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Design Strategies for Maximizing Corporate Science "Office Hours"

Now more than ever, there is demand for inspiring corporate science workplace environments. With hybrid work situations becoming the new norm for many companies, employees want their time in the office to be meaningful and engaging and focused on people, connections and community. We recently hosted a discussion with corporate science industry leaders that elicited some thought-provoking ideas about exactly what this workplace looks like. Below, we describe four key ideas we took away from the conversation.

Invest in a holistic technology solution to create an equitable, hybrid workplace.

Organizations are now faced with the challenge of creating an equitable experience between workers at home and those in the office in terms of tech and connectivity. It is important to foster hybrid collaboration between people working remotely and those in the workplace.

During the discussion, panelists commented on the need for meeting rooms to link to the outside world to connect in-person staff to remote workers. They also suggested being open to experimentation within physical workspace. This could mean trying out rolling zoom carts, incorporating hybrid meeting technologies such as OWL and virtual whiteboards such as MURAL and creating semi-private nook spaces where acoustical quality for virtual meetings is a key consideration.

Some leaders highlighted their use of quick surveys that are deployed at the end of each day to get a sense of how people feel about the changing environment and what works and what doesn’t.  

Prioritize adaptability and sustainability to bolster resiliency.

Adaptability and sustainability are key to shaping the next generation of resilient office and lab space. Space that is better utilized and adaptable to different uses creates more resiliency when shifts are needed due to emergency situations (pandemic, natural disasters). Key considerations for creating this type of environment include (1) Unassigned workstations that can flex per demand; (2) App-based software that provides live updates on space utilization allowing for real-time flexibility; and (3) Underutilized large conference rooms repurposed as zones that can adapt for virtual calls or smaller in-person meetings.

Addressing environmental issues also play a part in shaping the next generation of resilient office and lab space. In addition to creating smaller footprints with more adaptable layouts, goals of reducing carbon emissions and becoming net-zero are increasingly a priority not only in building construction but also in operations. Many firms are looking to align with the 2050 goals of the Paris agreement with one firm stating the goal of 100% renewable energy by the end of the year. Environmental goals are also informing how leased space is managed and selected.

Optimize automated technologies to shift space demand.

Researchers and scientists are continually evolving in how they work. Efficiency in the workplace has increased thanks to automated technologies, which handle the mundane, repetitive tasks and allow for scientists to do more creative work. Although this typically calls for a larger footprint for machinery in labs in addition to traditional wet bench labs, it is beneficial to understand utilization to optimize the space dedicated to these functions.

As some labs shift to more automated capabilities, it allows more time outside of the lab, creating a greater need for collaboration and social spaces for people to gather.

Unleash the beauty of science to inspire.

For researchers and scientists primarily working in-person in their labs, designers need to elevate the traditional lab and office workspace and bring beauty to the environment.  Employees want a space to be proud of, one that reflects and fosters the work that they are doing and, simply put, one that is fun.

Looking to science for inspiration is a way to add beauty to lab environments that often feel sterile and utilitarian.  Finding elements that relate to an organization’s mission and bringing those elements into the space, through placemaking and form is a great way to spark joy and pride as well as bring visual interest to the space.

Blurring the lines between the lab and office helps create better connections by locating office space adjacent to lab areas, with open collaborations zones in between. More transparency and visibility into the labs puts science on display and fosters a sense of connectivity.

The workplace of the future will be kinetic, adaptable, and flexible — an ecosystem that is formed by neighborhoods where people can meet in person or virtually, retaining a sense of social connectivity no matter where they work.

About the Authors

Brooke Horan, IIDA, ASID, WELL AP, LEED AP, EDAC, is an interior design director based in the New York City office. Her work with healthcare and life sciences clients across the globe has helped her develop a holistic, universally-relevant approach to holding visioning sessions and creating a design palette with her clients. Brooke utilizes evidence-based principles and a full range of tools, imagery and digital media to design some of the most dynamic interior spaces created within HDR. 

Meghan Mele, NCIDQ, LEED AP, EDAC, is a senior interior designer in the Boston office, with a large portfolio of work in healthcare and life sciences settings. Meghan is interested in how the built environment can influence the behavior and use of a space by the occupants. She listens intensely to the requirements of all the stakeholders to ensure the operational needs, brand of the institution and design goals are fully integrated into a unified design solution. Meghan's extensive knowledge of sustainable materials and her technical ability allow her to create unique environments which promote health and well-being.