5 Brilliant Workplace Strategy Insights From Kay Sargent

by Elizabeth Dukes on April 17, 2019

When it comes tokay-sargent workplace strategy and design, Kay Sargent is one of the leading global experts. As the senior principal and director HOK’s WorkPlace practice, she brings more than 30 years of experience in interior design and consulting. 

She’s been a featured guest on both our webinars and podcasts, and we’re thrilled to have her as a speaker at this year’s Big Easy Workplace Summit May 15-16.

While we certainly hope you have the opportunity to meet her and hear from her in person, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite Kay Sargent quotes in the meantime.

On the Importance of Flexibility In Global Workplace Design:

In a recent Workplace Design article, Sargent noted that many organizations are moving away from rigid global workplace design standards in favor of adopting more flexible guidelines. Although a consistent kit of design elements is faster to deploy and easier to manage, these strictly enforced standards failed in many regions.

“Attempts to achieve uniformity across all regions have inherent challenges. Codes, regulations, and even construction and real estate practices often vary across locations. Personal space preferences and space allowances also differ from region to region. Even the significance of specific colors and acceptance of different color palettes can vary. Guidelines, on the other hand, offer direction with allowances for flexibility related to variables like cultural norms, access to resources for FF&E and technology. This is why many of today’s companies are putting in place global guidelines that strive to create consistent work and cultural experiences. These guidelines account for each region’s unique cultural, legislative, style and lifestyle influences, which must be embraced for the space to succeed.”

On What Matters Most In the Workplace

In a recent iOFFICE webinar, Sargent shared that many company leaders are shifting from a focus on space-centric metrics to more human-centric metrics.

This is crucial because a company’s largest expense will always be its people, not its real estate.

“In the real estate world, people are very focused on cost per square foot, square foot person, etc. But never have I heard of a CEO waking up in the middle of the night wondering that question. They wonder about more human-centric things, and we as an industry really need to get ahold of that, because 80 percent of an organization’s costs go to people. Ten percent goes to real estate and 10 percent goes to IT. If we do anything to negatively impact the people in that 80 percent bucket, we could actually be costing a company more than we’re saving.”

On High Tech Vs. High Touch

During the same webinar, Sargent emphasized the importance of cultivating a workplace that is “high touch” as well as high tech.

A high-touch environment is one where employees feel connected to each other and the world around them, not just connected to the technology they use.

“If you think about every prediction about what a ‘high tech’ space looks like, they’re very cold; they’re very sterile. I think what we’re finding is the more high tech we go, the more people crave real, authentic materials and experiences. They want wood; biophilia is becoming more popular; access to nature—things that humanize us and bring us back to our organic selves.”

On The Fusion Between The Workplace And Hospitality

During the 2018 CORE Net Global Summit in Singapore, Sargent teamed up with Julie Monk, a director of hospitality in Hong Kong, to discuss how trends in the workplace and in the hospitality industry are influencing each other—a fusion Sargent calls “corporatality.”

For instance, workplace trends toward creating space that promotes health and wellbeing are being borrowed from hotel spaces. The “sharing economy” popularized by Airbnb is transforming the workplace with coworking spaces like WeWork. Similarly, hotel guest rooms and individual desks spaces are getting smaller, while common areas are becoming larger and more inviting.

“When we start breaking down those siloes and see what’s happening in other sectors, you can predict what’s going to impact your sector down the line. We believe diversity and cross-learning is huge. When we’re trying to figure out why the corporate office has lost its mojo, we need to start looking outside of the norms and start looking at hospitality and these other sectors—what are they doing well, and what can we start to incorporate as we go forward?”

On Workplace Factors That Impact Engagement and Productivity

In a January 2017 article for the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), Sargent discussed how to build workplaces that support employee engagement and productivity. Citing research by Advanced Workplace Associates and the Centre for Evidence Based Management, Sargent lists six factors that have the greatest impact on employee productivity. They include social cohesion, perceived supervisory support and trust, among other factors. And when it comes to both engagement and productivity, she notes, the importance of attitude can’t be overstated.

“Just as a bad attitude is contagious, a good one can be infectious. A study by the Harvard Business School and Cornerstone OnDemand showed that in densified spaces populated with productive people, the efficiency and effectiveness of nearby workers increased. But employees who sat near toxic workers experienced a “spillover effect.” This sphere of influence diminishes outside a 25-foot radius. Given that the average per-person space allocation in the modern workplace is 150 square feet, one bad egg—or disengaged worker—can negatively influence up to 16 people without moving from his or her desk.”

To hear more workplace strategy gems from Kay Sargent and other industry leaders—including CoWorkr CEO Elizabeth Redmond, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Senior Director of Global Operations Jeff MacKay and Health Management Systems Senior Director of Real Estate and Facilities Will Martin—join us for the conference!


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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