Stop the endless debate over open vs. closed work environments

Rather than be confused by the constant stream of opinions, leadership teams contemplating workplace investments should start with powerful employee engagement strategies that drive results.

April 21, 2015 |
Cannon Design Blog
Stop the Endless Debate to Nowhere – It’s Time to Measure Workplace Performance

Cannon Design used strategic solutions when developing the new Zurich North America headquarters. Image courtesy CannonDesign

Organizations seeking to empower their people and advance business goals need to stop listening to the never-ending debate about open vs. closed work environments and start engaging their people to achieve successful workplace strategies.

Rather than be confused by the constant stream of opinions, leadership teams contemplating workplace investments should start with powerful employee engagement strategies that drive results.

Our team at CannonDesign has developed proven processes and metrics that allow organizations to best understand employees’ needs and ultimately create environments that drive culture, innovation and performance.

"Zurich learned 57% of employees involved weren’t just happier with the prototype workplace but also enjoyed their work more."

Zurich North America is leading the way in this arena with its recent workplace pilot efforts. In advance of its new 750,000-sf North American headquarters, set to open in fall 2016, CannonDesign collaborated with Zurich to design and implement an extensive workplace pilot program with multiple prototypes that more than 150 employees were able to work in and test.

These employees spent three weeks working in each of four neighborhoods and sharing time between individual workstations and shared spaces throughout the floor. Each neighborhood featured different styles of desks, chairs, enclaves, conference room and informal meeting spaces that could be potentially integrated into the future headquarters.

Feedback was gathered from employees involved in the pilot program via pulse surveys, town hall meetings, and focus group discussions. The initial data indicates improved satisfaction and performance:

  • Employees involved in the pilot program interacted within teams 19% more often while the average time people spent waiting for responses decreased 62%
  • Satisfaction with the workplace pilot environment increased by 21% for all generations
  • Employees were 64% more satisfied with the flexibility offered to use different spaces over the course of a day
  • Zurich learned 57% of employees involved weren’t just happier with the prototype workplace but also enjoyed their work more

“We want to ensure we are creating the right design to meet employee needs, enabling them to be effective and productive,” said Jennifer Kyung, headquarters business lead at Zurich North America. “We committed to engaging with our employees on the design from the beginning knowing that highly engaged employees lead to better results.”


Image: Cannon Design


Follett case study

Our collaboration with Follett, Inc. also drove measurable performance increases with its new headquarters thanks to extensive employee engagement. From the outset of its office relocation effort, Follett leadership met with employees through companywide engagement efforts, group meetings, and brainstorm sessions to gather ideas for the headquarters and also establish baseline metrics.

Key findings realized only 45% of Follett’s employees were happy with the previous offices (the national average is 60%) and 65% of employees desired alternate places to work away from their desks. Follett also kept employees engaged with focus groups, town halls and powerful change management programming to ease the transition to the new space.

As a result of Follett’s strategic efforts, the new headquarters—which offers different flexible workplace settings integrated into neighborhoods—is driving improved performance. Initial data collected shows overall satisfaction with the workplace has grown by 38% for all generations and functions in the organizations.

Other key areas seeing improvement are frequency of interaction with teammates (39% improved); communications amongst different groups (50% improved); and satisfaction with access to natural light (85% improved).


Image: Cannon Design


Strategic Solutions

The same performance metrics and methods implemented by Zurich and Follett can be applied by other organizations in pursuit of strategic workplace solutions that drive results. These best practices help company leadership step beyond the confusing debates about work environment and refocus on the people who will work in these spaces.

Moreover, focusing on employee engagement will empower us to collectively emerge from the historical approach of creating workspaces and hoping they perform. Now, we can strategically identify goals, understand business objectives and measure workplace success.

About the Author: Meg Osman, Executive Director of CannonDesign’s global Corporate/Commercial practice, works with clients to implement significant real estate and workplace strategies that positively affect their business objectives. Her clients are leading Fortune 500 corporations across several industries. Osman is widely regarded for her understanding of the spectrum of demands facing today’s corporate client and has authored pieces and secured media placement across Fast Company,, Inc., and Fortune.

Cannon Design Blog | CannonDesign
Cannon Design

CannonDesign’s blog is a place for the global design firm to share thoughts and news related to their current efforts to help transform businesses, educational models and health paradigms. The firm engages diverse perspectives and expertise to deliver proven, innovative solutions to our most important partners, our clients. Our global network of more than a thousand professionals enable us to create design solutions to the greatest challenges facing our clients and society.

Related Blogs

August 10, 2018 | Hotel Facilities | CannonDesignTina Manis

Responding to these shifting expectations, building owners and design teams working in other markets now re...

Maryland's Cole Fieldhouse
March 30, 2018 | Sports and Recreational Facilities | CannonDesignChristopher Whitcomb

CannonDesign recently shared new images of two collegiate sports projects with interesting ties to college...

February 08, 2018 | Architects | CannonDesignMichael Tunkey

Cities change constantly, but given the numerous disruptive factors spanning technology, policy, climate an...

The awning outside an emergency room

Pixabay Public Domain

August 30, 2017 | Healthcare Facilities | CannonDesignElisabeth Perreault

The Golisano Center for Community Health offers integrated care to adults and children.

A rendering of Brunswick's current Headquarters
August 01, 2017 | Office Building Design | CannonDesignJonya Leverett & Chris Lambert

Connecting personal values to company values is important to millennial workers.

April 17, 2017 | BIM and Information Technology | CannonDesignBrian Skripac

Now more than ever, owners are becoming extremely focused on leveraging BIM to deliver their projects.

Rendering for the new Afganistan International Organization for Migration.

October 31, 2016 | Healthcare Facilities | CannonDesignMichael McManus

The communications challenges don’t even begin to compare to the inherent challenges of designing for a dev...

Pixabay Public Domain

October 06, 2016 | CannonDesignChris Lambert

We consistently recommend that workplaces share collaborative spaces and quiet, private spaces, writes Cann...

Can you make a new building as cool as a warehouse?

Warehouse Office Community Space. Images courtesy Cannon Design

May 09, 2016 | Office Building Design | CannonDesignRobert Benson

CannonDesign's Robert Benson insists that the industry needs to start looking at traditional office spaces...

3 key trends in student housing for Boston’s higher education community

Image: University Student Living.

April 04, 2016 | University Buildings | CannonDesignLynne Deninger

The city wants to add 18,500 student residence beds by the year 2030. CannonDesign's Lynne Deninger identif...

Overlay Init