as appealing, but create an interior that people love? And how can you be more inclusive in it? So for the enterprising design? You know, ambitious architecture interior designer. It's really a fascinating but very challenging time.
Clare Kumar: Materials are changing, but that consciousness, I interviewed Lisa Whited recently and she's has a beautiful, beautiful book on Work Better Save the Planet.
And there's, there's definitely a consciousness. I know my daughter is a big thrifter. So it's infused the way we're thinking about things. And so I think there must be a conversation for employees looking at a company too, to see where the responsibility is. Do you think that's definitely part of the conversation?
Ryan Anderson: I think so. I think so. And let's face it. We all, when we join an organization, want to belong to something that feels meaningful. Yes, we get paid to, you know, give a certain amount of our productivity to an organization, but we want to be part of something. And it's, it's worthwhile for the organization to want to keep us.
So allowing people to have more of a vested voice and interest in how these investments in this case in physical spaces affect them and the planet. It's smart business. Like at the end of the day, it's smart business. The other thing that I often remind our customers, I was just with a large real estate firm today, is that inclusive design is good business.
I mean, it's a tight labor market. It's not like there's some huge influx of labor coming from anywhere. We need, both unskilled and skilled talent in a variety of roles and when you create a space that enables a broader population to be productive, that translates into better hiring, better retention, better productivity.
It's the smart choice.
Clare Kumar: Yeah. Why do you think some leaders are not getting that?
Ryan Anderson: Well, if I'm really specific to workplace design, we have to be cognizant of just how common it is that the design of a space is meant to express some status or image for the organization. It's more about promoting a certain brand ideal or whatever the leader of the organization is thinking about.
Most people aren't used to saying, I make an investment in real estate. It's probably the second highest spend after I have. You know, with people. So what does it look like to see better productivity, better engagement, better connection of social networks? But it's all possible. And this is the research we do.
We have a lot of social scientists that we work with that helped appeal back. What are these spaces actually doing to affect us as individuals and as a community? And if we can trace that back to some business outcomes, then I think a lot of organizations see it, but it's just not something historically that's been done.
Clare Kumar: Yeah, it reminds me of the business case for good ergonomics, which before didn't exist when I was lobbying for it in 1995, and all of a sudden, now that people understand the arguments, then there's a little more appetite for standing desks.
Ryan Anderson: I mean, Herman Miller created the first ergonomic chair, Ergon, in 1976, and the designer, Bill Stumpf, who was really a legend, throughout Herman Miller, I think understood an enlightened view of Ergonomics before the the practice of it really got going for a lot of people that have an ergonomics background.
It was more of a study of efficiency, like how quickly you could produce something on a factory line. If somebody was experiencing pain, it hurt their productivity. But if we broaden that to comfort. And we think about it not just as physical, but social and psychological. You're just basically taking away barriers for somebody to have a really good experience.
There's this philosopher that Bill Stumpf used to quote, named William Gass, who said, comfort is the absence of awareness. So if you've got like that tag that's bugging you, you experience discomfort as soon as you're aware of something, or you're on a plane and suddenly it's too warm.
If we believe that people want to be productive and achieve things, we just have to like take away those things that are in their way. And that's where ergonomics, a more holistic view of ergonomics can be very powerful.
Clare Kumar: I agree with you. And, the HSP that you can see, on the Zoom screen there stands for highly sensitive person.
And I'm not sure if you did have a chance to look at the quiz there, or if you know about this temperament, do you know about that at all?
Ryan Anderson: Tell me more.
Sure. So it's considered part, and at least my opinion, part of being neurotypical way of being, and it applies to at least one in 20 people, so, and anybody that's considered neurodivergent, which started with autism, ADHD, OCD, a lot of different conditions that are diagnosable.
High sensitivity as a temperament is not considered diagnosable because it's considered a normal, though atypical, way of being. So we are clearly in some kind of limbo land. There is no doctor's note, therefore there's no accommodation. But there's a whole pile of things that make us uncomfortable.
Ryan Anderson: That's fascinating. I'm immediately thinking of two of my team members, I often say that, when I don't know the answer to your question, I've got the team members to jump into it. We've got two team members that are super deep, particularly into sensory and neurodivergence, and I'm learning stuff from them and you all the time.
So I appreciate that.
Clare Kumar: Yeah, thank you. I think it's really interesting because we're often not even thought of as a category of people, and it's so big.
Ryan Anderson: By the way, we, you know, we study, Homes and as well as homework spaces, and there is definitely a subcategory of like really amped up prosumer media type spaces like what you're talking about. That's becoming so common. You're seeing pro audio visual gear being used by a lot of people just in their home workspaces, which is really fascinating.
Clare Kumar: It's fascinating. And thank goodness, because it should make a better experience. I said to, I was giving a productivity workshop last week and I said, you're all broadcasters now. So it's up to you to provide a good experience for your listener and your viewer. And so no backlit windows behind you, no ceiling fans running.
No, like there's, you really want to curate your experience. So big revenue opportunity, I think for the tech companies that they probably didn't see coming. To that degree, the game for sure,
Ryan Anderson: But well, what's funny, when I was leading research tech research specifically at Herman Miller, we did an 18 month collaboration with the head of user experience at Microsoft who led the Skype and then the team's specifically on video, and it was really interesting because we realized that those of us that came to the physical environment world sometimes forgot about the richness of interaction digitally at the time. Of course, it's more part of our life 10 years later now, but that those developing technology, we're not really thinking about the physical environment that much either.
So we created a list of good principles that we started applying to video rooms, homework spaces, etcetera that was really glad we had come.
Clare Kumar: Did it say, put big pink cushions in the corner of your room to try and match your wall?
Ryan Anderson: We'll add it as an appendix. Definitely should be in there somewhere.
Clare Kumar: I guess somebody I talked to said, you know, the sound can bounce in the corners. And if you stop at that spot, then I have a big orange blanket on my desk and a carpet. And otherwise this would be a glass sound bouncing. Tin can. It would be terrible.
Ryan Anderson: So I'm going to get so research geeky on you. You increased your NRC, which is your noise reduction coefficient. Sound is just like water. It'll bounce around and there needs to be something to capture it. And you're right, pillows, carpeting, in an office, acoustical ceiling tiles, sometimes furniture. not, but there's other things.
Clare Kumar: What do you think the cat does?
Ryan Anderson: That's a high NRC cat right there. Yep. Exactly.
Clare Kumar: Well, it's interesting because I think of designers and I think of facilities, people in commercial real estate. And I think. The potential attitude to say, no, we just got to keep putting a lot of furniture and we want to, we want to design the spaces the way we were, but I'm hearing such a refreshing perspective from you.
What's my question here. I think there's clearly tension in people's trying to sell real estate. There's tension from property tax for the use of businesses to be downtown. So we're getting that tax base and it's also going to pull the people back. We have the controlling leadership that's mandating people back to work, not recognizing that it's not working.
Yet you've got a refreshing perspective that says you have to pay attention to the fact it's not working and we need to sort of meet people where they are and design from there.
Ryan Anderson: Yeah, well, part of it is we've worked with organizations for a really long time that have highly distributed teams that could work from anywhere.
And if done, right. People love their workspaces. They might not want to be forced to be there all week long, but like for me, I've got like the ultimate, I've got a great home workspace and I've got an amazing office space that's gorgeous and inclusive and I can work outdoors and I can do all sorts of other things there.
And then when you have choice. I don't think it becomes that binary home or office. It becomes what have I got to do today? Who am I going to do it with? What are those critical activities? People started looking more critically around. How is the space going to impact my ability to do this? The headlines about fighting over space have been quite counterproductive.
From our research, we find that the vast majority of people want more choices, not fewer. So like, yes, I'd like to work from home sometimes. Yes. I'd like to work from an office. Sometimes they can be designed in a more complimentary approach. You know, it doesn't make sense typically to have an office be a sea of desks at this point.
That's not really what people are going there to do. They're going there for either very immersive relational team based sort of work, or they're going for deep concentrative work that they might not be able to achieve at home. It's like it's either end of a bell curve and these very generic. Well, there's a desk just to all your work there approaches.
So most of the folks that I talk to in the world of commercial real estate, even if they're an owner's rep, whose job is to lease people out of space, what they're searching for is that next clear value proposition. What are these spaces doing that people say, yes, that is valuable for us.
And I actually think we've known it for a long time. We want physical workspaces. offices to connect us in ways that are difficult to achieve technologically. They should promote well being, not detract from it. They should accommodate change over time. Inclusive design stitches many of these things together, but you know, it should be for the needs of people who probably don't want to spend their entire lives in their spare bedroom.
Some people are perfectly fine with that or based on geography, want to work that way or need to work that way. But like I said, most people, if you give them choice and then give them good choices, prefer more options, not fewer.
Clare Kumar: So two questions are coming to mind, the first one is when I look at space design as a product productivity coach, I look at, yes, focused work and collaborative time.
I also look at an increasing need to embed rest opportunities in the workspace. Can you tell me your philosophy and how you're seeing that? Because I am someone who crawled under their desk and slept on the floor in my third trimester of pregnancy. Oh, wow. Nowhere to lie down. So what have you got for me?
Ryan Anderson: We have been advocating. So let me back up, because most people only know desks and conference rooms when they think of office, we've been talking for a long time about different space types or different little mini environments, just like in a home, you know, the difference between a gaming room and a living room in your bedroom, like we need those distinct zones that are shared by the various population, you know, various folks within an office and respite spaces.
That's how we've historically referred to them are critically important. We have to remind folks that they're not the sort of space you measure with badge swipes, like they're not the sort of space that you want used all day long. But if you look at a good respite space, it should provide a break from the demands of work in the workday that's restorative.
The ones that are probably more common that you might find are nursing rooms, which should have a lock on the door and a fridge, a prayer room, but there should also be spaces for everyone. When I, when I take a look, in fact, I was in our London, office, last Thursday and I went back to drop off some of my stuff and there were two respite spaces there that I didn't actually know were there.
Great location because you don't feel exposed using them. It could be a, a place for somebody with an anxiety disorder, person of color who's dealing with code switching, microaggression, could be a woman in menopause dealing with thermal discomfort, brain fog, could be somebody's just having a crappy day.
You know what I mean? All of us should have the chance to step back. And there's once again a business case for this, because if you look as an example at the Surgeon General's report on mental health in the workplace from 2022, I think it was more than 80 percent of people said their workplace was a contributor to mental health problems and challenges, not a place of connection safety.
But they can be, you know, if I take a look as an example, even at the consulting firms years ago, who used to have consultants spend their week with clients, they started creating spaces that their consultants didn't have to go to. But they thought, I bet people would find energy in feeling part of a community and that they are going to want to socialize and they're going to want to hang out.
They're going to want to basically connect with each other. So they saw value in doing this way back when if we view the workplace as that place to not just stress the heck out of somebody, then yes, we're going to provide places for respite. We're going to provide places for connection. We're going to think about holistic ergonomics.
There's other things like biophilic design, bringing the outdoors in. But all of it has a payoff, doesn't it? Because our well being affects every organizational outcome. It's not just health care costs. Yeah. Like my ability to do my work is contingent upon my well being. And if organizations, so take that mindset, then introducing something like a respite space is not a, or many of them is not a big leap.
Clare Kumar: I used to have on my homepage design for wellbeing performance flows. Nice. They go so hand in hand together. I should probably put that one back. Yeah, I think there's a cultural block because there's hustle cultures, grind, grit, you know, grit doing is lauded resting is not, we haven't made the whole, the broad, broad, broad, deep connection to the fact that you can invite glymphatic drainage of your brain and gave it a brainwash in three minutes. But that's three minutes of sleep, right? So do you go so far? I'm going to maybe push on this one. Do you go so far as to offer places for people to actually have a nap? Fully reclined in your spaces?
Ryan Anderson: We do. It's made easier by the fact that we have an amazing portfolio of health care furniture, which includes those recliners that you can easily stretch out.
And so it's very common in our offices to see a health care recliner, not in a clinical space, but in a respite space. I have slept In several of our spaces, because I travel a lot, right? So it's not such a stress, but if I'm traveling around the world and I've got an hour in between appointments, I mean, it's sometimes really, really helpful.
So yeah, we do the notion of sleep pods and other kind of more explicit ways of supporting sleep in the office is still fairly rare, except for China and a few other places where it's, you know, normal to sleep at your desk over lunch. But, yeah, in the West, it's still considered something that you might want to tuck into a room that's off the beaten path.
Clare Kumar: You need to hide the fact that you need rest. That's where we are culturally still. No, go, go, go, take another coffee, add some caffeine, like fuel yourself up and show up. Rather than recognizing that if you take breaks, my friend, Dr. Greg Wells is a physiologist and works at SickKids, and you know, the science will show you take breaks, you're gonna perform better.
But I believe somebody said to me, oh, I love what you're talking about. You're talking about design and leadership, biology and business. Like, yeah, we have to, we have to bring this together and then we can have the business case for a bed.
Ryan Anderson: You got it. I'll just say, and this is not something that we've talked about a lot as a, company, but with my own team, I use the term sustainable productivity all the time, just because I am always worried about burnout and the more distributed we are.
So like, I have a team that's, well, we've got members in California, we've got some in Bangalore and India, the more distributed we are, you can have a lot of interaction digitally, but you don't always feel real deep social connection. And so I have seen it where people can get in the habit of really working themselves too far and then just not being able to recover.
This was not a member of my team, but we did a collaboration with a tech company in Seoul years ago who explained to me, and I don't know the Korean term for it. You can get so burned out in a culture like Seoul that you can just basically disappear for days on end until you're okay enough to come back and it's understood, but that's terrible.
Clare Kumar: I mean, I really would hate to think that we would ever get to the point. That's not intentional. That's responsive, like checking out.
Ryan Anderson: Yeah, no, but I mean, even the thought that might be something that is normative would not be, not be something we'd want to promote.
Clare Kumar: Well, like in Japan, Karoshi, death by overwork, right?
There's a word for it. Awful. Yeah. And so I want to put the brakes on all of that and infuse what we know into design and into the culture part of design. So it's designing culture as much as it is. You can have the greatest respite room, but if nobody feels okay, like it's cool to say, oh yeah, see this, see the sleep marks of the sheet on my face.
I was just taking 15 minutes of brain cleanse.
Ryan Anderson: Yeah, we see this a lot where organizations will invest millions. And redoing, their corporate real estate with very sincere intent. But when the message, hey, we've added, some places of quiet relaxation, or we've added, we've added a gym or whatever come from the facilities team. It's appreciated.
But when it comes from the CEO, it's transformative because at that point, here's the evidence that we care about you and your well being and we want you to achieve. We want you to do so in a sustainable way and these organizations that have already committed to it. But you really do need to hear from somebody in leadership that we care.
We get it. We know you're stressed out and burned out. We don't want to contribute to that. Once again, I think just given the talent situation in many parts of the world, it's the smart move. You want to be able to retain, but you also want to be able to engage. You don't just want to hang on to people.
You want to hang on to people that are thriving and that takes a strategy.
Clare Kumar: I've talked about sustainable performance for several years now, that's what I'm trying to deliver. You can, you know, have somebody push and kick it out for a couple of days, but no, you want someone who knows how to self regulate and design their work life experience so they can keep showing up.
I think that's what you want, right? So you do, let's design the culture for that too.
Ryan Anderson: And the next horizon when it comes to physical place and work is because those of us that have had a work from home experience for a while, hopefully have taken on the mantle of I'm the designer of my work experience in space.
But we did a huge study on homes in general, not just work from home. And I'm still amazed that. A lot of people are working around whatever conditions they had in 2020. And then a lot of organizations while saying, Hey, we're good with you working 40, 50 percent of your time from home have not stepped back and said.
Well, shouldn't we make sure that they're healthy and productive at home? And by all means, if they're reducing their real estate portfolio a little bit to save some money, reinvest that whether that's in training or just some good practices, you know, we have one customer who will provide a stipend for an ergonomic chair or, an adjustable table.
But they'll only do so after the employee takes a little bit of online ergonomics training, just to make sure that they know what to do with these things. And I thought that's so smart.
Clare Kumar: That's what I recommended to the VP that I was working with in 1995 when I saw people walking around with carpal tunnel braces on.
And I said, this is preventable and we have this stuff. It's just sitting in a brochure and nobody's read it. So how do we, how do we, where is the employer's beginning and end? I bought this great equipment, figure it out. You know, there's, there's a little bit more bringing people to best practice and then and following them home with it too is a really interesting conversation, right?
Because yeah, I do a lot of work in Canada with Staples up here and understand a little bit about what's been happening with the office furniture. Huge opportunity, but there's still a lot of people who don't see the value in investing in that setup for themselves.
Ryan Anderson: I know, and they're spending as much time sitting there as they would on their mattress.
It, it is an investment in yourself. but it's also one that can sometimes be daunting for people. I get that. But if they intend to have work from home, be part of their ongoing work experience, then even if it's not a financial investment, just adopting more sound practices, I have the benefit of a height adjustable table.
But. If you don't grab that laptop, go to your kitchen counter for 15 minutes, every couple or, yeah, I'm a little concerned about the stability of an ironing board, but kitchen counter. I feel a little better about.
Clare Kumar: It's worked in a hotel room for me.
Ryan Anderson: That's one that I don't think I've tried.
Clare Kumar: You know, because you can put it to the height that you need.
I'm forever in hotel rooms and the chair is too low or something so I can bring, you know, the adjustability to your board.
Ryan Anderson: I never thought about it. You just got to deal with that screech. Once somebody gets the ironing board screech taken care of, then it might be a little better option.
Clare Kumar: Yeah, right.
You know Yeah. Oh, I could talk to you for hours and I know we've only got a little bit of time left. I want to get your perspective on hotelling and this depersonalization of the office space so that somebody just can't even find themselves there anymore. Whatshould the minimum care be for someone with a winter coat and a purse and a gym bag?
And how do you navigate all that stuff when you're saying, well, you're going to have to reserve for a desk and like, how are you navigating that? What do you, what are you seeing?
Ryan Anderson: Oh goodness, Clare, this is a 30 year, shared desking, sometimes called hotelling, hot desking, not new, has been done successfully in some cases and disastrously in others.
But there's a really interesting shift that's going on right now that I'm concerned about. It used to be that hotelking was too many people, not enough desks. We'll use hotelling. What's happening now is not enough people, too many desks. If you're not going to come in, then you lose your desk. And the reason why I'm concerned about it is we just completed some work with Dr. Nigel Oseland in the UK, looking at kind of the desirability of different facets of both home and the office.
And one of the most fascinating takeaways from this particular study was that those with unassigned desks, and by the way, that's been common in the UK for a really long time, more so than other parts of the world. Those with unassigned desks rated almost every facet of the office lower than those with assigned desks.
There's this concept known as place attachment from the world of environmental psychology. Basically, we have relationships with places. So the reason why people sit at the same chair at the dinner table or the same pew at church or their place of worship or whatever is we get attached to these places and we begin to encode information as we, you know, learn and grow in these spaces.
Clare Kumar: I have a lane in my pool, there's no lane, but I have a lane in my pool.
Ryan Anderson: Really? You have a lane in your pool where you work out?
Clare Kumar: I'm attached to the spot that I choose to swim in, to your point.
Ryan Anderson: Actually, like if you look at how University students test better in rooms where they learn than in other rooms, you can link performance on some level to the familiarity of an environment.
So if you're a competitive swimmer, I'm not entirely surprised, but all of this to say for an organization that's seeing lower occupancy to come along and say, well, I guess you're going to lose your desk, may seriously fuel the fire of people not coming in, but there are ways of doing it fairly well.
And the best success we've seen has been what's known as an owned neighborhood. So let's just say there's a marketing department of 18 people. You might only put eight or 10 desks, but you're also putting a little project space or a little sofa or a little phone booth. And you're saying, well, this is the marketing team’s.
And if you add somebody to the team, it's not like you got to rearrange the space. They're all just sharing it. Ideally, if everybody's in there's enough seats or work points that everybody can find some sort of place, but it offers that kind of scalability and flexibility of shared desking while still giving people something critical.
If you're coming in and you want to know where your people are, you can find them. Like that's where our stuff is. That's where our work is represented. And yes, if it's in a city where you're likely going to take a train or a bike, you're going to need an owned locker to keep those shoes, to keep those umbrellas, yoga mats.
Yeah, there's good ways of doing it, but boy, when it's done without a lot of consideration and change management, it can cause more problems than it solves.
Clare Kumar: Definitely. I'm thinking back to your comment about working from home and people needing to invest in that when the when the pandemic started, I created a work from home better little half half day course.
I'm thinking maybe I should be marketing that again, because I don't think the need has gone away. People actually haven't haven't solved it necessarily. So thank you for that tip. I think I'm recognizing the time and I'm going to end with the question. I'm curious about this right now. I'm embarking on a program for leaders and their teams to co create their future of work together, which is looking at the tasks, the things they need to accomplish.
And then from looking at the task, what's collaborative and then coming to compromise together. So leadership, stepping away from control, employees are stepping towards compromise and they're saying, we want to get this done. How, and when are we going to get together?
Ryan Anderson: This is perfect. How and when are we going to get together and what sort of physical environments do you need to be successful?
And as you pointed out earlier, on the topics of neurodivergent, sensory, needs, and other things, it can vary. It can even vary based on your personal life. I mean, if you can't stand your spouse, that's going to affect the sort of space you need. Or if you have heightened sensory issues within the office that are distracting and causing problems.
So yes to how and when should we be together? And also what kind of spaces do you need to be successful? And the results will probably surprise most team leaders. And I do just want to affirm this is really well done at a team level. Very difficult for any individual to change their work process without coordinating with others and almost impossible for an enterprise to do it universally.
So the team is the nucleus. Yes. And by the way, the team is also probably the nucleus for future workplace designs as well.
Clare Kumar: I totally agree. So yeah, I put together something called the Happy Space® Work Style Profile™ which asks individuals to identify the conditions that invite their best performance, but it doesn't say where do you want to work because that's next.
Yes. What do you prefer? Quiet space? What ergonomics? There's a whole big tick list. And then from there you design with the team. Well, you know what? I need a quiet space. That could be your home. That could be the office. And it's going to totally depend on what your situation is.
Ryan Anderson: Yes. The parallel I'd give you, if this analogy helps, is that when, a person shops for a new home, they're going to look at their needs and that of their family, however they think of their family, in terms of like, what are the range of activities that are critical, and then do these spaces support it?
And it's the same sort of kind of lens. What are the range of activities we might have in the course of a year? Not just this week. And then do we have the choice of spaces to solve this? And it won't be perfect, but if the majority of them are covered, then it's amazing how teams can become more agile.
And that's in every business's best interest, isn't there? Every organization's best interest to have teams that take more accountability and have more autonomy to change how they work because there's all this changing in the world.
Clare Kumar: I think the best way to get there is to stop. I'm saying solve the stalemate and bring people now to to a healthy attitude and compassionately look at each other.
I think one of the big challenges I'm seeing is that there's very little compassion for either side and leaders need a whole lot of compassion too because they're shouldering a lot. Oh, and they also have challenges. Managing this abstract nature of the team now, and that can lead to perhaps trust is part of it and control is part of it.
But I think also this abstract difficulty and managing a dispersed workforce, if they haven't been used to it is also something at play in here. Yeah, we could use some empathy. I think so. Like a big dose. Yeah, absolutely. Ryan. It's been an absolute thrill. I've been able to ask you some of my burning questions that I've been really curious about.
So thank you so much for joining me. Listeners definitely check out Miller Knoll and their incredible offering. Follow Ryan Anderson. You can find him on LinkedIn and we'll put all the links in the show notes. And definitely if you listen to this episode, be sure to let us know, reach out and let us know what resonated with you in this conversation.
There was so much good stuff here. And, really, I think the invitation to listeners is to really think about what's going to invite your best performance and talk about your organizations with this bigger, open thinking about it and see if you can't get towards a better design.
Ryan Anderson: Thank you, Clare. It's been a joy.