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MIT Technology Review

Data-driven workplace design

Diane Hoskins ’79

February 23, 2021
Diane Hoskins ’79Diane Hoskins ’79
Courtesy Photo

Diane Hoskins ’79 grew up with plenty of exposure to “beautiful, incredible buildings,” both in Chicago’s famously photogenic downtown and in the pages of Architectural Record, where her mother worked. It was only natural that she should become an architect herself. For the past 15 years, she’s been co-CEO of Gensler, the world’s largest architecture and design firm, known for its focus on workplace interiors. Also known for its green buildings, it has committed to net-zero emissions for all its new designs by 2030.

Hoskins remembers her time at MIT as “the most exhilarating rush of adrenaline,” adding, “You were learning something every single day.” Most of her classes for her architecture major focused on the essentials of building design. But an MIT Sloan class on management psychology got her thinking about the impact of office spaces on organizations. “The connection between physical surroundings and behavior and performance in a work environment always stuck with me,” she says. She went on to earn an MBA from UCLA and design large buildings for several international firms before landing at Gensler. 

There, she pioneered a research program to determine how interior spaces influence workers. Through surveys of thousands of employees each year, the firm has identified four modes of working—focusing, collaborating, learning, and socializing—each requiring different kinds of spaces. Hoskins helped develop a “Workplace Performance Index” to track the impact of space design on elements such as productivity, communication, and innovation. The firm uses those insights to custom-design the right combination of spaces for companies such as Microsoft, Etsy, and Nvidia, as well as schools, hotels, and airports. “We start with data and trends,” she says, “and then shape the design to address a company’s culture, brand, and people.”

The firm is using that same data-driven approach to re-envision office life following the covid-19 pandemic. Despite the new emphasis on working from home, Gensler’s recent surveys of workers have found that only 12% want to do so full time; 44% prefer a hybrid arrangement, and another 44% want to work only in the office. While it’s too early to tell definitively, Hoskins imagines that offices will incorporate souped-up air filtering and touchless doors and elevator buttons to prevent spread of infection.

 “People want to connect with other people,” she says. “Already we are starting to hear the outcry: ‘I can’t do my best work in isolation.’ Focus, collaboration, and socialization are all intermixed.”