Bob Fox is Chairman & Principal at FOX Architects and Publisher at Work Design Magazine where he designs commercial office spaces and works with tenants and landlords on the design of high-quality corporate interiors. As the publisher of Work Design Magazine, he frequently write articles on important industry topics and participates in design & real estate related panel discussions. Bob joined Mike Petrusky on a recent “Workplace Innovator Interactive Livestream” to discuss the insights and findings from the Next Work Environment Competition. This highlight episode offers valuable insights delivered during our weekly live broadcast happening every Wednesday at Noon ET.

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Read the full transcript:

DJ Mike P (00:01):

Hey, do you want more insightful conversations? Many of the topics we discuss here around workplace design and strategy are also explored in depth at Work Design Magazine. You’ll find many of my past guests contributing to the site, and coming soon, I’ll welcome publisher Bob Fox to the show. He’ll talk about the winning submissions and the fascinating findings from the next work environment competition. So be a workplace innovator and subscribe for free today at Thanks.

Bob Fox (00:36):

This opened up my eyes. You talk about some of the things that we found out, but from a design perspective, the highest perceived needs by designers were not for work. Instead, it’s that physical health, individual mental health, team health that kind of rose up in priority.

DJ Mike P (00:54):

This is the Workplace Innovator Podcast where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOFFICE, the leading employee experience focused IWMS software that delivers real-time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace.

         Hey folks, welcome to the show. It’s finally here, episode 128 of the Workplace Innovator Podcast. I’m your host, DJ Mike P, and as promised, the last several weeks during the opening of these podcast episodes, I have for you today my conversation with Bob Fox, the publisher of work design magazine as well as the chairman and principal at Fox Architects right here in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. We welcomed Bob to the Workplace Innovator interactive live stream just a few weeks ago, and as I promised, he came to share with us the insights and findings from the next work environment competition. There was so much to discover and so many interesting aspects of this effort that Bob and his team put together. The winners had just been announced and we didn’t go into the details of that, but the process and some of the tools they used really brought to the surface some really interesting results, and I want to share as much of this conversation with you as I can. So, let’s get right to it.

         Hello, hello. Welcome everybody to another Workplace Innovator Interactive Live Stream. It’s me, your pal, Mike P. How are you all? Put your name and where you’re joining us from in the question and answer box. I’d like to refer to that and greet you personally, individually. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for being here. So, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. That’s a Steve Martin bit from back in the 70s, some of his great standup. But as that’s happening, I want to also welcome our special guest. He is the publisher of Work Design Magazine and the founder and principal architect at Fox Architects, Bob Fox. There he is. Hey.

Bob Fox (00:54):

How you doing, Mike?

DJ Mike P (03:14):

How are you?

Bob Fox (03:15):

Good. I’m looking forward to this, this should be fun.

DJ Mike P (03:17):

I’m excited to have you. Here’s our cover slide everybody because Bob is going to be sharing a little bit of what he and his team at Work Design Magazine have been working on these past six months. As you and I started gathering here to do the Workplace Innovator Interactive conversation back in mid March after the lockdown, after the pandemic started, Bob, you and your team started something called The Next Work Environment Competition. So, tell us just real high level what that was about. We’ll get into the details here in a minute, but was it inspired by the lockdown and the pandemic?

Bob Fox (03:49):

It was. I think that we were sitting around wondering what was going to happen. And I think there were a lot of different ideas that we started hearing getting thrown around. At that point, I don’t think anybody really had any sense of what this was or what was going to come out of it. I was sitting around with my partners talking about this, and I thought, well, hey, why don’t we do a competition?

         And we’d been having through the magazine conversations with a lot of heads of real estate, heads of design and construction. And they were all searching for answers. And so the idea of a competition, everybody kind of jumped on board for and was like, let’s do it.

DJ Mike P (04:29):

I can’t wait to hear more about what went into it and what the results were. I know you have a lot to share. But Bob, this is your first time joining us on the interactive version of the show, isn’t it?

Bob Fox (04:38):

It is, yes. You and I did a podcast a while ago.

DJ Mike P (04:42):

We did, we did. I was thinking back to that. In fact, it was about 18 months ago that I came by Fox Architects down in Washington DC. Beautiful office space, high-tech great collaborative space. And we took some time to do a presentation about CRE and FM. It was about collaboration, it was about all kinds of things, right?

Bob Fox (05:02):

A lot of the work that we do I think gets into workplace strategy and trying to really help organizations figure out how to get more value out of their workplace and working with leaders to understand how to use the workplace as a tool to drive their organizations forward and help to achieve their strategic goals.

DJ Mike P (05:19):

That’s awesome. But I do remember from that time together, Bob, as we explored your love of sailing and your boat and being out on the boat is your happy place. So I of course had to tie that to music and I mentioned yacht rock. Do you now know what yacht rock is? Do you remember at the time you didn’t.

Bob Fox (05:38):

Yeah, no, I don’t listen to it though.

DJ Mike P (05:41):

You don’t listen to it? Well this morning in preparation for today’s show, I turned on Sirius XM radio and their yacht rock channel is available for streaming. If you’re a fan of late 70s, early 80s soft, smooth rock, it was fantastic. I heard George Benson, I heard Kenny Loggins, some of the early stuff. I heard Hall & Oats. She’s gone, oh, she’s gone. Stuff you hear in elevators today. And there was a song that reminded me of you. There was a band called Player that had a one hit wonder, which went something like this. (singing). This is my theme for you, Bob, getting you back on the show. (singing). There you go. What do you think about that?

Bob Fox (06:37):

I’m impressed, Mike. You’ve got another career ahead of you.

DJ Mike P (06:41):

All right. Let’s get into it a little bit, Bob. So, The Next Work Environment Competition. What was the Next Work Environment about, because here we are six months into this conversation. I’ve discussed here many times, living during a pandemic. As workplace leaders, my audience is made up of facility management professionals, corporate real estate leaders and consultants that are trying to help them, serve them better by giving them advice. And that’s what you do with your clients. What do you think you hope to get out of this competition and how did you do it?

Bob Fox (07:12):

Mike, I think that what we saw happening was, this pandemic existed and it kind of shut everything down. And there were a lot of questions about what’s that next work environment going to be or how do we change the environment. At the time when we did this, this is probably going back to April, there weren’t a lot of answers. And everybody that I was talking to I think was trying to understand where to go to find solutions. And actually what we found interesting is the readership of Work Design Magazine more than doubled in that period of time. And we saw a lot of readers coming in and searching for what’s next, what’s the next workplace solutions for the workplace. How to deal with the pandemic.

         And so in that, and through conversations, I came up with the idea to put a competition together. What I was really hoping to do was push the whole innovation the way that people thought about the workplace. I think that we’re already in a situation today where as architects and designers, we have a vast amount of information that we have to collect, figure out what the problems are that we’re solving, what the challenges are. And then we have to coordinate and integrate all of that information.

         Organizations I think were trying to figure out how do we keep our people safe, how do we create a healthy environment to work in, what’s that environment going to look like? So in that, we created the competition and starting to reach out to experts to kind of get their opinions of it, and then their input on it. There was a lot of great input. Rachel gutter from the International WELL Building Institute, she had a lot of really insightful ideas that helped shape what the competition was. Elizabeth Pinkham from Salesforce, she was obviously had a massive amount of real estate, she’s responsible for looking for answers about what’s happening. And then Keith Donovan from Netflix was another one who I think contributed a lot to what the competition was really going to be about.

         So it was through those interactions that we started to shape what the competition was and the types of spaces that we wanted to try to seek some solutions for. So I think the selfish aspect of it was that we were all looking for what’s the next work environment going to be, what kind of answers do we have. And we felt like by opening it up to a larger segment of the professional world, we would get some interesting answers to that.

         Now, the one thing that I think was helpful, and I don’t think we saw this as much as we would have liked, but we really wanted people from a variety of different backgrounds to participate. I think one of the more exciting ones we had two 11 year olds submit [inaudible 00:10:01] for this, which was kind of fun. But we were hoping to see people from the medical world, the technology world, and other places like that to share their ideas and their thoughts and their perspective on what the workplace needed to be to address a lot of these concerns.

DJ Mike P (10:18):

What was the driving force here? Were they trying to find a solution for the COVID-19 situation and safety or was it about collaboration and activity-based working and the real purpose for the office to begin with? Was that part of it too?

Bob Fox (10:32):

I think it was really looking at how to create a safe work environment given the COVID-19 situation. We broke it down, there were seven categories. One, which was really not a spatial category was about change management and looking at the change management process to get through that. And that was actually, Rex Miller was on the jury. And Rex kind of contributed a lot to what the change management piece of it looked like.

         It was looking at specifics about how to get into a safe work environment that was going to still be healthy for people. I think one of the things that rose out of this was that people and people’s health I think took on a greater sense of importance going through this competition. I think that we all saw that we had technology. I think one of the interesting things that we all realized going through this, this was probably one of the biggest tests in workplace about working remotely. I think that we all had the technology for the most part.

         I do think that there was a divide though between the haves and the have nots, and those with high-speed internet connections and laptop computers and video cameras and microphones and lights. Those are all components of the new workplace now. And the people that have access to that are obviously going to be in a much better situation than those that don’t.

DJ Mike P (12:00):

So tell me, what were some of the big aha moments or the key insights you heard and learned from the hundreds of entries you’ve received?

Bob Fox (12:08):

Again, I think the priority of people and their comfort and safety in the environment was something that really kind of rose to the top. I think almost all of the submissions addressed something from a health concern. A lot of the submissions had spaces that you’d walk through where there were temperature sensors, hand sanitizers, the ability to get checked and make sure you’re safe sort of as a preamble before you walk into the main workspace. Or there were spaces that were somewhat segregated to kind of protect people.

         I think that’s one of the other things that we’re seeing coming out of this. Rex Miller just came out with another book that we’re actually, Work Design Magazine is doing a series of interviews or conversations much like this with Rex and Dr. Jeff Jernigan about the psychological safety and the issues. He treats this as a mass crisis that we’re going through. And that’s one of the things I think that was kind of implicit in the results that we got back was there was a real desire and understanding for safe, healthy working environments.

DJ Mike P (13:20):

Excellent. You were telling me before we came on air that just the process of the AI tools that you were using to analyze these submissions and come up with the takeaways, the insights was interesting. Tell us a little bit about that and how can that be applied to our workplaces of the future?

Bob Fox (13:35):

Yeah. We used, I’ll call them two technology platforms for the competition. One Survature, which we used for the actual submissions themselves. So that was the platform that people actually put their information in, uploaded all their documents to. And then we asked a couple of questions for that. So, just briefly, I mean, Survature has been around since 2013. In the workplace realm, the problem is really two fold, and this is what Survature really helped us with. It’s extremely important that design fits within people’s both explicit and implicit needs. And designers don’t really have the tools to get trustworthy input from people about implicit needs. And not only is that a data issue. Fundamentally, the exact information is in people’s subconscious collective. And this is kind of the really fun part, which I think the competition underscores, but it’s understanding, the subconscious collective understanding of what their work situations are.

         And designers, they typically don’t have that collective understanding that it already exists or they don’t have the tools to tap into it. And so the findings for the competition, it’s a great example. And in this regard, I think Survature kind of extended the human capabilities of the designers. And that’s really speaking collectively about the results.

         So now we can read that collective mind and that power I think can shock even the designers themselves in some situations. But I think what’s interesting is that in this next work environment competition, each designer individually had no idea of what they know collectively until they see the results. I think this is what kind of came out loud and clear. And I think the entire corporate real estate field has the same problem. And to get that deeper understanding, we really need to get into the implicit needs and I think that’s where Survature really kind of helped us to do that.

DJ Mike P (15:33):


Bob Fox (15:33):

In this design competition, designers have a dual mindset, both as the designer and also as the in the moment occupant. So I think that’s kind of unique. When the competition entrants submitted their submissions, there were two questions that we asked as part of that. One is, how strongly does your submission target the following workplace problems? And we gave them a list, but we also allowed them to add to that. And then, how well does the following describe the solution that your design provides? And there, again, there were answers that we gave them but they could contribute to that.

         And some of the findings that I think were interesting from each category is, what does the interactive collaborative space mean during the pandemic? And this kind of opened up my eyes. You talk about some of the things that we found out, but from a design perspective, the highest perceived needs by designers were not for work. Instead, what rose to the top was human connectedness, workplace health, team coordination, team bonding. So in other words like we were saying earlier, it’s that physical health, individual mental health, team health that kind of rose up in priority. And the design solutions focused on creative space utilization, social presence, social distance and reconfiguration.

         On the workplace side I think from a design perspective, essentially it’s the same as before, only human connectedness now rose to the top. And we have a dichotomy here which I think is something that we need to explore further. On one hand we’re saying stay away from people. And then on the other hand, we’re seeing I need others to get my work done. So I think that open design now has kind of gained a new purpose, and it’s more about being able to reconfigure things and separate people as much as bringing people together.

         On the coworking side, we found individual work plus human connectedness were the priorities. It was not about team or project productivity. The work from home was the one that I found really interesting, where in a perfect work sense, productivity, health and wellness were priorities. Focus and productivity ranked highest in the response to that. The huge cost on the work from home is the human connectedness side, team coordination and team bonding. On the lobby amenities design, this was a place where workplace pride actually rose to the top. It wasn’t the highest scoring but it was among the top group. And that was along with health and wellness and human connectedness.

         And in the key for future workstation design, it might not be about work anymore. Here again, I think the top issues that we saw were wellness, health and team bonding. And then change management was interesting. There was only one thing that rose to the top with regard to change management and that was all about human connectedness. I think we’re still going through the results of that and so I think there’s a lot more to come.

DJ Mike P (18:34):

There you have it, everybody. Bob Fox of Fox Architects and Work Design Magazine sharing just a few of the insights and findings from The Next Work Environment competition. We only scratched the surface and we didn’t even get a chance to go into the details around the winners. So, I want to point you to the show notes for this episode, where you will find direct links to all of that information as well as a link to download the recording of the full hour long conversation we had with Bob. I’m sure you will want to check out more details. I want to thank Bob and his team for helping put this together and for sharing it with my audience. I hope you will check out Work Design Magazine and subscribe there for free.

         And also, let people know about this episode and the show overall. If you’re getting value from these Workplace Innovator podcasts, please, would you consider leaving us a rating and a review over on Apple Podcast. Subscribe to the show at Also, you can join us live every Wednesday at noon Eastern time for the Workplace Innovator Interactive Livestream. We do it on Zoom, sometimes we do it on GoToWebinar. And I hope you will check out the banner at the top of to register if you are not already a part of that conversation. And join us again next week as we continue to encourage and inspire each other to be a workplace innovator. Peace out.

         You’ve been listening to the Workplace Innovator Podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOFFICE can help you create an employee-centric workspace by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience, visit