Design for Innovation


02 March 2016 - TIM HAWK

Look right. Look left. Do the people next to you look just like you or are they descendent from a culture that is different than yours? My bet is that some of your neighbors are from a unique culture. Most of you are working in a much more pluralistic working environment than you did just a few years ago. Globalization is here. Globalization is impacting every geographic area of the United States. We are clearly more connected to distant cultures now more than ever and it seems that with each day we are working more closely with a diverse mixture of individuals.

A couple of years ago, our little architecture firm in the middle of the Midwest was lucky enough to earn the opportunity to design a new space for an international corporation, Persistent Systems. What an experience! Their representatives were interested in attracting new employees to support their growing global enterprise. Persistent has clients all over the world and provide information technology consultation around the globe.  When they were seeking a place to locate their American Center of Excellence, they chose Dublin, Ohio, in large part due to an adjacent, huge population of students graduating from Ohio universities. The State of Ohio also stepped in to provide business tax incentives which sweetened the deal. WSA Studio was charged to create an atmosphere where a diverse range of employees could coalesce to support one another in a nimble working environment. We recognized immediately that we were dealing with a special client, with 21st century workplace goals. How do we design for a global company? Are their workplace needs any different than a typical American corporation in the Midwest? The answer is yes and no.

Today and tomorrow, the corporate workplace is enriched by an overlay of cultural expectations. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We can no longer design a nice space and rely on furniture vendors to properly equip each employee with the same workstation throughout (remember the 90s?). Today and tomorrow, we need to provide unique space planning solutions which allow each culture to melt into a team. At Persistent, our solution was to allocate a larger quantity of space in an effort to support a variety of needs. Culturally, some employees are socialized to be working in an equivalent working environment where everyone gets the same type of open working environment. Others expect privacy and focus in their workplace and value individualized offices. Traditional American values dictate varied office experiences as one becomes more senior in an organization. Those at the top receive offices. Those at entry level are assigned a small workstation and as you progress through the organizational hierarchy, you earn more autonomy. You are essentially rewarded for your commitment to the company and earn the right to have more space, more collaborative opportunities, and more flexibility. Meritocracy rules. So, here we are at Persistent, faced with the overlay of cultural expectations. To add fuel to the fire, throw in the wide expectations that come with generational shifts, and you have the melting pot that is brought to the table in today’s global environment. All in Dublin, Ohio, the bucolic suburb of Columbus that is about as historically homogenous as one might expect.

Our design at Persistent is anchored by a large, central gathering area, the “esplanade,” complete with bench seating and a feature wall constructed of wood and resins. This large esplanade provides an entry point to the space but more importantly establishes boundaries between the various forms of collaborative space sprinkled throughout the plan. To the right is a heads down focused working environment while the area to the left of the entry supports casual interaction and team based group decision-making. The central esplanade is not a programmatic need, but it serves the purpose of adding a neutral destination space within the workplace where the people of various cultures can retreat for privacy or quiet group interaction. The additional space helps to relieve pressure from what might have been a tight, co-mingled working environment. We believe that this additional space helps to diffuse individual issues that may have developed without the benefit of the esplanade.

The solution for cultural diversity? Add space, mix, and watch innovation grow as our day-to-day workplace challenges are quickly resolved through cultural overlay. How international.