Data-Driven Workplace Design | MIT Technology Review


Diane Hoskins ’79 grew up with lots of exposure to “beautiful, amazing buildings,” both in Chicago’s famously photogenic downtown and in the pages of Architectural Record, where her mother worked. It was natural for her to become an architect herself. For the past 15 years, she has been co-CEO of Gensler, the world’s largest architecture and design firm, known for its focus on work interiors. Also known for its green buildings, it is committed to net zero emissions for all of its new designs by 2030.

Hoskins remembers his time at MIT as “the most exhilarating adrenaline rush,” adding, “You were learning something every day.” Most of her courses for her Architecture major focused on the essentials of building design. But an MIT Sloan course in management psychology got her thinking about the impact of office spaces on organizations. “The connection between the physical environment and behavior and performance in a work environment has always marked me,” she says. She then obtained an MBA from UCLA and designed large buildings for several international companies before landing at Gensler.

There, she launched a research program to determine how interior spaces influence workers. Through surveys of thousands of employees each year, the company has identified four ways of working – focus, collaboration, learning and socializing – each requiring different types of spaces. Hoskins helped develop a “Workplace Performance Index” to track the impact of space design on things like productivity, communication and innovation. The company uses this information to custom design the right mix of spaces for businesses like Microsoft, Etsy, and Nvidia, as well as schools, hotels, and airports. “We start with data and trends,” she says, “then we shape the design to meet the culture, brand and people of a business.”

The company is using the same data-driven approach to rethink office life after the covid-19 pandemic. Despite the new emphasis on working from home, recent Gensler surveys of workers found that only 12% want to do it full time; 44% prefer a hybrid arrangement, and 44% want to work only in the office. While it’s too early to say definitively, Hoskins imagines offices will incorporate an inflated air filter and non-contact doors and elevator buttons to prevent the spread of infection.

“People want to connect with other people,” she says. “We are already starting to hear the outcry: ‘I can’t do my best in a vacuum’. Focus, collaboration and socialization are all intertwined. ”

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