Articles Tagged with: Katherine Ahrens
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.

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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.

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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