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How Great Workplace Design Can Drive Innovation

National Office

We don't have to tell you the modern workplace is changing (though we have, at least a dozen times). Gensler has once again taken the change we see around us daily and turned it into impactful data. If there's one thing to take away, it's that great workplace design directly drives creativity and innovation.


Gensler's nationwide survey of more than 4,000 professionals aims to understand what a high-performance workplace looks like for today's knowledge worker. The survey revealed three key findings: everyone needs places to focus, space for collaboration and focus are equally important, and employees need choice.

The good news is that, in aggregate, workplace performance is on the rise. Today, one in three US workers have an optimal workplace experience, a noticeable increase from one in four in 2013—good news for today’s organizations, even though it still leaves two-thirds of the workforce with room for improvement.


The world’s most innovative people are spending less time at their desks. Workers are increasingly using their desks more for in-person or virtual meetings and working somewhere else...maybe in a whole different building. Innovative employees now typically spend only 3.5 days in the office each week. 

It goes beyond innovation, employees spending more than 80% of their time in the office having significantly lower scores on job satisfaction, meaning and managerial relationships. But this doesn’t mean employees shouldn’t be coming to the office—those spending less than three days a week in the office also showed lower scores.


Open versus closed plan isn’t nearly as important as many think. Gensler found the most innovative and high-performing respondents sit across a wide variety of space types, from private offices to bench seating and everything in between—what makes the difference is how they’re spending their time.

Innovators spend comparatively more time working with others, in particular more time collaborating virtually. And they’re less likely to collaborate at their desks—instead using conference rooms and open meeting areas within the office. 

This means they’re not only optimizing their own behavior by using spaces better designed for collaboration, but they’re also being more respectful of co-workers. Collaboration (especially virtual) is distracting to non-participants trying to focus, so it's important to have some separation. 


Looking outside the office, innovators also reported double the overall access and use of amenities in or near their workplaces, with particular importance placed on food and beverage, well-being and outdoor spaces. At Gensler’s panel discussion regarding the survey, a question was posed: Why is it that employees who have more choice tend to score higher on the innovation index? The simple answer is that you get bored—you begin to lack the innovation. There is a sense of relief while working in a conference room or coffee shop and changing your scenery.


Just how does Gensler know all this? It all comes down to the Workplace Performance Index (WPI). The score is calculated via 30-plus individual questions on workplace effectiveness and functionality. The Innovation Index aggregates a series of six questions focused on the quality of innovation, creativity and leadership in an employee’s organization. When plotted against one another, a strong upward trend between an employee’s WPI and Innovation Index scores can be seen.

Click here to view Gensler's full survey results