Contact Us

Gensler Survey Reveals Secret Sauce For Creating Innovative Workplaces

Becoming a firm that leads in innovation stems from three key variables, as laid out in data from Gensler’s 2106 Workplace Innovation Survey. Those variables include space design (to what level it supports collaboration); meaning and purpose (whether employees view their organization as making a positive impact on society); and managerial relationships, specifically to what extent a manager cares about employees’ well-being and career development.


The survey identified a group of behaviors and attributes that significantly increase creativity and innovation by comparing employers scoring in the top 25% on Gensler’s Innovation Index to those at the bottom.

Digging deeper, analysts found innovative employees have choice about where to work and use it to maximum effect, working in a wide variety of spaces that meet their needs, whether in an individual space to focus, a conference room to brainstorm or learn a new skill, or a social space to chat with co-workers during a coffee break.

Additionally, innovators spend less time in the office (74%) compared to less innovative employees (86%); have twice as much choice about when and where they work; are twice as likely to have access to and use a cafeteria, coffee shops and outdoor spaces to work and socialize; and report twice as much access to amenities, like specialty coffee, restaurant, gym and childcare facilities.

Above are panelists at a Gensler event to present the findings of the 2016 Workplace Innovation survey. From left are Stath Karras, Jessica King, Maria Martinico, Paul Anderson, Delinda Forsythe and Janet Pogue.


Gensler workplace leader Janet Pogue, who led this decade-long research tool, said innovative employees also have better-designed and more functional workspaces, no matter how open. Key factors in designing high-performance spaces involve noise and access to co-workers and resources. Shown above is one of eight spaces at CBRE's San Diego Workplace360 office in Downtown San Diego.

Gensler presented the results of the survey to clients at an event last week, which was moderated by University of San Diego The Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate executive director Stath Karras and held at the Alexandria at Torrey Pines. Janet said this survey is conducted every few years and builds on previous findings and is designed to identify strategies that inspire creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Data from this survey, which involved a sample of more than 4,000 respondents, provides a window into the workplaces of “top innovators” as measured by the Gensler Innovation Index score.


Above is The Farmer & Seahorse restaurant at The Alexandria at Torrey Pines biotech campus.

Top innovators were determined by segmenting respondents into four groups based on their Innovation Index scores and employees’ ranking their employers as “most innovative.” Comparing innovation scores by industry revealed technology/internet/telecommunications at the top, but all 11 industry sectors had fairly similar scores.

In discussing innovator characteristics, Janet said there were no significant differences by generation, but noted differences between the 2016 survey and the last survey in 2013. She explained, for instance, that virtual collaboration has doubled in the last three years, shifting from 7% to 15% of the time.


Pictured The Alexandria at Torrey Pines, an innovative amenity for the life sciences and broader San Diego communities.

Based on this survey, Gensler has developed a set of design actions every organization should consider to optimize the workplace and improve performance, innovation and employee satisfaction.

- Invest in more functional workplaces and effectively manage those functions most important to individual performance to make any space type, even open office space, highly effective.

- Diversify beyond the desk by including a variety of group workspaces inside and outside the workplace. Innovators have access to and utilize a greater variety of spaces in and out of the office.

- Empower the entire organizational community, not just senior leadership, with the ability to choose when and where to work. From 2013 to 2016 choice at all levels of an organization fell, but senior leadership continues to report greater choice than more professional or administrative staff.

- Connect every employee to the meaning behind their work, the company’s mission and the broader organizational community with design strategies that support and impact corporate purpose.


Alexandria Real Estate director of design and construction Jessica King said Gensler created an ecosystem at the The Alexandria at Torrey Pines to inspire and support innovation. “We created an interesting place for scientists to get away from the lab and innovate outside of it by creating an aggregate of what you see in the community,” she said. Her firm formed partnerships with local businesses to provide on-site amenities and services.

The Alexandria at Torrey Pines iincludes an EXOS Fitness Center (pictured) with a basketball court and Pilates studio; celebrity chef Brian Malarkey's Farmer & Seahorse restaurant; and a variety of meeting spaces, including the Illumina Theater and indoor/outdoor patio bar and fireplace lounge.

Partners providing on-site services include a florist, fresh produce delivery provider, shoe and leather repair, oil change provider, ride-sharing, dry cleaner and auto detailer.


Gensler SD director of workplace Maria Martinico described design elements at Gensler and San Diego Union-Tribune offices in Downtown SD that provide employees choice and functionality. Gensler’s office space has a rooftop patio and Gensler-branded bikes to borrow and SDUT’s provides WiFi and plug ports throughout the building to allow employees to work in multiple spaces. Pictured above is the indoor/outdoor patio bar and fireplace lounge at The Alexandria at Torrey Pines.

She said the workplace design process involves envisioning the desired result around the client’s business role, and using design benchmarks to build flexible, collaborative spaces that can be downsized or expanded as needs change.

“Workspaces need to reflect the organization’s culture and stimulate engagement of people,” said ICE founder/CEO Delinda Forsythe, who runs a locally based custom furniture design company that creates furnishing around a company’s culture. She said people want choice, so any elements that provide work flexibility are desirable. Delinda also said most people love nature, but spend 70% of their time indoors, so using elements that bring nature inside evokes positive emotions.


OFS Brands director of well-being Paul Anderson talked about the importance of a healthy workplace to performance, innovation, creativity and employee satisfaction. He said the Delos Well-Building Standard, which includes more than 50 wellness amenities and innovations, is applying health and wellness research to the workplace. Pictured are employees making use of standing workstations at CBRE's SD office in East Village.

He said the standard continues to evolve with new information from the WELL Living Lab, a multidisciplinary lab established by a JV of Delos and the Mayo Clinc that is pioneering research on the interaction between health and wellness and the built environment. This facility has a lab control center that gathers and analyzes data on a daily basis, comparing it from day to day to determine what has changed.

Paul said this facility, which simulates conditions in the workplace environment, did a baseline study to determine at what level VOCs affect humans. It’s also focusing on using sensors embedded in furniture and wearables to detect all types of workplace effects on people, like sensors with facial recognition detecting a person’s change in mood when certain sounds or noise enter the environment.

In evaluating a new workplace’s desired performance, Janet suggested employers wait three to six months to allow new behaviors to set in before measuring results. She also said innovative workplace design is a constantly evolving process, so results should be measured over time and adjustments made.