Design around communications

#TakeItFromYourPeers

Beth-Benzenberg

This episode

Interior design and physical space influences our thoughts, actions, and communications every day. Beth Benzenberg, Director of Interior Design at SHYFT Collective, talks to us about how she integrates communications and technology into the spaces she designs.

Hosted by

Paula Rivera

Director of Public Relations at IntelePeer

Featuring

Beth Benzenberg

Director of Interior Design at SHYFT Collective

Content support

Tyler Scott

Content Creator at IntelePeer

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Episode transcript

Paula Rivera:

Welcome to Take It From Your Peers, a podcast brought to you by IntelePeer. I am your host Paula Rivera.

Welcome. I’m Paula Rivera, and this is Take It From Your Peers. Today, we’re talking to the Director of Interior Design at SHYFT Collective Beth Benzenberg.

Shyft provides real estate design and construction services to help organizations navigate real estate change with confidence. Beth has extensive experience in design and project management of healthcare spaces, corporate interiors, and higher education environments – I think as well as a few breweries as well. Very fun. Beth has a well-rounded view of the industry with her master’s degree in design from the Ohio State University. She studied under the acclaimed Liz Sanders, Ph.D. So, this conversation is going to be more than fun, to say the least.

Beth, welcome. Thank you for chatting with us today.

Beth Benzenberg:

Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.

Paula Rivera:

Before we dive on in, tell us a bit about SHYFT and what you do for them and, more importantly, your clients. What types of projects are you currently working on?

Beth Benzenberg:

So, as you mentioned, we’re called SHYFT Collective, and that is really a group of experts in a couple different fields. One of our taglines is, “Plan. Design. Build.” So, we have services for anyone looking to change their space. That can include project management and owner’s web services, architecture, interior design, and construction. Our construction sector is growing really, really quickly these days.

We work on a lot of different project types, as you mentioned. Multifamily is a big one, university work, office spaces, mid to higher-education retail. The breweries are some of the funner ones, because we also get to go drink there after. Lots of different things like that. I work on many of those projects on any given day. So, it’s a really broad spectrum.

Keeps us on our toes.

Paula Rivera:

Wonderful. I would definitely be raising my hand for the brewery project.

Beth Benzenberg:

Yes. Yeah.

Paula Rivera:

And my husband would be right behind me, encouraging full participation.

Beth Benzenberg:

Yes. We have some good ones in our regions, too.

Paula Rivera:

Excellent. So, I’m very interested in the fact that you did study under Liz Sanders. And Liz is a huge design expert, and she teaches at the Ohio State University. She’s penned a few books, and I believe she’s an avid speaker. If those listening have a chance to catch Liz speaking about design, design thinking, and all of that good jazz, you should definitely check it out.

One of the reasons I was excited to talk to Beth is earlier this year, back in March, I interviewed our IntelePeer CXO, a gentleman by the name of Matt Edic. During the course of that interview, we discussed conversational design. And the interesting thing about design is that it cuts across all aspects of our lives, whether that’s the traditional design that I used to think of prior to entering the tech world, which was, “Oh yeah, you get an architect, they design a building.” That’s typically what I used to think of. I think a lot of people still have that thought process.

With the advent of Apple, design was brought to the forefront of our mind. And when Apple took design and I think brought design to the everyday mind, not only with the Apple products and the iPhone, but also with the interior design of their store. Everything about Apple is the user experience and creating products, creating an in-store experience that is intuitive to the end user.

So, in our discussion, Matt actually indicated that the goal of design-

Matt Edic:

… is to make a design that is human centric. It’s intuitive to the user. And as a result, it reduces the friction from an interaction.

Paula Rivera:

So, basically, what I want to ask Beth is do you agree with this, or is our CXO woefully misguided?

Beth Benzenberg:

I definitely agree with this. My background and my education wholeheartedly point to humans, the place where design starts. We design things for people, whether it’s a space for people to be inside, whether it’s an item for somebody to use, whether it’s a website for somebody to look at. There is 100% of the time human interaction in our design.

So, I thought it was interesting that you were talking about the user experience portion, in that there is an industry, as you probably know, called user experience design. And they typically design from… Like Apple, they think about the website touchpoints, the store touchpoints, the phone or device touchpoints, etc. And all of that is a holistic view of looking at the user’s experience in your brand.

Definitely the spaces that we look at are designed around people’s experiences of those spaces and focusing on the human interaction of it. I definitely agree. It’s not about what it looks like if nobody can see it. It’s not about how it works if nobody can use.

Paula Rivera:

Well, I think he’ll be glad to hear that. So, how to these goals, the end-user experience, the end-user interaction, how does that play out with what you do day in and day out at SHYFT Collective?

Beth Benzenberg:

Our process at SHYFT at the beginning of any project is to try and understand why somebody is looking for a space change, whether it’s moving from one building to another, enlarging their space, reducing the size of their space, wanting to move to a new location, etc. And so understanding the why behind it helps us to give our clients the best space for their needs. It’s about how they use it, as I mentioned, how they interact with it. And that is baked into every single project that we do. We won’t know what to design unless we know why the client needs that change.

Paula Rivera:

That’s very interesting. It ties into what we do here at IntelePeer in regards to we are creating communication solutions for businesses. And what you need to look at when creating those is obviously what are their end users? What are those businesses’ customers, clients, and whatnot? What are their communications experiences? And why are we creating a new system? And how can we make it be the best system that’s out there?

Beth Benzenberg:

I just want to add, sorry. I agree exactly with what you’re saying in that it’s not only our clients we have to consider, but their customers. The product coming into the bar to buy the beer, how do they interact with the space, as well as the people who work there? So, there’s definitely multiple use cases.

Paula Rivera:

That’s so interesting. I, as a story creator, always think of who am I talking to and what story are she or he and I discussing? But also, the end person who’s listening, what story will intrigue them?

Beth Benzenberg:

Mm-hmm.

Paula Rivera:

And how can we tell a story that will be engaging for them and will bring whatever topic we’re discussing to life for the end listener or the end user, shall we say?

Beth Benzenberg:

Yeah, exactly.

Paula Rivera:

So, over the past few years, the work experience has changed and drastically. Both the employers’ and the employees’ needs have changed. One of your associates wrote a really great blog post about today’s in-office experience and especially the amenities available throughout the workspace. And I found that fascinating. And there was a more recent article on your blog that was also really, really brought to life. I’ll see if I can bring it up while we’re talking.

But couple questions for you on this. Why are in-office amenities so important, and what should employers be thinking of?

Beth Benzenberg:

Yeah, I think some of these, we’ll call them trends, but some of these movements or evolutions were starting to happen before the pandemic began. But it definitely accelerated a lot of them and brought some new ones to light. Amenities spaces were becoming a larger part of a lot of workplaces in any case, in order to help the employee experience at work, in order to make it a place where you want to go, not just a place where you have to go, encouraging interactions between employees and things like that.

But I think that the pandemic and everybody working from home or most people working from home so specifically and for a long period of time made the workplace have to compete with your house for the space that you go during the day. So, now that the workplace is competing with the house, you have to offer a much wider variety of types of spaces for the employee to do their work.

Maybe it is a private office or a desk that I need to sit at for eight hours that day. But maybe I’d rather sit in a lounge space on a comfortable chair and prop my feet up, like I do on my couch at home. Or are there snacks or lunch available close by? And I have a really wide variety of choice there. Are there multiple places that I can work throughout the day, giving me different posture options for how I work at my desk versus, like I mentioned, lounging, versus standing, versus meeting with somebody? It has just required employers to provide a much wider variety than they would have previously.

Paula Rivera:

It’s so interesting that you say that. I’ve been working from home even before the pandemic. One of the things I noticed… And then during the pandemic, I actually moved. So, my “workspace” changed. And one of the things I noticed, because I’m now sharing a space with my husband who works primarily late afternoon into evenings, I, around 3:00, I basically need to pick up my laptop and go relocate. I find that this has been extremely beneficial for my productivity, because usually around 2:30, 3:00, the afternoon slump is kicking in.

Beth Benzenberg:

Yes. You need that extra cup of coffee.

Paula Rivera:

Exactly. And in the old days, when I was in office, I just would struggle in my office, trying to figure out how I’d pep myself up, or I’d take a walk around the building. And then in my old home, when I was working from home, I had a one floor living arrangement. So, my walk was very limited. I’d basically walk and get a cup of coffee or, in my case, a cappuccino, and then walk back to the office.

But with this current situation I have, I’m finding I don’t need that coffee lift, because I’m standing up, I’m doing some activity, i.e. getting my notepad, getting my computer, and relocating downstairs. So, I have that ability now where I’m breaking up my afternoon, giving myself a little bit of physical activity to reinvigorate my mind. And I’m now in a new environment in which to work, and I’m finding it almost refreshing.

So, what you were just saying really resonated with me, because I didn’t quite realize, until I moved into this town home that I’m now in, was how that midday slump was affecting me. But more importantly, how is it affecting my work?

Beth Benzenberg:

I was just going to say that it also affects how you view working at the office all day in your previous position. Any potential employer that wants you in the office all the time is competing with this sense of relief that you have by making that movement in your own home. So, that’s exactly what I was indicating, is they need to offer so many different posture rotations or space rotations available for people like you and others who may have different preferences to have a wide variety.

Paula Rivera:

Yes. And it’s so funny. At my prior job, which was a work from home scenario, they gave me a space to work from. But when I did go into the office, I usually would go to the cafeteria and sit at a high rise type of works station, just because I don’t know. It just felt better than going into this little specific area, having the walls around me. It was more open. I could see what was going on. So, I do find that absolutely fascinating.

Beth Benzenberg:

You probably also were searching for a connection to other people while you were in the office as well that you may not have received at home. So, that definitely makes sense. Your private workspace was home, and your communal workspace was the cafeteria.

Paula Rivera:

Very well said. So, being a communications company, obviously, and mostly all companies today, they harness a huge amount of technology. From a technology standpoint, what amenities are most important in the new office environment? And how does one go about integrating these technologies into the workspace?

Beth Benzenberg:

I think it’s whatever makes things easy for the employee and whatever makes things work really well for them to want to give the employee the choice to be in the office or to be in the most productive space for them. But some things that I see that are becoming more integrated into workplaces are things like hot desk conference-type office scheduling softwares and capabilities, so that if the desking or the offices are shared, meaning that it’s a hybrid workplace, sometimes people work from home, sometimes people work from the office, that they don’t have an assigned space at the office. Some companies are requiring their employees to reserve that space for those couple hours or that day that they’re going to work there.

And those types of technologies, so that you can get the space that you prefer or the space that’s most conducive to your work that day is really important. If that doesn’t become easy and it becomes a frustration to work in the office, then people won’t do it.

The other thing that I see being incorporated a lot more is video meetings or conferencing technology, ways that people can chat quickly with each other, rather than sending an email or something like that, so that when you are working remotely, that you have a quicker interaction or a quicker collaboration with your colleagues. As I mentioned, that social connection is not really there with email. I think chatting brings it a little bit closer. But if you’re working completely remotely, there’s still potentially some element of that connect.

And we incorporate these into the workspace just before understanding how our clients or their customers expect to work. If there’s a way that we can make it easier, make sure that we can incorporate it into the space, if it’s going to be a video conferencing situation, that the monitor’s in a space that doesn’t give you a kink in your neck and that it’s easy to plug into the people to get it to work. Again, if that type of technology in the space is frustrating to deal with, either people won’t use it or they won’t come to the office. And it is going to be annoying.

Paula Rivera:

Well said. I concur completely. You actually, Beth, have a really intriguing background, and you’ve worked on a lot of fascinating projects. I think you were on the Thoracic Exam Suite and Pathology Lab renovation at the OSU Wexner Medical Center. I believe you dealt with the client services space for one of SHYFT’s financial services teams and the Golisano Children’s Hospital at SUNY Syracuse.

So, lots of different spaces spread throughout the country, lots of different clients, shall we say? Definitely, FinServ is a lot different than a medical center or a hospital.

As you know, we’re a communications company. So, my question to you is how does a designer take into consideration the communications and technology needs of an organization? So, in the instances above, like a healthcare organization, as you develop designs, what are the thought processes in regards to, “Oh, we’re going to need conference rooms for communications,” or, “As much of a wireless world as we are, there is a degree of hardware that’s involved. So, we do need to have some space for the tech team?” So, how do you take those into considerations? How do you integrate these needs into a design so that it does feel natural?

Beth Benzenberg:

So, understanding healthcare technology is, since that was the example that used, is really specific in that there’s privacy concerns, security as well, but security as related to privacy concerns. Understanding that and making sure that it’s incorporated properly into this space helps providers give the best care.

And when you’re working with a healthcare firm, it’s generally about what can we do to provide the best care, what can we do to reduce errors. And all of those things have, of course, monetary effects as well. But at its core, their mission is to provide the best care to their patients. So, making sure that a conference room that a physician may be having a virtual appointment with is appropriately sound proofed is important. I know that’s not directly related to technology, but technology pushes some of the other aspects of the space.

Paula Rivera:

Yeah. No, it totally makes sense. And it’s actually interesting, because if you are having a virtual appointment, telehealth is so on the rise. I think it took off obviously during that pandemic, but it’s so on the rise. And to have a good “face to face, video to video experience,” it involves having a good communication network. It involves the doctor as well as the patient being in an environment where it’s conducive to talk, where exterior noise is minimized. And of course, obviously, there’s confidentiality concerns. So, the doctor needs to make sure that he’s not in a hallway, walking down a hallway talking to a patient on an iPad. So, that’s really interesting, and those are things I think we all take for a granted. It’s, “Oh, do you have the connection and you have the computer? Okay.” Well, there’s more than one channel, shall we say, to every situation.

Beth Benzenberg:

Right. The computer and the connection may not be enough. On the flip side of that, I have seen they have mobile virtual doctor visits. So, if you’re in an in-patient hospital and you need to see a doctor or physician that’s not on site, they bring around a mobile electronic… It’s really just an iPad or a laptop or something on the mobile part so that that doctor can do rounds on the floor without physically being there. Almost a little bit like a robot with a video screen, but I don’t know that it’s a robot moving itself. I think maybe the nurses just bring it around.

So, whereas in the instance we talked initially, the doctor or physician could sit in a room and talk to people elsewhere. But sometimes, that physician also needs to move around within a space and speak to multiple patients.

Paula Rivera:

So, that’s getting Jetsons-like.

Beth Benzenberg:

Yes it is. It is. I’m not sure how common it is, but I had come across it a couple of times when a physician is traveling more or if it’s a specialist that is in a different city than you are, and then they can help, or if it’s when you have a larger care team. So, you may have several physicians to speak to you that they incorporate that. But yeah, it is kind of Jetsons-like.

Paula Rivera:

Excellent. Hey, listen, we’re running to the end of our time. But before we say our goodbyes, and just for fun, what’s the craziest more exciting, good or bad, project that you’ve had to work on? And what role did communications play in navigating the waters and bringing the project to fruition?

Beth Benzenberg:

The largest project I’ve worked on is the James Cancer Center at the Ohio State University. And it was a 1.2 million square foot hospital to replace a previous cancer hospital. And I was on the fit out team. I worked on the owner side for that project. And my responsibility specifically was to purchase and install all of the medical equipment for the building and to coordinate the moves from the old hospital to the new.

And that was a really interesting project for me, one, because I love being on construction sites. I love being able to see things built and all the stuff that goes into it. But also, there was such a huge team of people that I needed to coordinate with in order to make sure that the blood pressure cuff was hanging on the wall in the right place in the thousands of rooms in that hospital. We had to coordinate with the construction team to make sure that they built the space properly for the equipment to fit in.

Different user groups from the hospital, so patient advocates, clinicians, and physicians, those were the main ones that would tell us what kind of equipment that they needed. The vendors and the movers that we purchased millions of pieces of equipment from and make sure that they got it to the right place at the right time so that it was there at opening. The procurement team from the university hospital. The list goes on and on and on with how many. I feel like I was in meetings for two solid years to coordinate all of this stuff.

It was just such a large project and such a communication and logistical problem to solve. It was really, really interesting to me. We had to all be on the same page, have the right communications to each other, to make sure that everything was right, because when you bring patients over, that’s it. It needs to be ready. If you’re going into work, just a regular job, you could wait maybe 15 minutes or an hour or whatever until your computer starts working. But when you bring patients in and they’re sick and they need something for their health, you’ve got to have it ready exactly right on.

Paula Rivera:

Yeah.

Beth Benzenberg:

And so that was a pretty cool experience to be a part of.

Paula Rivera:

And oftentimes, unfortunately oftentimes, it is a life-and-death situation.

Beth Benzenberg:

Yes. Yes.

Paula Rivera:

And any kind of wiggle room is minimal at best.

Beth Benzenberg:

Yes. Yes.

Paula Rivera:

So, it sounds like, from a communications standpoint, it sounds like from face-to-face meetings, you were probably doing a lot of email. I’m inclined to say you were probably doing a lot of texting with various vendors, with the interior hospital staff. Did you have one line of sight into all of the various “conversations” that you were having?

Beth Benzenberg:

No, and you’re right. That was tough. That was tough, because it comes at you from all different directions. The other example I want to give that came to mind just now is, on the work that I do now, we do a lot of integrated designing projects as well. So, our services aren’t always offered singularly. We offer the services together. So, when I’m working on a smaller project, the communications, whether they’re coming from all those different modes or through one text message string, are much more immediate, because since they’re smaller projects, they’re a faster pace. We need to get the contractor an answer right now, not in two days, that kind of thing.

So, I guess on the flip side of coordinating with bazillions of people over a couple years of this fit out, the integrated projects that we work on are still coordinating with different teams, but it’s got to be quick. You can’t wait even from one evening to the next morning sometimes, so that the electrical contractor can make sure that they do their work. One line of communication, as you teed that up, is super important.

Paula Rivera:

Yeah. And I think we’ve brought the conversation full circle, because when I talked with Matt Edic, who I mentioned at the top of this conversation, we talked a lot about conversational AI. One of the cool things, in addition to calling an 800 number for help and going through the phone tree, one of the interesting things is conversational AI is AI driven. And oftentimes, from a communication standpoint, you can tap into artificial intelligence to have that one line of view and see, “Okay, here are all the conversations pertaining to the blood pressure cuffs. Here are the conversations pertaining to the heart monitor,” or whatnot. Where communications and the communications technology is going, it really, really is pretty, I don’t want to keep saying fascinating, interesting, but it is fascinating and interesting and I think, ultimately, at the end of the day, will make all of our lives a lot better and our-

Beth Benzenberg:

Yeah.

Paula Rivera:

… and our work, shall we say, a lot easier.

Beth Benzenberg:

That is really cool to think about, because I don’t know how many times I’ve had to search through my email, “Where is this one about the thing? I don’t remember exactly what the search term should be,” and on and on trying to find that. I searched for 20 minutes, and then I remember that it was a text message or a meeting minute document that I needed to look for. As long as it can search in my meeting minutes for me too, that would be amazing, bring it all together from the emails to the text and the file folders or some other type of communication that I don’t know what it’s called yet, yet to come.

Paula Rivera:

Yeah.

Beth Benzenberg:

New things. But yeah, that is cool to think about having something to bring it all together. When you need the information afterwards.

Paula Rivera:

Yep. I’ll talk to our developers about the meeting minutes and see what can do.

Beth Benzenberg:

Yeah. Yes. I had to do that recently. A project manager from the client said, “How did this decision get made?” So, I had to search all of those places to try and figure out what the history was. And unfortunately, I wasn’t running the project at that time. So, I was looking through a former employee’s information, too.

Paula Rivera:

Well, I appreciate your tenacity in getting the job done. I appreciate all of your time. And this has really been a very interesting conversation. Beth, I want to thank you so much. If our listeners had some kind of interest and wanted to find out more about SHYFT Collective, where would they go?

Beth Benzenberg:

They can go to shyftcollective.com, and Shyft is spelled with a Y, because we look for the “why” behind your space. So, it’s S-H-Y-F-T Collective.com.

Paula Rivera:

I was going to say, “Because why not?”

Beth Benzenberg:

Why not? Yeah!

Paula Rivera:

Listen. If you’re enjoying Take It From Your Peers, please tell your friends and family. And of course, we always encourage you to subscribe to the channel. I’m Paula Rivera. And I thank you for your time.

Thank you for listening to IntelePeer’s Take It From Your Peers podcast. For more information and resources about this episode, please visit intelepeer.com/podcast. A special thanks goes out to my producer Tyler Scott and to all of our listeners. We appreciate you joining us.