Author: Paul Meyer

Changing Perspectives — Designing via Partnerships

Design Partnerships with National Accounts

As the COVID19 pandemic sweeps through our country and the world, corporations are busy determining their strategic approaches to business continuity, particularly as states begin entering into the restart phase and employees begin returning to the office.

As an architecture and design firm, we are uniquely positioned to assist our clients in the spatial ideation and implementation of social distancing protocols—ensuring policy is enabled and employees and businesses remain healthy and safe. It is particularly evident in times like these that businesses of today need more than just a design firm.

Traditionally, architecture and design projects have clearly defined beginnings and ends. Once a client occupies the completed project; photos are taken, hands are shaken and communication halts to the occasional ‘hope you are doing well’ emails.

At Workplace Architecture + Design, we have a different perspective to offer the businesses we work with:  we have the experience, knowledge, and talents to operate as more than just the typical designer-client relationship, but as true strategic partners.

As strategic partners, our projects do not come to a close with a handshake (we prefer ‘air fist bumps’ these days) —and our line of communication does not close either. A partnership places value on organizational and cultural engagement equally as much as the emphasis is placed on an individual project. The end product of a strategic partner is not simply the built environment, but instead, all of the elements that support that environment and effectively meet their business purpose.

Benefits For Clients

Workplace Architecture + Design serves as strategic partners for a number of organizations: working on projects across the country, and even dipping into international waters recently. Our services look at our partner’s entire portfolio of facilities, not just an individual building, in an effort to strategically resolve issues through careful planning and design. The services we provide as strategic, long-term partners are:

  • Portfolio Analysis and Optimization — We review organizational data and forecasted growth/contraction against facility layouts and capacities. This leads to finding and implementing select facility changes that allow for the best use of capital against spatial needs (i.e. individual projects that provide the most value for the money).
  • Development of Brand Standards — Blending all aspects of design (space allocations and size, materiality, design, and workplace strategies) with company culture (work flows, collaboration approach, branding), we help create a deployable guide for company-wide office design.
  • Negotiated Agreements — Working on behalf of our partner, we assist in the outreach and development of agreements directly with manufacturers to provide cost-saving solutions for hard costs such as furniture, flooring, and audio-visual needs
  • Best-of-Class Planning and Design — Our design team incorporates a deep-rooted understanding of our client’s needs and culture with creativity and immense talent to produce highly innovative and cost-effective results. Our connected knowledge with our client leads to faster projects, delivered for less money—on a consistent basis.

The benefits of becoming strategic partners with our team are immense: creating thoughtfully curated culture management (versus unpopular mandates), improved recruiting and retention, major cost avoidance and savings on all projects, and a sustainable and healthy built environment that embodies your company’s values.

One Example – National General Insurance

An example of one of our strategic partnerships is our work with National General Insurance Company (NGIC). Beginning with a complete analysis of the company’s Winston-Salem headquarters in 2012–an analysis that resulted in a strategic relocation to a nearby multi-facility campus—Workplace Architecture + Design has since become the company’s nation-wide architectural and design partner. Our work with NGIC has included:

  • The development of corporate design guidelines that have been implemented across the country and include: spatial allocation and design strategy, furniture standards, finish standards, appliance standards, and Audio-Visual standards
  • Projects across ten states — stretching from North Carolina and New York to Wisconsin and Oregon.
  • Rapid space planning and lease opportunity analysis

David Wolf, National General’s Vice President of Facilities, has seen the benefits of working with our team across the country. “We can rapidly deploy projects anywhere in the United States and know that cost controls and brand consistency will be delivered.”

FEATURED PROJECT: 450 Hanes Mill Road, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 

The fourth, and most recent, building within NGIC’s Madison Park campus, the work at 450 Hanes Mill represents a multi-phased project to meet the growing spatial demands of National General’s Winston-Salem location.

Beginning with an analysis of multiple expansion options—including additions, new construction, and potential moving — the resulting renovation of 450 Hanes led to the most cost-effective strategy for a growing company. The building consists of approximately 81,000 square feet that include training facilities, open and enclosed office space, meeting rooms (of all sizes), both renovated and new restrooms to serve the population, and multiple break rooms. The project also included upgrades to the building’s mechanical and electrical systems.

Restarting Your Workplace

Where To Start

Workplace Architecture + Design has worked with many of the leading corporations and institutions locally and nationally in the design of their high-performance work environments.

Since we are familiar with their layouts and design, we also know that many of our clients will be facing new challenges responding to Covid 19 as they attempt to reopen their workspaces.

Their focus will need to be on adapting so that their workplaces are controlled and following best practices for screening, sanitation, social distancing, and flexible work strategies.

Equally challenging will be the cultural changes that these restrictions will bring, as behaviors and protocols will be forced to adapt. If employees are not confident in the company’s approach it will erode trust. Groupwork, social interaction, celebration of achievements, and performance goals will all have to be reset.

To help with these challenges, we have been assembling resources that we think will be helpful to all of our customers in each of these key areas, with source links and tips listed below.

On Thursday May 7, we hosted a webinar panel discussion featuring many of the facility management leaders and real estate executives in the region to get their insights and tips on how they are adapting policies and work environments in anticipation of reopening. 

The information provided by the webinar and this blog post is for the consideration of facility managers and building owners, and not intended to be specific recommendations. Each company will have unique considerations based on their facility designs and business operations. Managers should consult with their HR and Legal departments before implementing their plan.

Flexibility is Key

There is no set playbook on how to respond to Covid 19 when it comes to rethinking workplace protocols and layouts. The reopening phase of the pandemic will be dependent on local patterns of the virus and whether rate of infections is increasing or decreasing at any given time in the place of business’ community. State and local governments will also have variations in their executive orders governing business.

One of the most useful guides we have found is from former CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, whose current organization Resolve to Save Lives focuses on pandemics.  Titled “When and How to Reopen After COVID-19”, it correlates workplace guidelines to specific pandemic data points.

Another useful framework for reference is the CDC’s current guidance released through the White House called “Opening Up America Again”, which is intended to guide state and local leaders. Flexibility will be required depending on the trajectory of the virus locally, meaning that protocols will likely have to be revised back-and-forth depending on the rise and fall of community transmission.

All of the current guidance is consistent in recommending the following in the early phases of workplace reopening:

  • Employees that are over the age of 65 or have vulnerable conditions should continue to shelter in place until community transmission declines for 8-16 weeks after initial reopening.
  • Social distancing should remain in effect at the workplace and is likely to require continued telework, staggered shifts, spreading out seated workers, staged limitations on meetings and gatherings, closure of common areas that encourage social gathering, and reconsideration of circulation in the buildings.
  • Individual and workplace sanitizing requirements will continue to be needed through all phases.

Screening Employees and Guests

The first point of control for a facility manager will be screening processes to limit the possibility of exposure of employees in business operations. Even after widespread testing and contact tracing is available companies will want to consider:

  • Travel restriction policies.
  • Requiring notification to HR and self-quarantine for employees with symptoms or traced exposure.
  • Maintaining controlled access and screening at all entrances.
  • Using thermal screening devices to take temperature of employee’s and visitors while maintaining distancing from staff.
  • Requiring visitors to fill out forms attesting to screening criteria and allowing temperature to be taken before entry.
  • Having a designated wellness room with negative air pressure near a building exit for isolating and removing employees and visitors presenting symptoms.


Having the correct procedures in place for sanitizing the work environment and requiring employees to follow protocols is critical not only to combat the virus but also to make employees feel that the environment is controlled so they can focus on work. Here are best practices for consideration:

  • Increase janitorial to clean all surfaces at least three times per day. Make sure cleaning agents follow CDC and OSHA Guidance, using recommended disinfectants.
  • Wherever possible, deploy horizontal surfaces that are non-porous (laminate) and limit soft surfaces that are difficult to disinfect.
  • Make sure selected cleaning agents are compatible with materials and finishes in the workplace.
  • Consider removing furniture that is incompatible with sanitizing procedures or difficult to clean.
  • Consider adding cleanable screening between workstations to a 60-66” height.
  • Consider increasing ventilation rates and outside air delivery.
  • Require employees and guests are to wear masks to and from the building, in the elevators, and while circulating in the space.
  • Provide hand sanitizer dispensers in building lobbies for use before entering elevators and stairwells.
  • Provide disposable glove dispensers throughout the facility for employees use and stock extra masks for employees and visitors who arrive without them.
  • Deploy sanitized wiping cloths and sanitizer spray bottles throughout the open plan, break and meeting room areas. Provide waste container with lid to collect.
  • Ask employees to wipe enclosed meeting room and huddle room surfaces and chair arms / backs, and door handles after each use.
  • Deploy signage encouraging hand washing and describing social distancing rules.

Social Distancing

The past goal of optimizing square feet per person in workplace design as a guiding principle means that most office and retail layouts will need modification and change in use to comply with the standard six-foot distancing rules.

There are likely to be limits on floor occupancy levels – for example 20% of life-safety code, increasing with time. Given the standard 4-pack ,6-pack, and 8-pack workstation cluster design, employers may only be able to seat alternating users depending on the workstation footprint and user orientation. Additionally, meeting rooms will have occupancy limits to ensure limits on assembly are followed.

Since it will be difficult if not impossible to reconfigure and reseat the entire pre-Covid employee count, employers will need to continue remote and work-from-home programs with the associated technology, communication and project management tools. Employers will also need to consider shift work and staggered workdays to control onsite headcounts.

This is likely to have a lasting impact on workplace design, even after the pandemic era. Workplaces and meeting spaces are likely to be less dense in planning and flexible working is likely to continue for many years to come for the appropriate job types.

Here are best practices for consideration:

  • Maintain six-foot distancing in lobby and elevator queues.
  • No more than two persons per elevator.
  • Deploy a manual or automated check-in system to monitor occupancy counts and distancing.
  • Reconfigure workstations to provide 6-foot seated distancing, or alternate seats. Remove and store chairs as needed for alternating seat solution.
  • For shared workspaces, ramp up daily sanitizing rates.
  • Add cleanable surfaces and screening in-between users.
  • Reconsider furniture and, fabrics and other materials for cleanability.
  • Post signage on allowed occupancy in meeting rooms, remove and store chairs as needed.
  • Restrict use of social congregation spaces until Phase 3 of the reopening frameworks.

Resources and Articles

Here are some great resources and articles that you might find useful in developing your restart plans:

The Inside Story of How Studio Creativity Thrives

By Rachael Schmid

The power of a well-designed workspace isn’t exactly news. But for the employee who shows up to work at a brand-new workspace, there are few things more impactful on day-to-day quality of life.

In the last 20 years, roughly 30,000 individuals in The Triad Region have had their workplaces transformed by Workplace Architecture + Design. Past projects include Inmar’s corporate headquarters, Biotech Place in Innovation Quarter, Collins Aerospace’s Oak Plaza campus, the TW Garner Food Company headquarters on Fourth Street, and many more.

That one company has directly impacted the working lives of so many individuals locally is significant, economically a the company and regional scale. The desirability of workspaces continues to be a major factor in employee retention and recruitment nationwide.

That some of the city’s biggest and most innovative companies have entrusted their needs and aspirations to Workplace for embodiment puts this firm in a unique position: to share how business is, and will continue to be, done day-to-day in Winston-Salem.

“From the Inside, Out”

Architect Paul Meyer sits in an ergonomic chair by a large, glass window. He knows it’s not normal for people to think about the architect. That’s partially the point.

“I don’t ever want to push our intentions onto any of our projects,” he says. “Our profession is to design a space, a building, a community for the people who work and play there, right?”

Except many of the employees at project sites do know Paul. He gets to know every department. What are their specific needs? How do they work? How big are their meetings? What do they think looks nice? By the end of a project, he’s spent weeks working alongside the client’s employees.

“It’s really a connected way to design any space, from the inside—from the users of that building—out.”

Workplace’s “inside, out” approach is, in large part, a strategic response. Every company has a different mission, a different culture. Deep analysis on the front end saves a lot of time, money, and misunderstanding on the back end.

But Workplace’s success as a design firm also points to something deeper: Winston-Salem companies are looking to workplace redesign as a way to express and preserve what makes their mission and culture unique.

At the TW Garner Food Company headquarters on Fourth Street, passerby who peek inside the front windows can see a full commercial test kitchen, where the recipes for Garner products (including Texas Pete hot sauce and Green Mountain Gringo salsa) are actually developed.

But some of the best design details are visible to employees only, like ‘The Four Garners’ backsplash in the breakroom—the same image found on the back of every bottle of Texas Pete, representing the company’s four founding brothers.

“The Four Garners is one of our earliest trademarks,” says President and CEO Ann Garner Riddle. “It represents unity and brotherhood, which started with the first four Garners and has moved down through the years. It’s very important to us.”

Companies like TW Garner seem to understand that what makes people want to work somewhere isn’t primarily the bells and whistles. It’s a culture of connection—connection to the brand, the mission, and the community.

“We’re a family-owned company,” Riddle says. “If you come to work for TW Garner, you’re a part of the family.”

“Define, Then Design”

Workplace president Alicia Hardin pulls out a stack of massive binders. She’s ‘the numbers person’ at Workplace as well as the principal designer.

Over Workplace’s 20-year history, Hardin has developed highly detailed processes for assessing design problems. How many conference rooms do we need? How many square feet should each workstation occupy? She has formulas, spreadsheets, and multiplier factors for all of that.

“It’s like the word problems in school that everyone hated, but I liked,” Hardin says. “Design is solving problems, and we’re all about defining the problem before we design.”

When it comes to Workplace’s larger clients, like Collins Aerospace, a ‘playbook’ of design processes is crucial. Collins has taken Workplace all over the U.S. and the world for projects—Seattle, Miami, the Philippines, and most recently Kansas. What enables a nine-person design team to partner with an international company is the binder in Hardin’s hands, a highly refined programming tool that helps the team “define, then design.”

Collins employees have seen the fruits of Workplace’s strategy in the upgrades to their space at the Oak Plaza campus off of Germanton Road. In the 150 building, which houses upper management, HR, and legal, one of the first things employees see upon entry is a large, glass backdrop etched with patents—a recognition of innovation strived for and achieved right there, on the campus.

These investments in the Winston-Salem facility are affirming. The presence of major corporations like Collins Aerospace is, of course, crucial to the local economy.

The now nine-year partnership between Collins and Workplace is likewise affirming, showing that local companies and local talent have what it takes to secure and retain big business. To, on a global scale, set themselves apart by working transparently and smart.

“They have truly turned into a business partner,” Collins Director of Facilities Robert Vanderpool says of Workplace. “They are honest, trustworthy, accountable, and innovative—all key factors you look for in a business partner and friend.”

“The Massive Brain”

At this point in time, The Workplace team is the most collaborative it’s ever been. They often refer to themselves as “the massive brain.”

“Because of the way we work in our dynamic, when we all join forces to work on a project, we’re able to get it done well,” says Interior Designer Maria Katsoudas. “It’s really fun to get everyone’s take, and that’s what really makes a project shine when we can all contribute to it.”

The brand-new Workplace office, located on the 8th floor of the newly renovated 500 West building downtown, reflects that spirit of collaboration—a spirit which more and more companies are embracing in workplace design.

Within an open layout office, a group of workstations huddled together to form a low-walled maze. It does somewhat mirror a brain.

Hardin gave the team free rein to design their own workspace. Katsoudas says the idea behind the design was to make a conversation easy between coworkers, whether it’s a quick question or a spontaneous brainstorming session.

The Workplace office shares a floor with Flywheel coworking—also intentional. The Workplace team hopes to learn from and support new businesses that outgrow their Flywheel home.

When it comes to workplace design, startups are very different clients for the firm. Decisions are often between spending on the workplace versus spending on product development. Their priorities are different, and their spaces have to be designed to flex.

Startup and growth-stage projects remind Katsoudas of Innovation Quarter’s first projects, like Biotech Place and Inmar’s headquarters. When those projects were about to hit the docket, Katsoudas was a Workplace intern. The team needed another designer, and she was hired full-time.

At the beginning of January, Katsoudas celebrated her tenth anniversary at Workplace, a testament to how the ‘interior’ life of a company—the day-to-day experience of employees—really is everything.

“We’re close-knit, and that’s really key for us to work well as a team,” Katsoudas says. “We tend to all have lunch together more or less every day.” She gestures toward a round table with an impressive view of the city, Innovation Quarter in sight.

“I have learned so much. The experience they’ve provided us here—it’s priceless.”

The power of “Design Fixation”

Your first design idea is always the one you feel most confident about. It may not be your best one but you fixate on it anyway. Thirteen professionals from the United Kingdom were asked how to work their way around this “design fixation”, and below are the ideas that they had.

What Is “Design Fixation,” And How Can You Stop It?

Items that can make design fixation worse:

  • Exposure to prior solutions that you may have had
  • Always thinking that your earlier ideas are a better design
  • Dealing with low budgets from your clients
  • Being a part of a workforce that places blame on people for mistakes made
  • Clients that have their own idea or like your first idea and push to stick with it

Items that help you avoid bad design ideas:

  • Use your coworkers to brainstorm and ask them to review your work
  • Morphological charts shouldn’t be your enemy (used to generate and organize potential solutions in your design)
  • Always notice the problem before it becomes one to begin with
  • Model making is your friend, especially in the design community, so don’t be afraid to make one or two or three or maybe a million

At some point though, you do have to realize your time will be better spent on coming up with the design, so don’t stay fixated too long…

Breakrooms, the Office’s “New” Hangout…

Office breakrooms have always been where an employee goes for coffee in the morning and lunch in the afternoon, but with their outdated designs, no one wanted to stay for an extended amount of time. Now, that’s a thing of the past, because breakrooms are also getting a face-lift when the design for the rest of the building is considered.

Breakrooms are being designed more frequently to look like kitchens that you’d see inside your own home. They’re now becoming a place where coworkers, in addition to getting their morning coffee and lunch, can now collaborate on ideas as well as sit and work instead of being stuck at their desk. The redesign of the office breakroom is starting to have an impact on employee morale in a positive manner.

So, as an employer, when redesigning your office space, remember to pay attention to the breakroom!

Powers of 10 – A Story of Inspiration

In 1999, we (Alicia and Peter) toured a special exhibit on Charles and Ray Eames at the Library of Congress – and found inspiration.  Though “Eames” is a well-known name in designer circles, and even in the general public with the recent renewed interest in Post-Modern design, this in-depth retrospective showed how Charles and Ray’s life was permeated by design.  Their partnership as a husband/wife team surely allowed them to not just practice design, but to live design.

We were particularly smitten with their short film, “Powers of Ten”, about the relationship of all things in the universe at various scales.  Though the film was made in 1977, its message holds firmly true today.  Watching it again, I wonder if it would have the same impact if produced today with the advanced technologies available…what do you think?

So, as we pondered on the mission of our own design lives together and began to formulate what became Workplace Strategies, the Powers of Ten became an analogy we often used.  Design is planning with a purpose, or problem-solving, and for people who practice design, it is critical to understand the problem at hand.  Therefore problem definition, or Problem Seeking, which is the title of the essential book, Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer by William M. Peña and Steven A. Parshall is the crucial starting point of a design project. And, as the Powers of Ten tells us, it is as important to understand at an “atomic” level as it is at a global level.  Said in a different way, to determine the appropriate amount of space needed for a project as a whole, we first need to determine the space needed for each portion, and to determine the space needed for a specific portion, we need to understand the functions, operations and so on.  By becoming more detailed, we can build a more accurate big picture.  The same concept applies to the qualitative properties as well as the quantitative properties of each project.

The Powers of Ten is the concept behind the concentric circles of the Workplace Strategies logo.

From the Eames Office website:

Powers of Ten is one of the Eameses’ best-known films.  Since it was produced in 1977 it has been seen by millions of people both nationally and internationally.  As with A Communication Primer and 2n (a 2-minute Peep Show from the exhibition, Mathematica), in this film, Charles and Ray employed the system of exponential powers to visualize the importance of scale.

When the Eameses came across the 1957 book by Kees Boeke, Cosmic View: The Universe in Forty Jumps, they decided to use it as the basis of a film investigating the relative size of things and the significance of adding a zero to any number.

Powers of Ten illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery. It begins with a close-up shot of a man sleeping near the lakeside in Chicago, viewed from one meter away.  The landscape steadily moves out until it reveals the edge of the known universe.  Then, at a rate of 10-to-the-tenth meters per second, the film takes us towards Earth again, continuing back to the sleeping man’s hand and eventually down to the level of a carbon atom. 

In 1998, Powers of Ten was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Balancing “We” and “Me”

This article, written by Steelcase researchers and published in the Harvard Business Review, really addresses the balance between the top two factors for productivity and satisfaction:

  1. The ability to do distraction-free solo work
  2. Support for impromptu interactions

Which are, of course, inherently contradictory.

Sound Matters

By far, the most informative, unbiased, and useful report EVER on acoustics in the workplace.  This universally relevant topic applies directly to the number one factor influencing employee performance and satisfaction – the ability to do distraction free solo work*.  Be sure to note the “mythbuster” on page 6 about cubicle partition heights…

*See Disproving Widespread Myths about Workplace Design for the top ten list of performance factors.

Designing a Workplace for Wellbeing

Two great design principles used to achieve the project goal: “How can our environment not just contain how work gets done, but be a catalyst [to evolve] the business?”  Seizing the opportunity to make a cultural and philosophical change interwoven with a consolidation of physical space – many of our clients have leveraged the same opportunity with great success.

How to Design a Workplace for Wellbeing: 2 Critical Factors

Make way for the Millennials

A more thorough article with great examples of specific space types – particularly the office commons as the new social hub of the workplace.  Our experience is consistent with the overall trend toward reducing square footage assigned to individual work-spaces and reallocating that square footage to these commons and other shared spaces.  However, beware the statistic on “average square footage per person” as there are many variations on how that is calculated, and the writer doesn’t elaborate.  Neither does this related press release from the source CoreNet data.

Some of these other statistics and calculation methods are described in:

“Space and Project Management Benchmarks: IFMA Research Report #34”, 2010, International Facility Management Association

“Workspace Utilization and Allocation Benchmark”, July 2011, with data updated July 2012; U. S. General Services Administration, Office of Real Property Management, Performance Measurement Division.

“A Unified Approach for Measuring Office Space: Fore Use in Facility and Property Management”, 2007 Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International and International Facility Management Association (IFMA)