Americas Infrastructure Lead Mark Wartenberg, a 30+ year veteran of workplace innovation, design, and strategy, values creating equitable workspaces, via an equitable design process.
When it comes to workplace innovator and strategist, Mark Wartenberg (Nike), there are a few fundamental understandings he embraces. Mark believes office space should be equitable for all people and therefore so should the design process--i.e., involving your people in workplace design and strategy. This, along with a keen eye for finding the right technology, Mark equips himself and his team to not only work better but create better spaces built for people.
We recently sat down with Mark to talk about his extensive tenure as flexible work innovator, as well as:
Mark Wartenberg: I’m trained as an architect and have over 30 years of experience working in all kinds of different building environment design.
I started working in "alternative workplaces” as they were called back in the late 90s at Sun Microsystems--Sun was acquired by Oracle in 2009--and Sun was one of the very first companies to create a fully mobile, corporate workforce. I've been part of this “flexible work” conversation for a long time.
Most importantly I’ve learned a lot from the massive failures that we had in the beginning. In the early days, it seemed like no matter what we did, everything went wrong. But luckily as time and technology progressed, so did our practices and procedures.
One of the things that really gets me excited about office design and strategy is Saltmine--Saltmine has centralized all the pieces we've always needed centralized, right now and in one place. It has made an enormous difference in me and my team’s ability to see all of that information, in a dynamic, engaging, and actionable way. The impact of Saltmine is visceral and when people see it, they just kind of get it.
We really know what our people like as well as what they need, which of course are not always the same thing, so, step one is listening. My team and I have a really good sense of what is “cool,” engaging, and exciting--we’re really good at listening to what people want. However, it’s important that we don’t over promise as well--and with Saltmine, we don’t. We can promise what we can actually deliver and make it clear to everyone right from the start.
The other understanding is the high-use of data to make decisions. Even before Saltmine, we were in the practice of taking in a lot of data to inform spaces. Now, we're taking even more data and infusing that into the process up front. We know what things will cost quickly and build that into the promises. From the big things to the small things, it’s really important to get all your data sorted and socialized before you even think about beginning a design.
For example, let’s say you’re revamping all of your meeting rooms to deal with new video equipment. Sure, the video equipment itself is relatively simple but what does it actually look like in your existing room?
I cannot tell you how many times in the past where a space will be designed, and as it turns out, it doesn't work or just looks really stupid. So, we've been able to find that up front via data and stop promising things to employees we can't do.
The ability to tangibly see how a space will function and look--to anyone--is key for getting things done in a timely fashion. We can make smarter, quicker decisions with less ambiguity--Saltmine has cut some timelines by at least two thirds.
It’s kind of nuanced but we’ve been using Saltmine a lot for our internal and external events and meetings.
In-person meetings and events require configuration--the ability to actively move stuff around to figure out how to best accommodate people during the event. Office spaces that host these types of events are designed to have multi-purposed use.
We do a lot of space planning and test-fitting with Saltmine so we can quickly iterate different digital scenarios for whatever type of meeting or event is being held--this is huge for collaboration when it comes to geographically separated teams.
For example, the Beijing team can collaborate with those in Shanghai and both actively see what a space could look like for an event. With Saltmine, they're given immersive 3D images/floorplans and can quickly view the various scenarios without ever having to go to Beijing. Then, Shanghai can share it with the Portland, OR team, which often includes senior leadership back at HQ, and they don't have to cross the Pacific ocean. They are given the same visceral experience of the digital models and various scenarios. The ability to use the time zone differences to get things done asynchronously is a major advantage for a global and distributed organization.
This enhanced collaboration factor is huge for our decision-making. Not only is the decision making faster, but more informed than ever.
The granular bill of materials in Saltmine is so useful. We can have a catalog specific to Beijing, L.A., Portland--wherever, summarized immediately. These specific catalogs have made a huge difference.
We can put our whole catalog of what we physically have at a particular office. So, when you want to have an event and need 85 chairs, you can quickly go to bill of materials and see that you only have 40--I joke, but these types of hiccups happen often in office design and space strategy in general. This information used to be buried in project plans and was not instantly accessible like it is in Saltmine. The good “little” things Saltmine has really add up because everything from the floorplan to the catalog of chairs is right there for everyone to see.
In addition to these cumulative little value adds are big things like stakeholder engagement.
At a large enterprise company like I’m at, big change takes a gauntlet of decision-makers to go through. For example, we’re redesigning a satellite office, and our team will put together four different scenarios for our stakeholders to review.
Stakeholders always have many questions, so, being able to tangibly show different scenarios in a 3D view--with all of their project details quickly accessible--makes a world of difference in our approval process.
And finally, the reductions of human error.
Saltmine is a really smart platform but it is only as smart as the information you put into it. For example, if we input our AutoCAD drawings or Rivet models into Saltmine, it helps us weed out inaccurate drawings. With space design, it’s sometimes the little things that can cause massive project delays later on and Saltmine reveals those errors, up front.
We have taken 75% accurate drawings, to 90%--which is a big deal when it comes to design.
The user experience is pretty simple. Remember those event planners in Beijing? They're not interior design people by any means--and while they aren't re-designing a whole office building as much as they are strategizing events, they're still getting their job done in a better and much faster way.
I'd even argue that anyone who is strategizing something that involves space can leverage Saltmine to do their job more efficiently and effectively, in general.
In short, the answer is a resounding yes--it's working very well for us. We just finished some major models for ourselves just this week.
Most importantly however, we found that we can do a better job communicating to the stakeholders, especially senior leadership who have never been able to experience workplace design like this before. They are not going to know what a plan looks and feels like until they’re actually “in” a space. With Saltmine, we achieved a more immersive experience that gives stakeholders a better sense of the project as a whole.
Like any other large company, making decisions is contingent on a matrix of a lot of opinions. Before Saltmine, making decisions was just that--a lot of opinions. Saltmine helps us translate data into a more lived experience. It helps us “translate” the language of architecture and design into what people live every day. We’re all looking at it in the same way and seeing the same thing--this is huge for our ability to achieve workplace design and strategy objectives.
My favorite part about Saltmine is how easy it is for us to be transparent when keeping spaces up to our corporate standards--it was the biggest “aha moment” for me.
How did they do it in Paris? L.A.? Beijing? What’s up to our standards, what’s worked, what has not? That’s what we’re able to do in a much faster time than ever before. There are nuances to every building in our portfolio but every office must have consistent standards to insure employee equity and accessibility.
For example, if one location is mostly dealing with wholesale customers or is in an historical building, other buildings may function differently. However, all of them need to be up to our standards which are pre-loaded into the Saltmine platform--that way we can see what needs to be updated and also compare offices to others.
We can actively make spaces more accessible, equitable, and useful to our employees which is the embodiment of our culture. Saltmine has been a real equalizer for that.
As alluded to by Mark, office design and strategy is unique to the organization. It’s also unique to specific buildings as every unique team--and employee--works differently. This makes centralized workplace data, employee feedback, immersive floorplans, and fast decision-making crucial to foster a holistic workplace strategy.
For another real-life example of how Saltmine can help execute the design and strategy of better workspaces, click the link below for a story about how differing office cultures can affect office design and decision-making.
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