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Exploring The Connection Between Data And Office Design

National Office

The major corporate shift to open offices has disrupted the way designers and tenants grapple with how much space to give to each employee. But the data is finally catching up, and the answers to the big questions are emerging.


CannonDesign executive director Meg Osman says her firm began strengthening its focus on using data four or five years ago to help the firm’s clients, and CannonDesign itself, design workspaces that meet the myriad needs of employees.

The idea stemmed from the dramatic shift of companies embracing an open office footprint. This trend was so overarching that many companies didn’t prioritize the need for balance between collaborative and private office space.


The process of data-informed design has become a service line for CannonDesign's corporate/commercial team that recently informed Zurich North America’s new HQ in Schaumburg, IL. The project began with a crowdsourced design process where CannonDesign and Zurich engaged as many of Zurich’s employees as possible to collect information and suggestions. More than 150 employees were invited to participate in a three-month pilot process through which they worked in a built-out test environment and could experience different office arrangements, furniture, spaces, technology, etc., and provide pertinent feedback on each aspect

Meg tells us the Zurich project provided specific challenges as the company's employees had diverse needs in their new offices. For example: actuaries for the company stressed the need for private spaces, while other workers sought more collaborative environments.

There were some significant surprises CannonDesign drew from its data. First, there were no design trends favored by one generation of worker over another. Meg believes this is an outlier, as she usually sees fluctuations by generation, and can be attributed to the strong workplace culture cultivated by Zurich—it hires like-minded people. Other (more expected) findings revealed that employees sought more social hubs, stronger connections to natural light and sit/stand desks.

Some key data points from the Zurich pilot metrics:

  • Frequency of interaction within Zurich’s teams increased by 19%.
  • Satisfaction with the workplace for all generations of workers improved by 21%.
  • Satisfaction with the flexibility to use different spaces during the course of a workday improved by an astounding 64%.

Meg says the data collection always starts with strong support from the C-suite. CannonDesign works with senior executives early in the process to establish criteria that matters to them and their business objectives. She sees Cannon’s place in the process as helping to build design scenarios to mitigate or enhance the behaviors of a company’s workers, and to gauge their satisfaction with the process.


CannonDesign doesn’t have a boilerplate process to the data/design approach, as every office design project is different. When CannonDesign consolidated its HQ to a single 61k SF floor in 2012, it implemented a new workplace strategy. 99% of Cannon’s staff—from executives to interns—are now seated in an open bench workstation that allows for more seating and breakout session space, while an open café near the center encourages workers to meet up in a centralized area. CannonDesign also focused research around technology to ensure workers can be connected, wherever they are in the office. In all, CannonDesign's Chicago office offers 20 different workplace setting types to use, and encourages its employees to work in a manner best suited for their individual styles, and for specific tasks.

CannonDesign’s corporate/commercial team also focuses on data collection after an office has been delivered. CannonDesign will return to its clients six months after occupying a space to conduct site reviews, survey the staff and bring workers in for focus groups. This process helps ensure the workplace is driving intended results, highlights areas for recalibration and also helps leaders ensure maximum ROI.

In certain instances, research may reveal that companies can further evolve their workplaces or commit to goals they considered too “out there” or lofty originally. This proved true for a confidential client it's working with on the West Coast, which recently committed to advancing its workplace strategy efforts even further after the six-month evaluation.


One of the main goals of design data is discovering what makes workers more productive. Gensler's study on workplace design and productivity surveyed over 4,000 professionals, and found that employees in high-performance workplaces spend less time at their desks and use conference rooms as social centers throughout the workday; are three times as likely to prefer sit/stand workstations; and prefer choice as to when and where they work.


The data/design dichotomy is playing out in the co-working sector, which has adapted best practices to open new locations across the country, based on what works in other markets.

MakeOffices CEO Raymond Rahbar says his company charges for space not by total footprint, but by the number of people working in a space. The data collected from that has helped MakeOffices make better-informed decisions regarding total footprint in its newer locations as it's grown to become the second-largest co-working firm in the country. It's also allowed the firm to strike that delicate balance between open floor plans and private workspace.

MakeOffices' research also drove it to partner with TriNet to provide human resources services, including risk mitigation assistance, ACA compliance support and benefit plans, payroll and tax administration, and workers' compensation.