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2020 Workplace Strategies – Going Beyond Industry Trends & Physical Design (Part 2)

In Part 2 of this discussion, Arnold Levin of Gensler delivers another dose of healthy cynicism about the design industry, but he also shares with Mike Petrusky about the impact of technology in the workplace and what we can learn from other industries as we look to adapt in our organizations. Mike asks about Arnold’s … Continue reading "2020 Workplace Strategies – Going Beyond Industry Trends & Physical Design (Part 2)"

2020 Workplace Strategies – Going Beyond Industry Trends & Physical Design (Part 2)

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In Part 2 of this discussion, Arnold Levin of Gensler delivers another dose of healthy cynicism about the design industry, but he also shares with Mike Petrusky about the impact of technology in the workplace and what we can learn from other industries as we look to adapt in our organizations. Mike asks about Arnold’s presentation from IFMA’s World Workplace on agile workplace strategies and in the end, he offers some really practical advice about the opportunity we have to make an impact on the people in our workplaces. This show has always been about the need to be comfortable being uncomfortable and Arnold really challenges us as we head into 2020. Mike and Arnold agree that we cannot expect to be successful if we operate in the default setting of keeping the status quo and we must not be afraid to confront some of the challenges that we all will face as we move forward in the fast-changing world of the workplace.

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Read the full transcript:

Mike (00:02):

Hi everyone, Mike P here, and I have two big announcements for you. First, I am thrilled to tell you that we have just launched a new website to serve as the home of this podcast. You can check it out now at There, you will find not only the latest episode of the show, but a link to our complete searchable archive of interviews. Plus the new site has available for free download research reports and white papers about the latest industry trends and available technologies. Also, I’m excited to announce that registration is open for the annual iOFFICE User Conference. Our summit 2020 will take place April 14th to 16th, and I really hope you will plan to join me there. We will bring the future to life with amazing speakers, educational content, and you’ll have the chance to interact with our community, forward thinking workplace leaders. So join us in Vegas baby, Vegas, where you will be inspired to create connected workplace experiences for your organization.

Arnold (01:05):

It’s being able to identify an underlying problem. That really, if we’re able to solve that problem, provides a much higher degree of value to that client, and then begins to see us in a very different light. And much more client-partnered capacity, than just there’s another vendor selling services.

Mike (01:25):

This is the Workplace Innovator Podcast where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOFFICE, the leading employee experience-focused IWMS software that delivers real-time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace.

            Welcome back everyone. My name is Mike and today I have for you the continuation of my conversation with Arnold Levin of Gensler. And I know you will really enjoy this one folks, but, if you missed the first half of our discussion, I do want to encourage you to head back over to episode 90 of the show and start there first. Because here in part two of the interview, Arnold picks up where we left things off last week, and he delivers another dose of healthy cynicism about the design industry, but he also shares some practical advice that applies to all of us.

            And then, I do my best to end things on a very hopeful and optimistic note. And Arnold does play along. So check this out.

            Well you mentioned some disruptions in the industry and technology certainly plays a part in this. I have a particular interest in technology working for a workplace experience software company. So can you share your view of the technology that is now disrupting the workplace and maybe some of the opportunities or some of the challenges that brings into the picture.

Arnold (02:56):

Well I think that it’s obviously clear that technology is the great disruptor of every industry. We talk about that when we talk to our clients. One of the things that I like to sort of shake the conversation up with clients, is that when I start working with a client and I want to talk about the future and what their future looks like. They again, look at the future through the lens of trends. Trends within their own industry. And the force of change is so quick because of technology, that by the time a real disruptive change hits, the trends were already so far outdated, that their prediction of the future is leading to too many cases, a loss of market, and business failure. So one of the questions that I asked, somewhat ironically is, what would happen if Google decided to enter your business market?

Mike (03:51):

Hmm. Yeah.

Arnold (03:51):

And so, again, many, many years ago I was working in a previous organization with a large automobile organization. And when I was working with them, the first question that I asked them was to describe their culture. And one of the things that they described to me was, which is often a response that you get from conservative clients, is well, we’re not Google. Well six months into the project, they were Google. Because Google had entered the automobile manufacturing company.

Mike (04:24):


Arnold (04:25):

I’m currently working with a health insurance organization, a rather large one. And one of the questions that I asked them at the beginning of the project was, “What would happen if Google decided to enter the health insurance business?” Well, Google has entered the health insurance business. And they’re totally disrupting the delivery of health insurance services. Which means that you have a rather conservative, staid, national organization that has been living in one paradigm. And unless they wake up to the fact that within a very short period of time, Google and organizations like Google are going to totally disrupt their industry, it totally changes what they are as an organization.

            And therefore, you also needs a response in terms of the types of solutions we have that go beyond just coming up with some trends that are going to solve their workplace design strategy issues. It really is an organizational change that they need to be able to respond to above all else. And so, a long-winded response to your question is that part of the solution, is a design solution in terms of physical, but part of that is an organizational change, that we are as an industry, uniquely positioned to. If we would open up our eyes and broaden our offerings to be able to help clients change organizationally.

Mike (05:55):

Many of the concepts and principles you’re talking about seem to be, in some ways, above the pay grade of a traditional FM or real estate leader. But what do you suggest? Is there a practical approach, a strategy to help my audience attack this big problem you’ve described?

Arnold (06:10):

Well, I’m not sure that it’s above anybody’s pay grade. I mean, I think other organizations, other industries, facing similar challenges, have managed to address those issues in a variety of ways. What I’ve always found amazing, and I still after decades of wrestling with this, is trying to understand why the architectural profession is somewhat incapable of making the changes that are necessary to the structure of a design organization. At the end of the day, we talk to clients about the need to change. And yet as an industry, we still rely on, and we live in our comfort zone of the physical. And I think part of it goes back to the education of designers and the focus that we’re a somewhat creative industry, and we will rely on our creativity in terms of its physical manifestation.

            We’re all enamored by it as designers. I was, I still am to a certain degree, I haven’t lost though that feeling for the aesthetic. But we rely much too much on that as the core of what design is all about, as opposed to looking that design is a problem solving process that you use to solve business problems. And some of those responses, as I keep saying, are not just physical. And I think that we need to see ourselves professionally, that what we’re really good at is solving problems. And that we need to realize that the physical piece of this thing can be, at some point, will be done if, it’s not already doing it through artificial intelligence and other technology adventures. And I think that, we need to be able to educate ourselves differently. I think that we need to include as part of design teams, sociologists, and anthropologists, and economic people. People that go beyond physical design solutions so that we’re able to offer solutions to clients that are much broader and deeper than that.

            And it’s not difficult. It’s a mindset change within our industry that we seem very reluctant to do. Even though if we were faced with a client with the same reluctance, we’d be appalled by it. And we’d be rather dismissive of it. And I think that we need to reinvent the industry. And unless we do reinvent the industry, and I don’t mean to be gloomy about this, we’re going to find the industry is continually commodified. I think there’s a combination of things going back to your comment about technology. I think that with the availability of technology from the client perspective, they’re going to see that they could take on a lot of the things that we have been doing in the design profession. Whether it’s 3D printing, whether it’s artificial intelligence.

            So a lot of the things that they’ve been paying design firms for, they’re going to be able to take on in-house. On top of that, you’ve got the problem where you’ve got a generation coming into being that is used to instantaneous solutions. That do not have a tolerance for designing a project that takes eight months to design and another 12 months to build out.

            Now, everybody is expecting things to be done by tomorrow. We order a book from Amazon. We don’t wait for that book for two or three days anymore. We get it, in some cases, the same afternoon that we order it. And I think that clients’ expectations are the same way. And so I think that we need to be able to be responsive to that and recognize that other types of organizations are going to be able to do what we do, at the aesthetic level, quicker and faster. And so we need to redefine our profession to be able to say that we solve problems at a much broader level. That includes organizational change, and organizational design, as well as understanding how various interfaces of technology that we could provide, that need to broaden what you do as a designer or an architect.

Mike (10:15):

Wow. So this is some pretty daunting stuff. This is some next level kind of realism hitting our show the first time, Arnold. So-

Arnold (10:24):

Sorry about that.

Mike (10:25):

I appreciate it. No, it’s great. And it does align with the message of this show, which is, “Hey folks, it’s time now to get out of your comfort zone, do something new the year 2020 is here, so let’s do it.” The mindset change has to take place. We have to be comfortable being uncomfortable and try new things, and taking a different look at the way we operate in our business, in our personal lives, in our profession. And Arnold, I really enjoyed your presentation at World Workplace in Phoenix. You talked about agile workplaces and that strategy. Tell us just a little bit about what you mean by the agile approach.

Arnold (11:02):

Well I think that’s a great example of what I’ve been talking about for the past couple of minutes and rambling on about, is that, I think that as designers, we often come up with “design solutions” around whether it’s agility, or mobility, or any host of areas, that refer to not necessarily a one-to-one desk shooting ratio, as well as a different way of working. Again, whether it’s agile working, or whether it’s activity-based working. And we don’t understand, and we don’t look at what the implications are organizationally. So, if for instance, one is working with an organization and you’re making a recommendation that that organization adopt a so-called agile workplace strategy, they need to be organizationally designed as an agile organization in order to be able to work that way. The physical workplace design is not going to create an agile organization.

            And I think, again, it sort of speaks to what I’ve been trying to get across, is that if we are recommending an agile workplace solution as an example, we need to be able to work with a client and get them to understand that they need to adopt an agile organizational strategy and model as well, in order for it to work. And so we should be able to, if we have the right mindset and the right capabilities as a design organization, be able to work with those organizations to help them, not just acclimate to a new way of working physically, but help them change organizationally to become an agile organization. If that’s the venue that we’re recommending. And that’s where I think part of that lack of coherence exists in the profession, is that we make these recommendations, and we don’t understand what the implications are for the organization.

            We talk about change management as a service that we often do as a design profession, but too often, the change management that we’re doing is communications and it’s not real organizational change. And with the kinds of disruptions that we’ve been talking about over the past couple of minutes that our clients are facing, the change management services that need to be provided for them go beyond just communicating the wisdom of the change, but needs to be able to help those organizations identify what within their business needs to be changed or transformed, in order to work in a new way, so that the workplaces that we’re designing are able to do that.

            And again, agile work is something that is too often misused in terms of its terminology. If you remember the start of my presentation, I gave a number of examples of what agile meant to different people.

Mike (13:44):


Arnold (13:44):

Whether you are talking to a technology person-

Mike (13:46):


Arnold (13:46):

And you think about agility in terms of agile platforms for developing software. Or if you are talking to somebody from McKinsey, they are indeed talking about an agile business model. If you’re talking about agile to a workplace designer, they’re thinking about desk sharing and activity-based work and that type of thing. So it means that, as a profession, we need to approach this a little bit more intelligently, in terms of A, understanding what the terminology means, and being able to help organizations transcend the so-called design solution to be both physical, as well as enterprise level or organizational level.

Mike (14:28):

All right. I understand and I agree. So let’s end on a positive note Arnold. What does it look like to do this right? Let’s start with a clean slate. We’ve got an opportunity here to help folks start the new year with the right mindset and on the right foot. What does it look like? How can we better enter these engagements with this more holistic view of the organization and the strategy and design all in one? How do we do it?

Arnold (14:56):

Well, unfortunately I’m not Tony Robbins. So I’m not going to give you … You’re not going to come out being able to walk on coals after you hear-

Mike (15:04):

Okay. All right.

Arnold (15:04):

A talk by me.

Mike (15:05):

Practical, practical advice though.

Arnold (15:07):

Well, and I don’t mean to be overly cynical, though I think I do mean to be overly cynical.

Mike (15:12):

Yes, you do. That’s okay. Its helped us.

Arnold (15:14):

But I think that my cynicism is pointed to the direction that I think that positive note is I think that of all professions that are out there. Because of the way we’ve been trained as designers. And the whole design thinking methodology that we talk about, though don’t necessarily always deploy properly, gives us above all professions and ability to look at what the problem is in a very different way. If we would only broaden our perspective and get beyond the physical or the tangible. And I think that, it’s within our grasp to be able to do that.

            And I think it’s within our capacity as designers because of how we’re trained, to be able to do that. I think that we just need to get beyond ourselves, in terms of how we define ourselves as designers. And I think part of the problem is the self-definition that we’ve been sort of entrapped with. And I think that the potential is definitely there. If it’s not, I certainly would’ve taken my cynicism and left the profession long ago, as opposed to 50 years later. I still am in this profession because I do believe in the capacity that we have beyond other organizations, to be able to really create and help organizations create what I would call meaningful change. Or to be able to identify what the right problem is to be solved.

            And I think that goes to the heart of what I think the situation is. So if you want to be positive about it, I think that what we do well and what we should be focusing on is not solving a problem based on a trend, going back to your original question, but that we should be really able to identify what’s the real problem that we really can solve for our client. And often that real problem is not the problem that’s given to us in the RFP. Often the real problem goes beyond what is positioned as the RFP problem or the proposal problem. It’s being able to identify an underlying problem that really, if we’re able to solve that problem, provides a much higher degree of value to that client, and then begins to see us in a very different light, in a much more client-partnered capacity than just there as another vendor that’s selling services.

Mike (17:36):

Excellent. Well, challenging indeed, but lots of good stuff here. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective. Thank you so much for taking time to be on the Workplace Innovator Podcast.

Arnold (17:49):

Well thanks for having me, I really enjoyed this a lot. So I appreciate you’re hearing me out and some of the thoughts that I was sharing.

Mike (17:56):

There you have it everyone, the second half of my two-part conversation with Arnold Levin. So what did you think? Pretty challenging stuff, right? But in the end, I am optimistic, as always, about the future and the opportunity. We have to make an impact on the people in our workplaces. And I want to thank Arnold for taking the time to share his wisdom and insight, and for challenging us here on the Workplace Innovator Podcast. I really did enjoy my time talking with Arnold and I hope you did too. So please drop me a note on social media or via email and let me know your thoughts. And if you would, share this podcast with a friend or a colleague that can benefit from the conversation here. There is no greater compliment you can give. As we continue to grow our community of listeners and encourage each other to be a workplace innovator. Peace out.

            You’ve been listening to the Workplace Innovator Podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOFFICE can help you create an employee-centric workspace by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience, visit


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As the host of both the Workplace Innovator Podcast and the Asset Champion Podcast, Mike's role at Eptura is to share thought leadership with CRE, FM, and IT leaders in the digital and hybrid workplace. As an in-demand public speaker, Mike engages audiences with his focus on the human element of workplace and facility management at International Facility Management Association, CoreNet, and other industry events.

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