Articles Tagged with: Katherine Ahrens

Cultivating Workplace Culture Amidst Evolving Worker Expectations

As the US economy rebounds and job growth continues, companies are competing to attract and retain talent while confronting changing employee expectations about the office environment. Ballinger’s clients are asking: How can space be organized to foster face to face interaction while ensuring employee safety? What does it mean to be both local and global? How can policies enable flexibility while safeguarding equitable access to career development opportunities, learning and mentorship?

Ballinger’s work with diverse life science clients give us insight into how organizations are addressing these questions and the many others brought on by remote and hybrid work. One of our recent research projects shed light on what employees value in a workplace, and revealed key decisions leaders must consider to engage workers, optimize real estate, and ensure continued productivity. 

Our Research and Strategy team was engaged to survey employees of a biotech company and facilitate conversations with its senior leaders about the future of the organization’s workplace. The survey, administered to over 600 employees across their growing local and global organization, found that 91% of respondents feel flexibility in where they work maximizes their ability to successfully do their job. About working virtually, 80% of respondents feel they’re able to collaborate successfully with colleagues remotely and 67% report a healthy work/life balance. Concurrently, the survey revealed feelings of “Zoom fatigue,” and apprehension about the potential health risks of sharing in-person space. Most employees expressed a desire to continue to work virtually or have schedule flexibility for some portion of their work week. In envisioning their workplace of the future, employees identified both spaces to focus and collaborate as being important to the workplace environment.


An analysis of the survey results informed a leadership workshop, which focused on defining requirements for the future workplace and identifying ways to better support the collaborative work process. The workshop explored hybrid work from the employee and management perspective, as well as office space types, policies, and wellness goals. A final report captured the survey results and workshop takeaways, establishing key findings that helped shape the organization’s future workplace aspirations and return to office parameters.

A rigorous workplace research phase can support change management programs and build trust among employees. By recognizing the intersections of policy, talent growth and recruitment, inclusion and well-being, and the workplace as a key component of a company’s identity, life science leaders can help reinforce and strengthen their workplace culture.

Effects of Covid-19 on the Workplace

Work Design Magazine published an article by Interiors Studio Leader Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP. The piece, titled “The Effects of Covid-19 on the Workplace: Reinforcing Culture, Creating an Amenity,” is part of the publication’s “Expert Insights” column.

Except from Work Design Magazine:

Creating a clear organizational culture will lead to the best possible built space as we return to work post-COVID-19. 

As we begin to think about the future of the workplace, the question persists from knowledge workers, “why should we go back to the office given that remote work has proven to be successful?” Helping to define and express how the workplace provides value, and how companies and individuals ensure that coming into the office is purposeful, will be essential goals of future workplace strategies.

Culture is essential to an engaged workforce

Creating a clear definition of company culture continues to prevail as a key element to an engaged workforce. While many software tools are available to bring together a distributed workforce, our research shows that spontaneous and ad hoc interactions help employees grow and learn. Especially for less experienced professionals, on-the-job learning is intangible and leads to high preforming employees. These informal interactions develop a strong work ethic and help them absorb cultural cues about organizational behavior. Building a virtual culture, or more importantly, balancing a virtual and in-person culture, is a critical aspect of asynchronous working. Socialization and mentorship are important factors as we continue in a socially distanced paradigm of work that will need to be supported through the workspace.

Freelancers are indicators of changing attitudes toward loyalty

Even before COVID-19, contractor culture and the gig economy were growing. As more coworking spaces have sprung up throughout the country, individual workers have started to think about the value of their own time, and their long-term engagement with companies. Freelancing goes hand-in-hand with remote work, and will continue to blossom as new ways of working emerge and are enabled. Every CFO knows that the most expensive and important asset of a company is payroll. As employee allegiance changes nationwide, it is more important than ever to compel top employees to be invested and engaged in their work and organizational culture, even if it is in a more distributed model.

Think of workspace as an amenity to attract workers, retain staff and improve culture

One way to build loyalty and culture is to think of a company’s physical space as an amenity. Amenities are often thought of as constructs that keep people in the office. In years previous, many companies built in snacks, foosball tables and other services to help keep people in the office beyond the typical 9-5. Moving forward, it will be important for “amenities” to be more work-focused, supportive of the reasons that individuals are coming into the physical workspace, and coordinated with their work-life balance. There is no longer the need to keep people “present” in the office, but while they are there, they should be highly productive.

Space will also need to build community, identity and social connections that are hard to achieve remotely. Offices can offer benefits that cannot be achieved in remote work settings, and thus encourage workers to come in. In addition to face time with mentors, spontaneous interactions and socialization, offices can offer quiet spaces for focused work, access to technology or even just a change in pace that many crave when distributed work becomes mundane.

The built environment is important to establishing culture, and can be harnessed to enhance productivity and loyalty. Exploring how the workforce views their workplace and what they would like to see improved is an important first step in developing a workplace strategy. That foundation enables companies to curate a future-looking workspace. That could mean providing possibly less, but higher quality space to help differentiate environments. Creating a physical workspace that employees want to come to and supports their work processes that cannot be done remotely (or at least not as efficiently) will require thoughtful strategies.

Old models for planning space are no longer reliable, new models will emerge

We often approach space planning challenges by utilizing standard ratios of space types, developed over years of research, coupled with our understanding of the patterns knowledge workers engage in over the course of the work day. As that typical work day becomes even more diverse, ratios will change, become more varied and less reliable. Planning strategies will cater towards more individualistic approaches and asynchronous schedules. Reliable and consistent analysis of badge and occupancy data will be hard to come by for the near future, but it will become an important tool to understand the distributed workforce. Defining and building space that has been well researched and validated through a workplace research and strategy process will help create highly utilized environments that supports company culture.

Examples of shifting planning metrics
  • Shifting ratios will inevitably affect how we plan workspaces and allocate real estate. Basic metrics that we have grown accustomed to, will shift to focus on communal aspects of working in the office. There may be less individual workspace, and more shared work areas. This seems counter-intuitive given the pandemic response’s emphasis on reducing surface contact inherent in shared workspaces, but in the long run, this balance will help support creating the office as an amenity or destination, rather than a place where attendance is the key benchmark.
  • Depending on what people’s home life looks like, there will still be a need for focused work space. Ratios of open to enclosed collaboration and an emphasis on air flow and acoustics will be important to success.
  • Understanding what activities are happening during meetings in conference rooms will define the future space need. For example, the traditional conference room with a large meeting table that everyone can sit around may not remain as the predominant space type outside of the individual work seat. Flexible meeting furnishings that allow for different configurations, and a focus on high and low tech tools that facilitate different types of collaboration will become more important.  New space types that best support collaboration, physically and virtually, will look different.

Our ability to create clear organizational cultures and to research and strategize around asynchronous and distributed work models will lead to the best possible built space, and prove to be differentiators of successful workplace design.

Q&A with Ballinger’s Katherine Ahrens About the Future of Work

The global pandemic has altered the economic and professional landscape for people around the world. It is changing perceptions about the workplace and the value of working together in person. Many employees are asking, “Why should we go back to the office given that remote work has proven successful?” Senior Associate Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP, focuses on workplace strategy and design at Ballinger, helping companies plan office space that improves employee wellness and productivity. She shared insight into the evolving future of the workplace.

Do you predict a long-term increase in remote work?

Yes, for knowledge workers I think remote work is here to stay. But more importantly, I believe we’ll see an increase in hybrid workstyles and schedules that benefit overall productivity as well as employee work/life balance. Rather than a calendar-based model like being in the office in person Monday, Wednesday and Friday, schedules will be more individualized based on work tasks and personal commitments. As employers recognize that remote work is productive and enhances employee morale, I think we’ll see further disruption of the typical 9-5 schedule.

What are some keys to making remote work successful, for employees and companies?

A strong company culture is an important foundation for successful remote work. Leadership confidence that remote work is effective is a prerequisite. Another key is a commitment to formally addressing gaps created by remote work, for example identifying ways to facilitate mentorship and encourage relationships among people who are not working together directly.

How can employers leverage their real estate assets during these turbulent times?

I believe as the health crisis continues to shake out we’ll see a lasting impact on the way people work. I expect to see the ratio of individual to group space shift. In the past we allocated more space to the individual, but we’re seeing that reverse. Individual space isn’t as important because workers have the option of retreating to a home office. The focus is now on designing effective group workspace, since collaboration is a driver for coming to the office in person.

How can workplace designers best bring value to clients?

Research, strategy and planning are crucial and will become even more important to a successful design as we continue to learn about how people are returning to the office and why. As designers, we’ll need to be nimble: one metric we typically rely on is badge data, to understand who is entering and when. That metric has drastically changed and it may time take to discern meaningful patterns as workers return to the office. We expect to see a wider range of work styles and schedules, making the designer’s task more challenging. We’ll need to identify the right space types for a variety of tasks. The workplace of the future may be designed more like a college library. It’s a place you can go to collaborate with a group, socialize, or complete focused work. There will be less “owned” space dedicated to a particular individual or department, and more spaces that focus on completing specific tasks.

Workplace designers can add value by recognizing the specialized expertise needed to optimize not just the layout, but the overall employee experience. MEP systems have a considerable impact on the office environment. HVAC systems can play a role in reducing airborne transmission of infectious aerosols and can influence employee comfort in terms of temperature and acoustics.

What has surprised you the most about the shift to remote work?

Working from home with three kids, two babysitters and a partner on non-stop conference calls, it has surprised me that I now view the office as a tranquil sanctuary of productivity!

I’m surprised at how remote work has caused people to think differently about the meaning of an office. Back in March people were saying offices will be a thing of the past. Since then the pendulum has begun to swing back. I thought collaboration was the primary driver for in-person work but it’s not that simple. Employees turn to in-person work for a variety of reasons that vary from person to person and role to role. What makes in-person work attractive might include the technology that’s available in the office, the quiet environment, physical materials and objects, or socialization.  

To be most effective, office space should build on those offerings and function as an amenity. Rather than a space with conveniences such as foosball tables and snacks, I’m referring to a more process- and productivity-driven amenity. A place that attracts workers because it facilitates the completion of tasks.

Katherine Ahrens named to Philadelphia Business Journal’s 40 under 40

Senior Associate Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP was recognized as one of Philadelphia’s Business Journal’s “40 under 40.” The award celebrates current and future leaders in various industries across the Greater Philadelphia area. As a senior workplace strategist and studio leader of Ballinger’s interiors group, Katherine brings a unique approach to understanding clients’ cultural and strategic needs. In addition to improving clients’ workspaces, she has actively championed rigor and data-sharing across the practice, and is cofounder of Ballinger’s Research and Strategy group.

An awards ceremony recognizing all 40 awardees will be held at Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino Event Center on May 30.

Designing Space for Nomadic Workers

Many of today’s workers are nomads – moving from one place to another within a building or campus, or working remotely with periodic visits to the office. How can workplace design enable flexibility, and how do the solutions compare in corporate, academic and healthcare environments?

Writer Patricia Washburn covered the topic in her Tradeline Report “Designing Space for Nomadic Workers,” based on presentations by members of Ballinger’s Research + Strategy team.

“More and more, workers aren’t going to an office and sitting at the same desk Monday through Friday….These nomadic workers are often mobile by choice, taking advantage of the flexibility that technology has enabled for academic staff, knowledge workers, and even healthcare employees,” Washburn writes.

Principal Keith C.H. Mock, AIA, associate principal Christina Grimes, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, EDAC, and senior associate Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP contributed to the research. They looked across a range of work environments to illustrate the continuity of workplace strategies.

The Research + Strategy team at Ballinger builds on experience gained through diverse project types to design evidence-based, high-performing environments.  The team’s unique methodology combines a series of well-honed tools, critical thinking, and cross-market knowledge to better inform project design and outcomes.  This takes the form of detailed pre- and post-occupancy analysis and evaluations, branding and change management communications.

Link to article

Workspace strategies for balancing workstyles, work locations, and footprint

What is the optimal mix of spaces to improve workforce engagement, maximize capacity, and minimize footprint and expenses? Ballinger associate principal Christina Grimes, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, EDAC, senior associate Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP and senior designer Kate Lyons explored these topics at the Tradeline Space Strategies 2018 conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. Their session “Workspace strategies for balancing workstyles, work locations, and footprint” looked at examples across the healthcare, corporate and higher education sector to identify common themes and opportunities.

The research presented was developed by the Research + Strategy team at Ballinger, which builds on experience gained through diverse and technical project types to design evidence-based, high-performing environments.  The team’s unique research methodology combines a series of well-honed tools, critical thinking, and cross-market knowledge to better inform project design and outcomes.  This takes the form of detailed pre- and post-occupancy analysis and evaluations, branding and change management communications.

Ballinger Presents at Tradeline Space Strategies 2017

Ballinger’s Terry D. Steelman, FAIA, LEED AP and Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP, along with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Senior Vice President Doug E. Carney, AIA, LEED AP, gave a presentation at the 2017 Tradeline Conference on Space Strategies. Their talk “A Workplace Innovation Process to Harness the How, When, What and Why of Your Organization’s Working Style,” explored how Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) approached the launch of a more progressive work environment.

Tradeline: Hospital Expansion Inspires Workplace Redesign and Cultural Change

Tradeline published a report “Hospital Expansion Inspires Workplace Redesign and Cultural Change,” based on a talk by Douglas E. Carney, Senior Vice President of Facilities, Real Estate and Capital Programs for The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and Ballinger’s Keith C.H. Mock, AIA and Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP. It describes the rigorous, research-based approach Ballinger employed, in partnership with CHOP, to redesign CHOP’s workspaces. The “Test of Change” informed the design of CHOP’s Schuylkill Avenue Phase 1, currently under construction.

Link to Article


Tradeline Features Ballinger’s Workplace Strategy Team

Ballinger’s Workplace Strategy team was recently featured in a Tradeline report entitled, “Culture Drives Collaboration; Space Design Enhances It.” The article focuses on Ballinger principal, Keith Mock, AIA and Ballinger designer, Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP, and how they combine an understanding of a client’s office culture with a library of industry metrics and research on space utilization to arrive at a tailored workplace strategy and design.

The report presents a number of case studies across a range of industries. In the case of the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the University’s desire for a strong sense of community inspired a design that combines lab modules, open collaborative areas, and amenities such as shops and restaurants to promote formal and informal learning.

At a Boeing helicopter factory in Pennsylvania, Ballinger’s Workplace Strategy team was tasked with reorganizing the space to integrate engineers into the factory to optimize collaboration while allowing for sufficient space for focused work.

For Merck’s New Jersey headquarters, Ballinger engaged in a year-long research project that included a 27,000 SF pilot workspace to create a custom solution that reflected the Merck culture and work style.

To learn more about Ballinger’s methods for leveraging office culture to create successful workplace designs, read the full article.

Ballinger Thought Leaders Present Research on the Changing Culture of the Workplace

Ballinger Principal Keith Mock, AIA, and interior designer Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP, led a session at the 2013 Tradeline Space Strategies Conference, held in Scottsdale, AZ.

They analyzed the extensive research supporting the power of collaboration and presented Ballinger’s recent findings on the topic, collected through real-world implementation.

Focusing on several elements that impact design such as technology, socialization, flexible work arrangements, and utilization of space, they illustrated effective design and implementation strategies and showed how creating space for collaborative work is affecting and ultimately changing corporate culture.

Merck Branchburg

Link to Presentation