Sound Stories #005 – Your Work Environment and Creativity

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    Are you adapting to your space or is your space adapting to you? Nicole Ledinich, Furniture Specialist at Facility Resources explains how the way we work is evolving. She explains how the Herman Miller Design Principles can help support creativity, through office design that is much more human.

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    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #005

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Hi, there. Welcome to another episode of Sound Stories, an inspirational podcast for creative professionals and storytellers who want to improve their lives at home and at work. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host and co founder of Voices.com.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Joining us today is Nicole Ledinich. Today Nicole is going to share with us how we can make our space optimized, not only for ourselves, but for all of us, all the people on our team, with ideas, for designing the dream office space in a creative way for professionals. So Nicole, whether you have an existing office space or are looking to move into a space, it can be overwhelming to sort of where to start with a design process. So how do we begin?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    I think the first thing to do with designing great spaces to get your team, and to get the right people on the team early, what we really like to do is foster an environment that’s about co-creation. So it’s not about an expert coming in and telling you that these are the latest trends in office spaces, and you should be in an open office that looks like Google because that’s really cool. It’s about getting people who want to understand you and your business, who want to push the edges with you and to co-create with you what that space is going to be. And that takes some time and it takes having the right people around the table.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Absolutely. So that’ll being said, I know we’ve been through this process together. For everyone’s knowledge here, we’ve worked with Nicole, facility resources, and she helped us make an absolutely phenomenal office space. If you’ve ever been to see it, then you know it’s kind of Google-esque. It’s got
    all the great stuff in it that’s meant for us and it really fits us well. So when I say that, too, I want to ask you, are there any special considerations when it comes to designing an office for creatives?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Definitely. I think for creatives and for everyone what’s really important is to start to understand the behaviors that are taking place at work. When we say words like creative, or when we say words like collaboration, it’s what is that specifically for whatever company we’re working with? So what was that for Voices.com? That could be very different than what that is for facility resources or what that is for Facebook. And so the question is, what is that creativity that you’re wanting to foster? Or from a business perspective, what is it that you’re trying to create as leaders in your company that you may not have right now that you want space to support? And that can look like all different types of spaces and things, and that may change even departmentally.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Wow. Okay. So if I’m reading into this right, and I know because I’ve been through the process, but for everyone else’s benefit, does this kind of come from what the company’s culture is?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    It does. We definitely start with, what is the purpose of the company? This is giving us a lens into what is unique about whatever company that we’re working with. What is their purpose? What are their business priorities that are going to drive business forward the most in the next three years? What is your character like? When we look at character, what does that say about your culture? So it’s that kind of prosperity model that we look at first to go to, and it gives us a sense and a vibe for the people that we’re co-creating with.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    And one of the things that you can do, for those of you listening, that was really an important part of our process was that sit down where we all got together and to look at the different modes of work and we can get into that in just a minute. But just all the different ways that you work, where you might work, what you might do during the day, and how often do you do this? And do you need to be close to certain people in your company more than others?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Yeah. What’s really interesting is, how do we have conversations? And with design, what often happens is we ask people a bunch of questions and they do their best to answer the questions. But like everything, that’s garbage in, garbage out. So we want to change the way that programming looks like.
    Instead of asking a whole bunch of just technical questions, we’re trying to get a pulse and a vibe for who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish and what could the space be for the people who work there. And that’s just a very different programming process right from the beginning.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    But it really does matter though, that everyone who has a vested interest in that space and this design is involved in the process to some degree. Obviously you’re going to have certain people who do more of certain kinds of tasks, but the dreaming, the envisioning the vision boards even have, what do you want this to look like? And how does that fit in with reality? Meaning, do you really need, this? Is this over and above? Or does this really fit who you are? What your brand is?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Exactly. The process that we engage clients with is Herman Miller’s process, which is Living Office. What we’re finding is companies like Voices.com who want to do that. They want to engage their staff in the design process. That often comes up with a lot of fear for leadership. How are we going to manage all these people’s opinions? Are we opening that can of worms? But we’re asking people in a different way. And when leadership opens that up to the team, like Voices did, they get a lot more data and they get people focusing on different things.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    So rather than the fears about what the solution is, am I going to have a private office or not? We’re having discussion about behaviors or what kind of creativity do we want to foster? And we’re getting that engagement which can really help with the change that the team is ultimately going to go through.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Yeah, because sometimes it is actually moving into a new space altogether. It might not just be remodeling what you already have. So, I guess just thinking for people who are going to work with what they have.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Yes.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So they’ve got a great office space. They got more than enough room for all their people. They’re just not feeling very energized, not very creative. They’re kind of like, this bothers me. I don’t get enough sunlight or whatever. Like what are ways that we can use that process to determine how do we make this a better livable space? But also how do we make it more conducive to creativity?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    So the first thing that we’re really trying to understand with the Living Office process is, and you mentioned it earlier, is modes of work. And that’s how we map the behaviors. So rather than getting into the solutions and thinking about where things go in the plan, it’s what are the behaviors that we need to happen? So when we say we collaborate, well, are you collaborating? Are you trying to foster collaboration between two departments and we want to create that synergy? Are you an environment,
    or do some people need a think tank like environment? And we want to workshop with white boards all over the place in places where people can be super creative and sit in different postures? Do we look at how people are moving through space, and where does collaboration naturally happened through collisions? So we’re trying to look at these behaviors that are specific to the company that we work for. When we have that data, it becomes much easier to start to layer in that psychology piece as we map
    out the plan.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    I love what you just said because it made me think of a process that we  went through with you. So part of that was mapping out just the physical location. Like, what do you have right now? What still needs to exist? What is actually integral to this design? So I guess if you could maybe describe that process of when you did actually go around and look at the different rooms, what were you looking for in those rooms and why?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    We’re looking for, what are people starting to naturally do? So we always say that, are you adapting to your space or is the space adapting to you? And oftentimes we find that people are having to adapt to their space. But we can see when we look in their rooms and what they’re doing, what the team’s wanting. So if all of a sudden they’ve tried to put up whiteboards everywhere, it sparks our curiosity to be like, well, what kind of collaboration is happening in this room? Or we’re looking at departments, in your office in particular, in the sales area, you had the TVs going off and the songs when they have a sale. That’s a very different environment. That’s not how our sales department works. It’s really great to see that. So, how are people creating? What is the creativity? Often, like, what are the creative solutions that they’ve even been applied in spaces? We’re really curious about like what’s naturally emerging and bubbling up in that team.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    And for a company like ours, we have sales team, IT, marketing, customer service, finance. Not every company has all of those different diverse groups of people with very different tasks and objectives. A sales floor is going to be really loud. You would want it to be anyway, right? You want to be making  some sales. But then you’ll have people who are doing more independent, quiet work. How does that fit in? I kind of hinted at adjacencies and I’ll let you talk about that in a bit. But it’s like, well, what kind of stuff do people do? They get up. They sit down. They go to meetings. That come out of meetings. They cool down. Maybe just describe what these modes are.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Yeah. There’s all different modes of that we don’t necessarily think about. So everybody’s really familiar with what Herman Miller calls process and respond. You’re sitting at your desk, you’re doing your emails, you’re doing your phone calls and those things. We’re all really familiar with what a meeting is, or a traditional meeting where the show and tell experience, where the focus is on the content being presented or the presenter. And we’re really familiar with what might be our focused work that we’re
    doing. So our create work, which is when we’re focused on a task specific to our role. So it could be if an accounting team is working on a spreadsheet and we value that being uninterrupted.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    But there’s all these other behaviors that the global research is showing exist today. So things like chat. Chat’s a really interesting question from a business perspective. Where is chat a hindrance in your business? Where could might be disruptive? And where is it a really great thing? We have decades and decades of research in this world about the value of water cooler discussions. So chat is an important thing to put some attention on.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    One of my favorite modes of work is contemplate, and why I love it is that contemplate is showing in the world that we’re starting to realize that people are not robots. We are not machines. And that now companies are wanting to, again, remember that we’re designing for human beings. And so contemplate is maybe in a call center a staff member has just gone off a really difficult call, and they just need a moment to compose themselves. So these things exist today.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    There could be co-create, which is all about idea generation. And in an era of ideas, as Herman Miller calls it, idea generation, especially for the creative workforce is so important. And so important for every level of a business. It’s important for marketing, but it’s also important for people like David and yourself who are entrepreneurs, which is, at an essence level, an extremely creative field.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    So these are some of the modes of work that we get into. And what it’s showing us is that people are working together far differently than what they did 20 years ago. And that means we have to look at space differently.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    And technology has changed the way we work together, too. Right? So you have these different modes, but now you don’t have to be beside someone to tell them something.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Exactly. Technology’s actually one of the key things that has allowed us to start thinking about space differently. So not only do you not have to be beside them to necessarily communicate or to create something, but the other thing is that it allows us to move. And so when we talk about  behaviors, what’s come up is, gone are the days where our desk or our private office can suit all things. We tend to struggle with things like uninterrupted time. And so what the evolving technology is allowed is for us to explore easier ways for people to move, and move to other that allow people to do their work. And so, if your behavior isn’t being supported at your desk, which is going to happen, then you move to a place that it supports.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    That speaks to your earlier question about, well, what about when there’s different departments? Different departments need to move differently. So maybe somebody who’s in a creative area wants to be in a really buzzy open space, but sometimes needs that concentrative work. And so they move for that. Maybe somebody else really needs those private offices, but they want to come out for times of collaboration. So we’re looking at that in all different departments. And ultimately what we’re saying is one company is not the same as another company, and one department is not the same as another, and we need to start designing for what’s unique to each.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Yeah. Well just thinking again to our own experience, but we’ve recently moved into an incredible space. We got lots of room, far more room than we ever could have dreamt we’d ever have. But we’re going to put it to good use. It’s there to help us to grow. We had to get a reception area, for instance, and had to understand what the dynamics were of when someone comes in from outside, where do they go? Where do they sit? Do they feel comfortable being in here? Is there a spot where people can kind of perch for a little bit? They don’t have to sit down. They could just be waiting for someone. There’s all different kinds of behaviors for visitors to let alone those who are actually working your office day to day.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Definitely. And I really like what you’re touching about is, how do people come in and they’re comfortable? And that’s actually the big question about space, whether it’s a visitor coming in and your own staff. We can do things in design that can be quite contrived. We used to do it all the time. Oh my
    gosh, I have this amazing floor plate. There’s this awkward little nook. I’ll put a lounge area. That used to be really exciting, and myself and many of the designers that I’ve worked with would wouldn’t understand why it wouldn’t be used. Now with Living Office, I understand. Because it’s the psychology of of human beings that makes that space intuitive and easy and natural to be in. So it’s that idea of a three seater sofa in the waiting room, no one sits in the middle. There’s a major psychology of how human beings naturally act and behave in space. And we need to start layering that in early in the design process and understanding that component.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    I guess there’s some universals to certain human behaviors, but then we have different personality types and how they might work in a certain space. And that was a consideration, too, for us when we were looking at spaces for contemplation. That, obviously, is more of an introverted, reflective sort of activity. And you may be able to do it at your desk or maybe not. So there’s different places where people can just sit and think, and literally just not be in front of a device. Maybe you don’t have a screen or whatever. You let your mind just sit there, process something, perhaps. Right?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Yeah.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Or just a place to be quiet. A place to have a phone call where you’re not disrupted even.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Yeah. There’s lots of really interesting things that happen. And again, even just having business leaders acknowledge that there’s a difference between introverts or extroverts, or we can even talk about highly sensitives in space. People need different things. And when we can support people in space, they can do their best possible work. So another example of that is after a meeting, people will come out and an introvert may want to pull someone aside and bring something up that they didn’t bring up in a meeting. Well, how does that get supported? Or how do those kind of huddles that we seem to always see after meetings get supported? So these things that just happen, whether we support them or not.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    And that would be the cool-down, right? If I’m thinking in terms of the Herman Miller terminology, it’s like you can warm up before a meeting and you’re getting like, Oh boy, we’re going to go in. Yay. To be waiting, there needs to be an area for, if someone else is already in that room, then where are you going to be? You want to be on time, but you don’t want to be obnoxious and walking in on their meeting. So you have somewhere that you can wait and warm up for that meeting, potentially. Or review your notes before the meeting. It doesn’t even have to be a nice social grace. You’re just sitting there doing whatever you’re doing. But then of course, there’s the winding down, the cooling down. There’s going to be people who want to talk to each other, regardless of what the reason is afterwards, because they need to continue that conversation.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Exactly. And what’s really interesting is when it’s not well supported, people will tend to dissipate more quickly and you don’t know the creativity that could have been lost by not fostering an environment that supports that conversation to happen. So it can be something as simple as a standing height table with maybe some stools that allows people to naturally feel like this is where I perch. I can sit here. This is okay. And so the idea is, how do you foster as much creativity in the group? We’re not going to consciously think, okay, let’s go seek out a space across the building. It’s not how we behave as human beings. So, that’s what we’re trying to support.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Yeah. Oh boy. It’s a lot of fun. I mean, I’ve seen both sides as someone who has worked in an environment, but also someone who has been able to observe how the environment is designed and just the different factors that you take into account. So, yeah. Introversion, extroversion, highly sensitive
    persons, a lot of really interesting thought work there, psychology wise. And certainly for some kinds of, I guess, personality types, you would need to have very different environments that they feel comfortable in to do their best work. For them, it might be having an area where they can collaborate,
    but in a very small group, maybe it’s a smaller meeting room versus everything always feeling so big and exposed.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Exactly. And as well, different departments need things. So we know we spent a lot of time with Voices looking at marketing, for example, because that department has a very different function. And so it’s like, well, what do you need to foster that creativity and spark that? And what things need to be seen and in close adjacencies? So when are people at their desks versus when do they pop over to maybe a workshop that has whiteboards and things on the wall? Or when do they filter into your plaza, which is a
    lunchroom with so much more functionality built in? So what are all these things that happen? How do people move through space? What’s happening there, and is every department supported and what they need? Whereas your sales department, those people they don’t need to move so much from their desks. They work much more at their desks and they’re going to more social spaces for that collaboration because of their role. So, everybody’s different.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    What would be the one thing you would tell somebody about how they could be creative right now in their space?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    I think that change of posture is something that’s really, really important to think about. That can be something as easy as switching up one of your meeting rooms. Maybe it doesn’t need to be a boardroom table. Maybe it’s sofas. Maybe it’s beanbag chairs with whiteboards. But changing that idea
    that we have to do business in one way, which is sitting at our desks, or sitting around a boardroom table. Change of posture is huge a really simple change and a really great experiment can even help a business owner start to see and get some feedback as to what might be happening. So maybe it’s a little test project before a bigger investment’s made. But see what’s working for your team, get their feedback, experiment a little, play a little. That’s what this is really about so that we can start to push our edges and realize that we’re can happen in many, many ways.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    We have so many great ideas about what to do right. Maybe someone’s in a really dysfunctional space right now, but they don’t know. How can they tell that their space really isn’t working? It’s not the people. It’s not that they aren’t doing their jobs right. But everything just feels a little . How can they
    know if their space is actually creating these problems that they might be having in their organization?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    I think it’s a real sensing. And I think that that’s the challenging thing with design. There’s no real checklist. But I think certain owners get this feeling of, like, there’s more. I feel like I have a creative team and I don’t see them working together. Oftentimes, what you’ll see when space isn’t working is a
    team will start to shut down a little bit. They’ll start to work more siloed because they’re frustrated, oftentimes because they can’t get the concentrate of time that they need, and they don’t come together and collaborate. So you’ll tend to see that siloed effect. Even thinking about how your meetings are. So when you gather the team together for a meeting, are you getting the vibe, are you getting the experience that you’re wanting in that meeting or is it flat? All of these kinds of human behaviors when there’s not excitement or creativity, to me, are kind of red that there might be something bigger going on, whether it’s culturally or whether it’s space or a combination of both.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Or lighting even. Right?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Exactly.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    That can affect things. Maybe you’re in a room that is not really well lit, but it’s the only space you have that’s got windows. But for whatever reason, it’s just like, I don’t know, the pot lights are burnt out. Or, maybe there are little things you can do to fix it right away. But it literally could be something to do with just something very easy to fix.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Yeah. Oftentimes it’s in a meeting room. We really value to whiteboard, but the way the table and the chairs are doesn’t make the whiteboard easy to access. Or technology’s hard. We find that often when people have spark boards and things like that, Herman Miller actually has research on how long it takes the average person to set up for a meeting room. All these things start to hinder people and they tend not to go to spaces that don’t work with them. And they don’t even know how to name why until
    somebody starts asking the questions. But you’re seeing that you can start to think, what about technology? What about lighting? What is the furniture? What is the circulation? You can kind of start to feel out these things and maybe make some small shifts.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Yeah. Because if the chairs are 10 years old, someone might not feel terribly creative sitting in a chair that’s got, I don’t know, a tear in it or something. That could be cosmetic. Could be a big factor in how someone might feel about their work. But it’s also sort of just you want people to feel comfortable. You want them to encounter as few number of obstacles as possible to achieving their goals.

    Nicole Ledinich:
    Exactly. And maybe it’s a creative room and what people really need to be doing is sitting on a couch or standing at a standing table. We sit so often. So maybe we need to be up and energized and white boarding and creating and idea generating and things like that. So posture is a really big thing, again, that’s easy to identify and play around with.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Something that we have, and others do, probably, are tons of whiteboards. As you’ve mentioned. Everyone loves the whiteboard because everyone’s creative when you can write on a whiteboard. Right? And I do believe that everyone can be creative. So if you, for some reason, believe that you are not creative, you are. It’s merely just connecting things. I think Steve Jobs had said that before. All it is, is just, well, I saw that, and I see this, and I put them together, and this is what I got. I’ve got some connection. Right? Anyone can be creative. So, that said, how many people do you know of in the work you’ve done make use of having, say, even those painted walls where you can write on those, like
    almost like chalkboard paint?

    Nicole Ledinich:
    I would say that it’s definitely evolving more. What I think happens is, the difference is, if people are mindful of the change that they’re making and they’re making it purposely. Not because they thought it was cool, but that they’re really thinking this would work well for our team and how the space is being used. So I always think it’s kind of like the why of it is always really, really important. And some of those tools that we’re seeing, like the whiteboard paints that are out there or standing height tables, and some of these solutions that, for example, companies like Herman Miller do global research to develop, are fostering these behaviors. But it’s this bigger question of what is it that you’re wanting and why? I think that’s the place to start.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Well, that’s it for this week. Thank you for joining us on Sound Stories. If you’d like to subscribe to Sound Stories, there are two really easy ways to do that. And you can either go to iTunes. You’ll get every episode as soon as it’s ready. Or you can go to our website: voices.com/podcasts/soundstories. Whatever you choose to do, just know that I’m so happy you’re there.

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    Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.

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