| Jonathan O’Connell |
WASHINGTON (WP-BLOOM) — Whether your office is in Washington, London or Dubai, Diane Hoskins studies every aspect of the way you work at your desk — the amount of time you put your head down to concentrate, the time you are distracted, the frequency and quality of the ideas you produce when you swivel in your chair to brainstorm with a co-worker.
Hoskins, co-chief executive at architecture and design giant Gensler, remembers the days when offices consisted of hallways with numbered doors along either side.
Guided by firms like hers, companies began tearing down the walls then even the cubicle walls in favour of open floor plans that would foster creative thinking.
Now there’s pushback.
“You’re sitting in your open-plan area and you’re doing your focused work, and two seats away there’s five people gathered around a workstation and somebody on the speakerphone, and they’re all collaborating,” she explained.
Between 2010 and 2012, the average square foot per office worker dropped from 225 to 176.
But in its annual workplace survey, Gensler found last year that 53 per cent of employees felt disturbed by others when trying to focus and 69 per cent were dissatisfied with the noise levels around their desks. So much for concentration.
Just as Gensler was on the cutting edge of opening up offices, Hoskins wants to see the company designing the newest wave of layouts: Re-integrating private meeting areas, building fewer see-through glass walls and creating more separation between workers who need to focus.
“The message of collaboration became such an important driver that it came at the expense of more focused work,” she said. “The great idea got hatched in that meeting, but it really got thought through in that focus time. You’re not going to have five people who iron out the details.”
Gensler designs structures such as airplane hangars and entire towns, all over the world. Every week, from her desk on K Street, Hoskins leads a conference call with 100 people from 46 offices in 14 countries to get the latest insights.
During a recent call, she discussed workplace projects in Australia, two hotel projects and a sports stadium in Venezuela and new business in Baltimore and Seattle.
Gensler is also the lead architect on Shanghai Tower, a twisting skyscraper under construction in China that, at 2,073 feet and 121 stories, will be the second tallest building in the world when completed this year.
The company’s bread and butter in many ways remains designing offices for government agencies and companies, among them The Washington Post as the newspaper prepares to move its headquarters to K Street in 2016.
One of five children, Hoskins, 55, grew up on the South Side of Chicago coveting Legos and trips to the Art Institute of Chicago. She became an architect, but is now far removed from the business of sketching plans.
“I don’t design anything,” she said. “My role is to make sure that what we do is the best.”
Even if she were a number of steps down the corporate ladder, she would still be one of the country’s most accomplished African-American architecture executives, yet she is not even the most widely known member of her Washington condo.
Her husband, Victor L Hoskins, served as the District’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, a post that had him travelling to China with Mayor Vincent C Gray to drum up business and overseeing the city’s biggest real estate projects, such as a planned redevelopment of Walter Reed Army hospital.
A charismatic speaker whom she met in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Victor decided in May to go work for Prince George’s County (Maryland) Executive Rushern L Baker III, the latest in a long string of public economic development positions in Baltimore, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Hoskins is happy running her global nerve centre for how the modern workplace is being shaped and reshaped. Her firm advises many clients on the importance of being in cities to maximise the value of a diverse workforce and the idea-making that happens from frequent interactions on the sidewalk or at a coffee shop.
She thinks Washington is still growing as a destination for innovative companies: “This city has so much to still become. We’re still becoming.”