Developing Workspaces that Foster Creativity with Doug Shapiro, OFS's VP of Research and Insights

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On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Doug Shapiro, VP of Research and Insights at OFS. Doug and I talk about some of the trends in office design, the importance of developing workspaces that foster creativity, and some resources that you can use to plan both your work and your home environment. Let's get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is a podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.

Interview Transcript with Doug Shapiro, VP of Research and Insights at OFS

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. And I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. We have another amazing guest was always. Today we have Doug Shapiro. He is the VP of Research and Insights at OFS, which is a sustainable office furniture manufacturer. And also, the host of a podcast called Imagine a Place. So welcome to the show, Doug.

Doug Shapiro: Hey, thanks. Super excited to be here.

Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you, because you know oftentimes on our show, we talk a lot about innovation and talk about product design. And I'm fascinated by your background in this idea of place design. And designing environments that can be innovative or creative and spur that. So, I wanted to have you on the show on that. I think I wanted to start with the first question, how has the idea of place and especially the workplace changed over the years that you've worked in this space?

Doug Shapiro: Well, the idea of place has evolved as we've kind of taken in also new data around not just an understanding of what place does first. But even new data around how place affects us from a health standpoint. From a mental standpoint, we understand the impact of biophilia on our brains and things like that, that we really haven't understood as deeply in the past.

So, there's some scientific evolution and then there's also cultural evolution of really understanding the purpose of place and what it means for our workforce. I mean, we've all kind of gone through that here recently, where it just used to be this thing you had to go to every day to get your work done.

And of course, that's evolved into being much more of a, of a center for collaboration and creativity. That's the part that I'm super passionate about is how does place support creativity. So, I'd love to get into that today with you.

Brian Ardinger: Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about that. So, you know, in the past, you hear a lot about open office complex and, and this idea of collaboration and that. And you seem to have folks that really enjoy that particular way of working. And now you are seeing people, you know, working at their homes and that. What are some of the things that really make a place work for somebody?

Doug Shapiro: The most important word I would say is choice. Because, you know, if you track your activities throughout a day, it's rare that you're gonna spend an entire day engaged in one part of your brain doing that same activity over and over again, right.

If that's the case, you don't really need a lot of choices, but the reality is there's moments where you need peace and quiet. There are moments where you need energy. There are moments where you need to be with others. And then we also have our own neurodiversity about us. I mean, some people are very hyposensitive. And they need high energy environments. And other people are hypersensitive, and they need to be in places that are more relaxed to do their best work.

So, the key is choice. I think that's the way you make environments work for people today. I'm really drawn to this evolution away from knowledge work into creative work. And I think that's a major change we're seeing in workplace today. I think it's really heavily driven by AI and the impact of AI on our jobs. So that's something I'd love to kind of get in with you and explore and see how we're moving from knowledge work to creative work.

Brian Ardinger: So, tell me a little bit about what you're seeing with the clients that you're working with. And the things that you design to make it effective in that particular environment.

Doug Shapiro: I think it's really, almost like a, a major cultural change to embrace maybe how far we have to go to be great at creative work. I actually, I've thought about this. Knowledge work. That phrase has been around since the fifties. Peter Drucker coined it. And what we're going through today, in fact, I heard this really cool statistic from Workplace Economic Forum, that 40% of people, office workers, feel that their jobs will become irrelevant in the next five years.

That's a huge number. And so, the way I thought about looking at it is it's really not that 40% of jobs will be irrelevant, but 40% of the way you do your job right now will become irrelevant in five years. Meaning, so in, in 10 years, we're probably not going to do the jobs that we do now, the same way we do them. Right. It'll evolve. And I think AI is at the, is the undercurrent kind of shifting that.

Brian Ardinger: Obviously the pandemic and, and COVID and the move to work at home has currently changed that. And I think if you would've had that question posed, you know, three years ago, how much your work would've changed. You know, most people are now very comfortable on zoom and, and all this kind of stuff. And all of that is accelerated and changed the way we work. I hear what you're saying when it comes to that, and I can see it even evolving faster over the years to come.

Doug Shapiro: I agree. I think the pace will increase. So, you know, how does an environment respond to that sort of pace? Agility is, is that the key of that, you know. Investing less in physical structures that are anchored and permanent. But more in tools and structures that have the ability to keep pace with change. So, we're seeing that. We're seeing this sort of phrase soft architecture kind of emerge where people are investing in forms of separation and space creation that are more mobile and easier to manipulate. Really even from a day-to-day standpoint.

So that's one way space is, is evolving. I feel like our biggest challenge is how do we get as good at creative work as we've become at knowledge work? That's the big, big shift I'm thinking about. Because I feel like our whole office system, our culture, it was based on efficiency, recording, passing, storing information. Using logic to make decisions like that was what the office culture was built on. And that is key to being great at knowledge work being great at creative work is a whole different animal and requires, I mean, it's really a sea change we're looking at.

Brian Ardinger: It's interesting you phrase it that way because it very much maps to why corporates are typically not very good at innovation. You know, they've developed systems and that in place for exploitation. You know, they figured out a business model that works. They optimize for it. They hire for it. They do all that. And innovation is very much the opposite.

Very much like you said, the creative side of things where you're in this exploration mode. Where you don't all have all the answers and you have to try things and experiment and fail and do things differently than you have done in the past. Are you seeing particular industries or clients or, or folks that you work with that are approaching this way and see the sea change, or what are you seeing from the, the marketplace?

Doug Shapiro: What I've seen generally is an understanding that we have to be more casual in our interactions. And that's showing up in the way we're designing place too. We're bringing more humor even into the way we physically represent our company in an office. Right. And I think that casualization, that humor, has been a key evolution I've seen in, in, in some of my clients.

Even the formalities of choosing workplace and the process we go through for that I think has involved HR. Where in the past HR was, you know, it was maybe more of a function of the CFO and, and the real estate. And those two parts of a company. But now they're bringing in HR. Right. And I think I've seen that evolution in clients. And I think that's really encouraging because they are understanding that this is really for people.

So that's a great first step. I do think that this idea, just, we'll latch onto humor just for a second here. Yeah. I think humor is one of those elements of creativity. I mean, humor surprises and delights. Right. You know, when you laugh, it's a show of vulnerability. So, it's encouraging those around you to share ideas and open up.

And I'm thinking, okay, you know, my apple watch tracks my steps. I really wish it would track laughter. Because I actually think laughter I mean, what a key indicator that would be in the workplace. If you could say how often your employees are laughing. Right. And that's a good show of health. It's a good show of culture. And I think it's a good show of a creative climate.

I'm kind of looking like, all right, well, if you're tracking laughter as a key metric. Which I think is, is not just for fun sake, like that's a, I think a key indicator. How would that change the decision-making process around the office? How would it change the environment, the physical environment you. If laughter was an important metric, which I believe it is.

I think it also indicates employee retention. I mean, you're 10 times more likely to stay in a job if you have friends. You're 10 times more likely to have friends if you're laughing together. I mean, it's, it's a totally different thing. I'm interested in that just as one little idea of how we have to revolutionize our thinking of what work is. And how do we make it more human.

Brian Ardinger: Are you seeing examples in what you're developing or what you've seen out there in the marketplace for how to either track that, or encourage that, or infuse that level of play or creativity into a workspace.

Doug Shapiro: I will say that the idea of a formal boardroom. You know, of some of the more formal spaces, even a formal reception area, right. Those are changing. In fact, you know, an idea of how we. Humanize work and workplace interactions. One representation of it is even the Green Wall. You know that the entry lobby was to create a big, open, beautiful space for people to walk in. And there was always that big green wall right behind the reception desk, and then all the work was happening behind it.

And none, none of that good stuff was there. And so now, I mean, we've moved the green wall into how do we bring green into just the everyday interactions of people in the office so that's just one example of, I think how we've created more casual nature inspired environments. Which should there in turn support more creative energy and human interaction.

Brian Ardinger: So, let's dig into the fact, obviously corporations are now reevaluating a lot of this. How much office space they should have. This flow between work at office work at home. What are you seeing when it comes to that trend? And you know, people going back to the office what's changed. What's not going to change. And what do you see the, the future from that perspective?

Doug Shapiro: Well, I think it's very personalized and nuanced based on each company. The nature of their work. You know, a lot of people were already working hybrid. It's hard to draw a conclusion that's general, right. And I think most people are feeling that right now.

There was a great quote I heard on a recent workplace round table where a company was describing their policy. Which was we care, you decide. You're empowered as an employee to make the decision to do the best work. You know, to be in the place that you need to do to do the best work. But we care that that place is supporting your physical health, your mental health, and helping you be the most productive.

You know, and I think that's the key is there's a lot of boxes to check, right? And to think that one place all the time is going to check all those boxes is probably unrealistic. You know, if you think you're super productive in your basement every day, you know, with no windows, you know, maybe you're going to get some work done, but eventually that's going to be draining. Right. I mean, you're going to have to go somewhere else and get some sunlight and some human interaction to be healthy. You know, just for your own sustainability as a person.

So, I do think that there's a lot of variety and it's incredibly nuanced per person. I do think the culture around change is increasing dramatically though. I think companies are positioning themselves to adapt. So, we're seeing investments in technologies that allow that to happen. Investments in furniture and space that allow that to happen. Shorter leases. Things like that.

Brian Ardinger: Are you seeing that, that carry over to helping employees develop and design their at home workspaces as well?

Doug Shapiro: Yeah. There's been a variety of ideas around that too. You know, allowances, things like that. Again, we haven't really seen a, a whole one thing repeat itself over and over again there. The key is if you are working from home, you have to, it's not selfish of you to take ample time. And create a place that's great for you.

You need to have a plant, you know, even if it's a little plant, you need to have something green in your homework space. You need to have some sunlight. If you don't have it, you got to find ways to create it. Pay attention to your lighting. You know, I think that's really key. And you got to have ergonomically correct workplaces.

These aren't things that are just like, oh, well, I'll get around to it. Take an entire day, if you have to and do it. Your investment in yourself will pay it forward to your work.

Brian Ardinger: So, you host a podcast called Imagine A Place where you talk to designers and developers and, and all sorts of folks in that space. What are you talking to them about? What are some of the cool trends or topics that are popping up in the podcast that you'd like to share with us?

Doug Shapiro: Sure. Well, I have a personal interest around creativity. And so, I always ask for creative advice. I ask about being creative. And so, I've collected little tidbits of insights from my guests around that because they are in the design field. And creativity is a huge part of their work.

And so, it's been kind of fun. And I think one of the things that consistently comes up is judgment. And how judgment is the ultimate killer of creativity. And so even when we design spaces. Is this a space that will create a sense of judgment? You know, if you, if you picture your old boardroom, it's just dripping with judgment.

I was most creative when I would tell stories to my kids at night. I'd sit at the end of their bed and there was no, there was no advantage to playing it safe. You know, you were supposed to be outlandish, right? With the stories you would tell. Well, it's hard to have that same attitude in a workplace, but how do we, how do we do that?

How do we get there? And so that's been a fun conversation to explore with guests. And then even like this idea of steppingstones has been a good one where I had a guest share with me that some of the, the best ideas happen when people share their bad ideas. Because it's a steppingstone to the next good idea.

And so, the workplace culture that I think we try to create in the design field is one where people are psychologically safe. Where they really feel like they can share anything. And it'll maybe lead to the next big idea.

Brian Ardinger: You mentioned your kids. And I was going to ask a question about how do you stay creative? I understand you wrote a children's book called The Frocks. Yes. Can you talk a little bit about that and how, how that played out in your own development of your own creativity?

Doug Shapiro: Yeah, sure. I would tell these stories to my kids at night, and it was almost like a practice for me. Because you go through the day as an adult and you have so many decisions to make. You're almost forced to stay kind of left-brained through most of that day. Right. Right. And then at the end of the day, you get to sit down, and you're exhausted, and the kids ask for a story and it's like, oh gosh, you know, you're too tired. But I started to embrace it like, oh, this is like doing pushups.

You know, like I'm going to do this to, to work on my creativity. And so, I would find something in the room that would inspire an idea, but then I started preparing myself. I knew I was going to have to tell this story at night. So, I would look for things during the day and thought, you know, like, well, what if that was a little more interesting or a little more magical?

You know, like if I found a Firefly, how could I tell a story about a Firefly, right. And that would lead to something crazy. So that's just one example which eventually led to this book that I wrote about a kid who has got a hole in a sock, end up that there's a little animal in his sock drawer that's been eating holes in his socks, right.

Right. It's cute and fun. I think one of the big things I took away as I started to understand why was I more creative at night? It wasn't just the setting. The setting was important. This idea that there's no judgment there, right? So, you can be yourself and you can say silly things, but also the time of day.

So, this leads to something. If you think about like, there's that matrix of urgency and importance. And so often we're always in the urgent and important space. And then after the urgent and important space, we usually go down to things that are urgent and not important. And we don't spend enough time in the important non-urgent world.

And at the end of the day, I was kind of done with my emails. You know, I kind of checked all the urgent boxes and it allowed me to be more creative. And I was thinking, you know, we don't have to wait till the end of the day when our work is done to think creatively. We just need to figure out how to shift into that non-urgent important world, on demand. And so that's what I'm trying to train my brain to do differently now is how do I get to that mindset, but do it during the day?

Brian Ardinger: Yeah. Hopefully we can all find those little moments in time, whether it's running or in the shower or whatever, to prime or help us stay creative and that when it's such a changing, accelerating world that we're living in.

Doug Shapiro: What is it for you? Where's your place?

Brian Ardinger: I go for a walk every day with my wife, and before that was running. You know, I find different moments. It's changed over the years, obviously with COVID and that when we were kind of locked in the house that was different than, you know, the, the commute to work, where I listen to podcasts.

But like you said, it's almost like you have to schedule some time to let the, the imagination go or be open to that creativity. So literally scheduling your senses. Saying, okay, this week I'm going to be focused on this. And want to, you know, explore creativity around that. Those are some things that I do.

Doug Shapiro: I heard this funny quote speaking of like scheduling time, which is design and innovation is easy. You just stare at a computer screen until little drops of blood form on your forehead. Right? Exactly. And so, it is one of those things where it's like, it can't be forced. It's like a, I related it to a Chinese finger trap. You know, if you try to pull creativity out of you, right. You're just going to be stuck.

So, you kind of have to find those moments where you can relax yourself into it. If you're good enough to schedule time to do it. And you're disciplined enough to say, you know, I'm going to get into that head space. I think it's very doable.

Brian Ardinger: So, the last question I want to ask is for all the audience out there that maybe wants to dig into this topic a little bit more, learn a bit more about how they can develop their own office space or their home space and that. What resources, should they be following or, or places where they can go to find out more?

Doug Shapiro: Well, it depends on the scale that you're looking for. You know, if you're really looking to reinvent your office, the interior design community at large is deep into this space. They're following, you know, not only the things that you might kind of classically relate to interior design, but they're also understanding the psychology of the workforce today.

Some of the greatest challenges ahead, they're understanding the importance of creating agile environments and meeting business objectives. And so, I would say starting with the interior design community as, as kind of a general consultant through that process of reinventing your office is a great place to start.

When it comes to the home office what I would say is that you want to build in some mobility, whether you like to stand or not having a height adjustable desk, right, is important because not all desks are the right height for you either. So it's not always just about sitting and standing. It's about finding the perfect level for you. So I would say, you know, you want to build in mobility, you want to bring in plant life, you want to bring in sunlight.

And in terms of resources for you, you know, I would encourage you to stay away from the cheap stuff on Amazon or whatever it might be. Because also you want to make a decision where it's not doing harm to the environment. I think that's what's key too. This stuff will eventually, if you buy junk, it's going to end up in the landfill in five years. And it's the incredible how much furniture ends up in the landfill. And that's a big area of work for our industry is to say, how do we create things that are meaningful for decades and don't end up in the landfill.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: That's great stuff. And Doug, I want to thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation to kind of share your thoughts on this particular topic. It's fascinating and, and I think so important for folks to have in their back pocket, some of these core concepts and that. So, thank you for coming on and sharing. If people want to find out more about yourself or about OFS, what are some ways to do that?

Doug Shapiro: Well, you can check out our podcast, Imagine A Place. It's on anywhere you'd find a podcast. And then we're on ofs.com, is where you can see and understand furniture. And we have a great new platform called U plus on there. So, if you look up OFS U plus, you'll find great resources on how you might think about your workplace differently.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. I'll check that out. Thanks, Doug, for coming on the show. And look forward to a continuing the conversation in the years to come.

Doug Shapiro: Real honor, Brian. Thank you so much.

Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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