Bonnie Lee, Industrious’ VP of Design and Construction, oversees all of Industrious’ locations on their journey from design inspiration boards to fully-realized office spaces. Even after a location has opened, she’s constantly on-the-go, looking for new ways to make members’ workday better, whether that means improving the soundproofing or making sure that there’s always a fresh cup of coffee nearby.
Read on to find out how Lee went from making obstacle courses to office spaces after more than 20 years in design and construction — and how she believes our built environment is changing as a result of COVID-19.
Tell us about yourself. What brought you to Industrious?
I studied Architectural Engineering in college and found myself drawn to the science of buildings and the design of inspiring built environments. I worked for General Contractors and Subcontractors for 12 years on a diverse portfolio of job sites, including offices in Google’s Mountain View campus. In the Bay Area, I was exposed to high-growth companies developing new and exciting technologies. It left an impression on me — I was eager to work at a company I could really impact by growing teams and products.
Enter Tough Mudder. Back in 2012, experience was the luxury people wanted to humble brag about on social media and Tough Mudder was leading a new trend of obstacle course racing. I spearheaded its construction and product teams; standardized its processes and obstacle design; and kept participants safe.
There was an endless set of questions we asked to balance fun, challenge, and safety. How high could we build structures for people to safely jump from? How many lanes would allow an obstacle to manage a throughput of 30,000 people? What ascending angle does a half pipe need to be so that the above-average athlete could barely run up it?
After Tough Mudder, I joined Industrious to come back to the traditional construction world. I’d love to say I brought the same elements of fun, challenge, and safety to our locations … but in a different way! Like Tough Mudder, Industrious was a young and ambitious start-up with a focus on growth building a product in an ambiguous market. Five years ago, shared flexible workplaces were still in the early days. Of course, I was drawn to the beautifully designed locations, but also to the alignment I had with the team leaders regarding customer-focused satisfaction and establishing partnerships with contractors and landlords.
What’s a typical day on the job like?
When I’m touring our locations, I’m usually on a quest for feedback — learning from the community managers how our space is utilized and surveying members about the space.
When I’m in the office (or my virtual office at home), most of my time is spent navigating the team’s needs, not just for design and construction, but across the whole of Industrious. Right now, I am really focused on providing team support through COVID-19; strategizing the next 6 – 12 months — and 1 – 3 years; setting up the right balance of design standardization; and doubling down on what works while teasing out the things that we need to improve on.
What are some of the challenges unique to building flexible workspaces? How do you solve them?
Different markets and industries need different things from their workplace. Some law firms and government consultants need more privacy in their conference rooms while tech companies may want large, open spaces for close collaboration. Many of our locations are in Class A Commercial Office buildings, but we have also gotten creative, converting movie theaters, anchor department stores, and industrial warehouses into workplaces.
We provide a great foundation for a workplace that could fit anyone’s needs. We create multiple space types — such as focus rooms and phone booths — for various forms of productivity. We are very deliberate about the percentage of natural light. And upon the launch of every location, we conduct quality control inspections for sound attenuation performance. We even ensure that every one of our members is within 200′ of coffee. Coffee is critical for workplace environments!
We can then customize a space. For example, changing the amount of privacy or modifying walls to accommodate growing teams. For larger enterprises, our team can customize furniture layouts and selections, install additional outlets and A/V or internet drops per layout, and offer more secure IT packages.
How do you think COVID-19 will change our built environment going forward?
Productivity was high at the beginning of quarantine, but now we are starting to see cracks. Collaboration has been reduced, creativity and innovation has slowed, and team members feel disconnected. We need physical environments for in-person interactions — distributed offices that are near people’s homes, with shorter commutes. (The tolerance for long commutes will be much lower after the 30-second commute we all have had working from home.)
The actual design and layout of spaces will change as well. The norm of vast open office plans — originally developed to initiate collaboration and communication — are now a thing of the past. Workplaces will need more phone booths and conference rooms for coworkers calling in from home. HVAC systems will require filtration upgrades and should operate earlier or later than normal business hours to increase the quantity of air exchanges. There will also be more touchless entries with foot pulls or automatic doors and more sensors on plumbing and light fixtures.
As for the construction industry as a whole, there will be a lot less travel, likely leading us to rely more heavily on virtual technologies such as drones and video conferencing. The industry was already creeping in this direction but I think COVID-19 will be the catalyst that makes this the default way of working.
What do you love about what you do?
The reason I love what I do — and what gets me out of bed every day — is my team! I’ve never encountered another place where collaboration, communication, and support are so rampant.