Designing the Office Space for the Aftertimes – Emily Krone Phillips of the Spencer Foundation and Francis Court of Wondersphere – Transcript
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Find a place. Get get, get set up. Get in, get in for the conversation, for the listening for the good stuff. [00:01:00] It’s another
Eric: additional, let’s hear it. Stop telling people, brown people what to do, Kirk, by the way, I just realized you, you always start. Yeah. You how I I like it though. It’s nice. It’s warm. I think actually
I tend to start when you’ve done the, the work. Oh, it’s the one place where I might do this. You, and that’s why I end up doing all this to the starts. Because you end up doing all the
Eric: work. It it gives me, it, it it’s comfort. It’s comforting. That’s right. Well that’s what we tried to do. Thank you for starting.
I appreciate it. This, I appreciate
Kirk: it. This is Comfort Food for the Soul. It’s comfort for Food, for the Soul. If it’s anything. Is that what it’s it is. Oh, okay. So here we are. Let’s hear it now. Get ready. Buckle in everybody. Buckle in because this is three point Harness. This is a podcast about strategic communications and we are about to communicate strategically in quite a different way today.
I know, isn’t that fun? It’s different. Look, so tell people what we’re about to listen and then we will have to listen to this and we will come back and there is much, much to discuss [00:02:00] once you, once we get through this.
Eric: This is an epi episode about space as communications. So if, if you’re not ready for that, then take whatever it is you take, whether it’s, you know, Asha Gowana tea or something that you forged in the, in, you know, in the, in the forest.
But space as communications. The, I spoke with Emily Cro Phillips, who’s the communications director for the Spencer Foundation, and the true stalwarts of among you out there will remember the conversation that I had with Na Eli Nair, who’s the C e O of the Spencer Foundation, Lou, those many years ago. 70 some odd episodes
Yeah, right, exactly. Laid back in the
Eric: archive. But I spoke with Emily and her colleague, Francis Court, who runs an organization, a company called Wonder Spere. It’s a design firm, and Francis is a web designer with an architecture background. And what Francis [00:03:00] did after they did their web design redesign on the Spencer Foundation, they did a really nice job.
And I was part of that little bit of that. And Francis Wonder was one of the rare designers who, who you said, oh, go, the website’s broken. And he said, oh, you’re right. I said, can you fix it? Yes I can. When can you do it by this date? And then it was done. It was the craziest experience I ever had. But what, after I was long gone, Francis and Francis went to Emily and we’ll hear about it in this conversation and said, your space is a problem that your physical office space is a problem, and I think I can help.
And this is one of those examples about how whoever you are out there just be open to all the wonderful things and the creativity that people have to, to offer to you. And Emily did that, and the result is something very exciting and it became, in my own mind, this understanding about space as communications.
They used, their physical space, their office space, how they work together as part of a way of expressing what the Spencer Foundation [00:04:00] is, what it does, why it matters, and helping. Just move that stuff out into the ionosphere and it was a really cool conversation. They’re two fabulous people. I love talking to them and I hope that everyone else enjoys that conversation as well.
Kirk: And, and clearly a key ingredient here is the rapport, the natural rapport between Emily and Francis, which comes out loud and clear in this interview. And Eric, you did a great job of making sure that both Emily and Francis had a chance to contribute to this story that, that Eric is practically seeking some very high level.
Podcast interview skills here and what you’re about to hear. So let’s go through the particular, so, Emily Crone Phillips is at the Spencer Foundation. You can findSpencer@spencer.org. Francis Court is with Wonder Sphere. I, I have to believe one of the best named firms I’ve ever encountered. Well, it’s the most in my life.
Wonderful. It’s very wonderful.
Eric: It’s very spherical.
Kirk: And they’re wonders. Sphere dot. They’re wonders sphere.com. And according to Wonders Sphere, this is [00:05:00] about an office less ordinary. So let’s listen to Emily and Francis. Talk with Eric about the Spencer Foundation headquarters redesign. The process of turning that into an office less ordinary.
We’ll listen and we’ll come back.
Eric: Welcome to, let’s Hear It. My guests today are Emily Kron Phillips, the director of Communications at the Spencer Foundation. And Francis Court, who’s the creative director at Wonders Sphere, and we are going to have a conversation about space, about communications, about, I don’t know, how do we live in the after times?
How do we work in the after times? And I have these two phenomenally. Interesting and fun guests who are gonna talk about this crazy partnership that they created. So Emily, thank you so much for coming on. Thanks for having me. And Francis, thank you for zooming in from the UK, I believe. Am I right or are you here?
Francis: No, I’m in the UK and it’s really great [00:06:00] to be talking to to you both today. Thank you. Well,
Eric: like I said, this is a, this is a conversation. This is a conversation like we haven’t had before on this, on this show. And I think what it was 73 or 74 episodes. This is the first one about space and we talk about communications and usually we talk about messaging and we talk about strategy and things like that, but it.
And, you know, and I’ve been, I’ve been doing this business for a while, and it never occurred to me that the place that you’re in is its own communications tool. And so, I, I just wanna take this back first of all. Oh. Oh, Emily. In addition to being the director of communications, you are an author, the author of the Make or Break Year, which chronicles the lives of ninth graders in Chicago Public Schools.
So, and, and Spencer Foundation works in education. So can you just talk to me a little bit about, I don’t know how you came to this place. Sure.
Emily: Well, I had worked at the Consortium on Chicago School Research at University of Chicago that also does education research [00:07:00] specifically on Chicago public schools.
That I was hired by the Spencer Foundation as their first communications director. And I just have a passion for storytelling and also for bringing research to life in a narrative way. And so Spencer was looking for that and That’s how I ended up at Spencer. And maybe Francis can talk a little bit about himself, but also how he came to work with us, I suppose.
Eric: Yeah. So, Francis, can you talk to me a little bit about how you got hooked up with these nice people? I.
Francis: I will try, I’ll try and be succinct with this. I, I spent a long time studying architecture, so, you know did two degrees in architecture and, and, and never, never practiced as a, as an architect.
I, I ended up deciding that architecture was, was too long, burn, and I was too energetic for to, to wait out a project. So I started working with a, with a, a global agency for American multinational and, and traveling around the world and, [00:08:00] and creating what we used to call brand experience. I think it’s a bit of a, a data term now, but brand experience and I, I was, I was absolutely bitten by this idea that you you could be creative in, in across so many different disciplines.
It opened my eyes. To, to the, the opportunities. And I think we were very lucky. We we started working with an organization in Chicago and, and we got an introduction to to, to Spencer, which was, which was fantastic. So we, we had an introduction to, to build a website and that was how this, this all started.
Eric: you know, it’s, You’re right. Brand experience is one of the many terms that makes my teeth itch, right, BEC, because it just sounds so self-important. But I, I think what, what you have done and what you have done together is, you and I always said that brand is the feeling that you get when you think of a thing and.
And what I feel when I think about Spencer Foundation is you are, you are quite right, Emily, that the fact that you work [00:09:00] with researchers and you can take that research and make it useful and understanding is a, is a damn miracle because and I, some of my best friends are researchers, but storytellers not so much.
And the idea that you can take the research that you’re doing and turn it into an understanding about what you need to do about it, and to build a sense of how you can create educa an education system that works for everybody is, is amazingly cool. And that’s the feeling that I get. I guess that’s your brand.
But the other thing that you have come up with is you’ve used your. Space to tell its own story, which I, I think is amazing. So I’m gonna back up a little bit and say that I did have the opportunity to work with you, Francis, when I was supporting you, Emily, at Spencer. And I found that that wonders spear, and this is, you didn’t put me up to this, I’m not gonna get a a cut of any business that you get if that were to happen.
But I’ve never worked with a web firm that you said, Hey, hey, look, the [00:10:00] website is broken. And they say, oh, You’re right. Let me fix that. Usually you work with a web firms, like the website is broken and they go, no, it’s not. You notice that was totally broken. I was like, Hmm, no, it isn’t. And so I, I had never worked with a, with a, a design and and web team that was actually responsive and was solving problems and did things on time and on budget.
And so that was kind of weird. But this thing that you came up with is even weirder. I was just trucking through the Spencer site one day. I don’t know why, but I was, and, and I saw what you had. That you had written this project about how you had transformed the space, your workspace at, at the foundation.
So Emily, maybe you can start by like taking us into that story. Why is your web firm doing your web, your space, and what the heck is that all about? Right.
Emily: So I guess I’ll have to back up a little bit. When we start, as
Eric: far as back as you want, you can get back to the,
Emily: I won’t go back too far, but donate.
When we, when we, when we started on our [00:11:00] website, we solicited a number of bids and. I had redone websites before and it had been one of my least favorite parts of the job. And so I wasn’t relishing having this be the first big project that I did at Spencer. And I knew how difficult sometimes these projects could be.
And so we were soliciting all these. These bids and talking to different firms, and most of them were talking about how arduous the process was going to be and how we would all have to just come together and, you know, make it through. And, and I just was gonna more and more dreading this process. And then Wonders Sphere came in and they said, well, you know, tell us about yourselves.
And we started talking and we, we just were, were explaining who we were and what our values were and that we funded education research, but that we did it in an effort to cultivate learning and to transform lives and, and, and that there were human [00:12:00] elements to this research. And they understood that right away.
And they send us back this. Short clip that is still sort of the basis of our website. And they didn’t say you have to rebrand, and they didn’t say we were going to have to do all these things. They just sent us back this, this short clip on questions and the power of questions that made me think.
They get us and that’s exactly what I want to convey. And so I didn’t really know what their technical skills were or anything, but because they had so clearly demonstrated that they got us and because I’m a sucker for a montage and it was a montage and I got kind of chills and I said, okay, well this firm they understand what we’re trying to do and they have that human element and that’s.
Sometimes what we’re missing when we’re talking about education research. And so they started with us as our website designers and then after the website was finished, they said, well, you will probably have more design [00:13:00] needs. And I said, we probably will. And my background is in journalism. And so I am.
Real good with the written word, but design isn’t necessarily always the first thing that I think of, and so they really convinced me that having them as sort of. On retainer as a long-term partner rather than just doing certain little projects would be the best way to work together. That you get to know people, that they would understand our values in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do on sort of a case by case basis.
And so over the last few years, we work in this way. We, we. Meet weekly or every other week, and we share what we’re working on. And sometimes I say, this is the project we’re doing. And sometimes they say, would you consider doing something like this? Is this something that you would be of interest? And sometimes we say, yeah, we would love to do that.
And sometimes we say no. And so I think they had been chomping at the bit since they’d seen our office. [00:14:00] To redesign it. I think they would send every once in a while ideas and we would say, we do not have time to think about this. Come back later. Come
Eric: back later. Here’s your, here’s your retainer.
Don’t bother me.
Emily: Right? And then finally when the pandemic hit, our lease was coming to a close. And so we had to make some big decisions. Were we going to move to a totally different office space? Were we going to redo the space we had? So they just started sending ideas and. And so we weren’t initially working with them.
We were working with our builder and we were working with our building who had their own design team and things. But they started sending ideas that were so clearly tied to their deep knowledge of us, rather than sort of an architect coming in and saying, okay, what do you need? Right? So they were starting from knowing us.
And knowing our values and knowing what our goals were from both a communication standpoint, but also an organizational
Eric: standpoint. So [00:15:00] Francis p pick up the story. We, we’ve both been to the Spencer offices, they’re foundation offices in a highrise in the center of a city. Y you could close your eyes, open them up, and you could be in like one of.
A million foundations. If there were a million foundations, they all basically look the same. What was, and, and the way I understand it, you went and you were a little bit, well, you know, horrified that, that the space was space wasn’t, wasn’t taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to, can you, can you pick up the story there?
Francis: I mean, I actually, Spencer’s probably the first foundation I’d I’d ever been to, so I, I’m, I, I wasn’t really sure what to, what to expect, but I, it, it did strike me immediately how compartmentalized the, the building building was. And I, I think that was fundamental. So You know, for as an architect, I kept wondering why the, the, the core of the building, you know, which was the heart of the, of, of, of, of where everyone was circulating was, was never used.
It was, it was closed off. And so there was this [00:16:00] sort of giant loop around the outside of the building that people were using on a, on a daily basis. And I, I sort of almost imagined that people could walk around this building in the same direction and never, never bump into each other in a week. And so I, you know, as an architect, it always, it always troubled me from, from, from the start that it was, you know, the, the building was, was so badly used, but I think it was, it was just the opportunity.
I, you know, I think that, You, you said something earlier there, Eric, about, you know you know, what branding is and, and ultimately, ultimately branding is about willingness to connect or willingness to, to participate or willingness to, to share. And, and so I think that for us, the opportunity clearly at, with the building as an extension was to, to try to create spaces that allowed people to.
To connect, to interact, to share in, in, you know, in much more meaningful ways. And that was structural in terms of the way the building was actually zoned and laid out. But it was also it was also to do with the, the way that the [00:17:00] spaces were designed, the way that they were, you know, thought through in terms of flexibility, you know, flexibility, flex flexible workspaces is a, is a pretty old, you know, notion, but, Not often used news used well in practice, and it seemed to me that it seemed very clear to me that flexibility was what was, what was required here is just creating spaces that allowed Spencer to.
To do all the things that they wanted to do without, without having to rent spaces around the corner for, for meetings or to, to go to a restaurant around the corner if you wanted to host a, a private dinner. And so it’s, it was an obvious extension to me to just make that space work harder for the, for the client.
Eric: Well, the pandemic has taught us that more or less people don’t wanna go to the office. They don’t wanna commute. They don’t want to have to listen to somebody else’s conversation in the next cube. They just don’t wanna go to the office unless they need to go to the office. And Emily, you talked about some.
When, [00:18:00] when we were talking about this, you talked about some principles that you wanted to establish for, okay, in the after times. Now what’s the point of going to an office? And I know a lot of organizations, I know one organization that requires people to go into the office three times per quarter, and it doesn’t matter when, which seems to me.
Kind of arbitrary and therefore, what’s the point of that? You, so I, I’d like to hear from you, Emily, about like, what were the, what were the principles that you would try to establish about what the purpose of an office was and what were you going to do about that? Right. So I
Emily: think, you know, we started this project, I’m trying to knock down the exact timeline, but I, it was very soon after we went to remote work.
I mean, it was not long after, cuz I can can kind of picture having all of these conversations before I’d even set up a workspace at home really in various locations in my home. And it was pretty clear that we were likely going towards a [00:19:00] different kind of work. But certainly not clear what. What type, and we were getting work done when we were not at the office.
In fact, we were remaining very productive. And so, especially for an organization that spends a lot of time reading grants and doing Some solo work. There was a question of are we going to even need an office and, and what would that look like? But it was also becoming really clear at that, at that time, that there was something missing in this remote workspace and that for all of the benefits of not going into the office, there was also.
Something lost in the collaborative nature and communications, and so we knew that we wanted to maintain some of that and also recognize this new. Era of flexibility. And so where we went with that was starting to think, well, how, how are we going to want to work together when we’re in the office? So if we’re in the office, let’s make it [00:20:00] worthwhile to be in the office.
And I really remember Francis pushing that too and saying, okay, if, if you’re gonna be here, why are you going to be here? Because. The way our office had been set up in prior times, you could easily come to the office and never run in to half of the other people in the office because of the way that it, that it was set up and there was this large cubicle that was only slightly filled with people that cut off the program staff from the executive team.
And there just weren’t that many natural touchpoints. We had a boardroom, but the boardroom was very formal and, and so you, you didn’t really have meetings there. And so then people ended up meeting in there. Offices when they did have meetings and there wasn’t really any reason. If you’re just gonna have a one-on-one meeting in your office, why not have it over Zoom?
And so right from the beginning we said, if we’re going to have people in. On the days that they come in, we’re going to make it a very collaborative space and we’re gonna have many more, both formal and informal spots to meet and to talk, [00:21:00] and places where sort of serendipitous conversation can happen, but also places where people can be.
Working together and thinking together and learning together in a more formal meeting, meeting setting. And so right from the beginning, the design was meant to support. To support
Eric: that kind of work. Well, we’re, we’re gonna, we’re gonna pick that up in just a second. We’re going to take a very, very quick break.
We’ll be back with Emily Krone Phillips and Francis Court to talk more about this Ben Foundation and how it is making space work in the after times. You’re listening to, let’s Hear It, a podcast about foundation and nonprofit communications hosted by Kirk Brown and Eric Brown. Let’s hear. It is sponsored by the Communications Network, which connects, gathers, and informs the field of leaders working in communications for good, because foundations and nonprofits that communicate well are stronger, smarter, and vastly more effective.
You can find, let’s hear it online at, let’s [00:22:00] email@example.com or on Twitter at Let’s Hear at Cast. Thanks for listening. And now back to the show. And we are back with Emily Kron Phillips of the Spencer Foundation and Francis Court of Wonders sphere, the, I don’t know, the partners from heaven on, on space and communications and design.
I, I’m so fascinated by this notion that you use a space, you basically, you go in to do things that you need to do together, and you do them in ways that are really productive. And this is something that has. Been a requirement forever, and it all, it seems that we don’t understand how to, how to design for that.
So, Francis, can you talk a little bit about how, how you took this opportunity. One of course that you foisted it upon your client, God bless you and ran with it, and how you’re. Thinking about how we work, because I think that most spaces are, are ill designed [00:23:00] for the task. People just don’t like their offices.
They don’t like how they work and where they work. I have a quick story of a foundation that I know that has two stories on the top floors, the program staff, and on the on the bottom floor is all what they call the, you know, the admin and support people. It is literally a manor house. That also sends a signal.
Can you talk about how, how you approached this idea and frankly what it means for the future of work? That, just a small topic like that?
Francis: Sure, sure. Easy, easy to cover. I think I’d, I’d, I’d, I’d step back and just, you know, Emily mentioned it earlier. I, I, I don’t remember that we were formally asked to, to be involved in this particular project, but as, as we, you know, we said we’ve worked with Spencer for a, for a long time and we’d like to, to think that, you know, we can add value by.
By being embedded in the organization. So, so we kept pestering to, to get involved with the, with, with the project. And [00:24:00] I, I think that actually the timing was pretty fortuitous in some ways because there were conversations about what to do with the facility and the fact that this happened very soon after Covid really.
Gave us a chance to do what I’d like to do with any brief normally, which is to really question, you know, what it, why are we, you know, we doing this? So this became much more, much more of a question about how we refurbish or redecorate an office, but rather to, to rethink about, you know, about the way that Spencer.
We’re going to work in future and how they were gonna be set up as a, as an organization going forward. And that was, that was, you know, almost a dream brief, right? Because being able to, you know, to take that on. And so, you know, I, I think that for us, the opportunity was was, was right. It was the right time and.
Understanding the organization, understanding that at their core it’s about facilitating communities, allowed us to, to think about lots of different ways to do that within the space. [00:25:00] So, you know, the main arrival was, was dedicated to you know, an info asis this marriage of information and oasis. So previously a space that.
Everyone avoided that no one went to was turned inside out and became really the heart of the, of the building. It’s where the story was told, it’s where the history was told, where the, the most current work was showcased and where we, we created a series of zones where people actually wanted to maybe stay and sit down and read.
And I can remember the skepticism when it was a. A pretty unpleasant place. I remember the skepticism about whether people would want to sit there and, and maybe they don’t, but, but I think the idea was right in terms of rethinking about making that zone, which is the, the intersection, it’s the crossroads between all of the different parts of the building work much harder to, to tell the story and to bring people together in a, in a, in a natural way based on their sort of daily circulation through, through the building.
Eric: Oasis, I don’t know. We’ll, we’ll just have [00:26:00] to, we’re gonna try that one out for a, about a bit, but that’s okay. We’re gonna give you a, a whole pass on that one. So what’s, so I, I agree. You, most of the time you walk into the foundation, there’s the, the, the portrait of the founder on the wall in a quote, and which I, I believe is what we had at Spencer.
And it’s what we have many foundations. And maybe a picture or two. And that’s usually about it. But, but now it is a, you’re right. You come in and you have, you get the story, not just about the foundation and how fabulous you are, but about the work that you do and why it matters. And it is just an extension of your communications anyway, which I think is, it’s such an opportunity.
People come into your place and you wanna tell them a story, and we often just sort of hand them the. You know, a six month old copy of the nonprofit times, you know, sitting on a table.
Emily: Right. And you know, one of the things that when I started at, at Spencer, we had a new president, [00:27:00] Nair coming from Berkeley.
And she really had, as a goal, very clear equity goals around creating more community, bringing new. People into the foundation and I, I think when I first got here, one of the things that people said were Spencer’s really bougie, you know, it was, I had this like it’s very hard to get a Spencer Grant.
It’s very competitive. And so there was this feeling that Spencer’s for some people and not. For others. And Nayla was very determined to break down that feeling and, and, and feeling like there are good ideas everywhere, not just in five universities. And we’re going to bring the best ideas from all corners and bring people together and bring people in to our space.
And one of the things that the infos. Has done, although I do not, I have to admit, call it the infos,
Eric: just around Francis,
Francis: it’s a conceptual idea, right? It, it never, [00:28:00] it never made it through to, to, there’s no signage that says infos.
Eric: Welcome to the infos. I had to not
Emily: hand me your brain if I wanted it to be, and I had to not say invoices in front of Nala, but don’t tell
Emily: but people now who, who come to our office, they take pictures in the invoices and post them and tweet them out because we have pictures of. All of our fellows. And so people will see their friends on the wall and take a picture of it, oh, you’re on the Spencer wall. Or take pictures of themselves in front of some of these giant letters that we have talking about our values around.
Equity and collaboration. And, and you know, to have grantees or people who aren’t grantees but would like to be taking pictures of themselves and tweeting it out because they’re proud to be in the Spencer office and it speaks to them, you know, what more could you want as a communications tool because
Eric: you only come in so certain number of days a week.
That doesn’t mean that the space goes unused the rest of the time. Can you talk about how you designed [00:29:00] for making this a place that other people could use?
Francis: I, I think so. I mean, I, I think that one of the key roles through every stage of design is to is to deliver, you know, value for the, for, for the clients.
And, and I, I imagine that at one point that if Spencer didn’t want to, you know, adopt some of the, the suggestions that we are making, that we’d have to go back and say, well, maybe we should think about renting this space out and equipping it so that you can, you know, make it work in other ways. So, I think we were always focused on, on trying to, to make those spaces work hard, you know, at least five days a week or, or, or possibly more.
And I, I think having those spaces as flexible, having spaces that could be easily reconfigured, that could, could accommodate. Any num in fact, anything Spencer wanted to do within reason other than host a r a, but you know, it was, was really just about trying to, to make that facility work for the client in the hardest [00:30:00] possible
So, how people, how are people using your space, Emily?
Emily: Previously, we’ve always said that one of Spencer’s superpowers is their power to convene. But actually we did not really have a space to convene previously. So while we said that we would also have to rent out space if we wanted to bring in more than 10 or 15 people into our offices, and so.
In the area that was at one point the cubicle maze from
Eric: Right. Happy people do happy things right. With headsets on
Emily: was all of those desks were removed and put on the outside, near the windows, and now that middle space is a space that can accommodate up to about 70 people. Many of our. Initiatives probably the the largest initiative that we have launched in a very long time.
Our new transformative grant program is contingent on having. Groups in our office where we can bring together policy makers, practitioners, [00:31:00] scholars to come and wrestle and have discussions about how to transform education among groups who rarely talk to each other and probably wouldn’t come together, if not for Spencer’s ability to, to bring many different groups together.
And so that has become a really key part of our strategy moving forward. And. We really wouldn’t be able to execute that, and we didn’t even know for sure that we were going to have such a formal strategy to be bringing people in regularly. We just knew at the time we wanted to be able to convene people.
We were starting to convene people more. It would be nice to have a space, but now very much, it’s actually part of our formal strategy moving forward to have people in our office quite regularly sometimes. One or two different groups a week. And so that just wouldn’t have been possible
Well, I think that maybe everybody listening to this podcast works at an organization that is reconsidering where it’s going to be. [00:32:00] Many of them are moving, they’re downsizing because they just don’t need as much space as they used to have. So they’re thinking about new spaces or maybe reconfiguring how they are using the space that they have, and they’re thinking about when do we come into the office and what do we use that office time for?
Can you just talk a little bit about how you now use your time together and what, what the purposes are and why that matters and how that helps you build you as an organization? Sure.
Emily: So we now have two mandatory days in the office. We’re all together. Everybody comes in. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we all try to, as much as possible, plan our travel around those days.
And try to be very consistent about saying that we are prioritizing being in the office on those days together. And so when we’re together, we schedule all of our regular meetings that involve. The full staff or ongoing working groups for those days, and a large [00:33:00] percentage of our time when we’re in the office together is spent collaboratively and then we do our meetings that are more private, our one-on-one meetings, things that you know are maybe where you wanna have a more private conversation or, or whatever.
We do those on the other days of the week. We’re just in incredibly. Committed to being there on certain days, but also being together. Yeah,
Eric: on those days. That makes a lot of sense. And again, it’s the sort of thing you wanna be, you wanna wanna be there instead of have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the office.
And if you can. Be in a space that makes it useful and helpful and helps you be creative when you’re together, then you wanna go, I mean, right. And that’s a theory anyway. Right,
Emily: right. And one of the things I didn’t mention is our coffee space also, and sort of our, our shared space, which used to be far afield and now is in, in really in the center of the office.
Eric: Oh, that’s a great idea because usually the coffee room is the kind [00:34:00] of the cruddy room at the end of the thing. And you, you know what? You go there, you get the coffee and you get the heck out, and that’s where everybody throws all their lunch. But it’s, it’s like a, it’s be kind of fun to turn your office into a bit of a coffee house.
In just in the few minutes we have remaining, Francis, I just wanted to get your. I guess since you were so, did such a great job of encouraging your client to think about things in new ways, there are a lot of folks, as I said out there who are thinking about new space or configuring the space that they have.
What suggestions do you have for them? What kind of questions do you think they should be asking and and how do you think they should start addressing the new way of work?
Francis: Well, yeah, it’s, that’s a, I mean, a great question. I, I, at my, at, at heart, I fundamentally but believe that the, you know, the best collaborative work happens, you know, face-to-face.
That’s something we believe as a, as a small creative agency, I know, you know, every day because of our size, I’m [00:35:00] reminded of the, you know, the, the strength of us as a collective as opposed to, to individuals and, and, and being much more than the, more than the sum of the parts. So, so, Fundamentally, I think working together in spaces is about collaboration and that, that, that is the, the core purpose of them going forwards, whether that’s, you know, to, to build camaraderieship or whether that’s to actually deliver great work.
I don’t think there’s a substitute to that. I think technology is great, but it always, you know, there’s always a barrier there. That’s, you know, the things that are said off call are often. Times more important than what’s said on the call. So I think it’s about understanding really why you would require space, and that’s specific to each organization.
For us, we need to be in the, in the studio five days a week, and we are, we all sit at one big table and it’s, that’s, that’s what works for us. For Spencer, I think we, you know, we’ve hit on a, on a formula that reflects who they are as an organization. It. Works for them. It adds new value to the way that they go about [00:36:00] their, their daily tasks.
And so I think it’s, it’s about being clear on that from the start and once that’s clear, the function of the office or, or what that function can do or what the possibilities of, of of an office might be. If you rethink it completely, then I, then I think that’s the starting point. I think beyond that, obviously design pays a very important part, particularly with foundations.
We, we spoke about what branding means, but, but certainly for foundations that are, that don’t necessarily have products as it were, that are much more focused on the service that they offer, actually the brand is about your relationships with the, with the people within that organization and so, The tools available in terms of putting across that brand are really a website, one-on-one interactions, I staff training, and then your, your facility.
And so it’s not gonna go away. This, it’s a powerful tool. It’s a powerful way of building brands and I think it’s perhaps sometimes overlooked not just in foundations, but. By the way, I think a lot of people underestimate [00:37:00] the ability of, of spaces to change the way you feel about something. So I, I, I think it’s important, but I think being clear on the purpose is of the space and, and hitting on something that resonates with the, the purpose of the organization is, is ab absolutely fundamental.
Eric: could not agree with you more. We all wanna be comfortable in our space, and if you have people working, whatever, 30, 40 something hours a week, they need to be comfortable in those spaces, whether it’s at home or whether it’s in collaboration. And as an extrovert, it does help to have people in the room ants.
And we’re not in the room right now, but we sort of are. I just deeply appreciate what you’ve done, how you’ve talked about it, the work that you do. This is the match made in heaven. Emily Kron, Phillips and Francis Court, thank you so much for talking about
Emily: your work. Thanks, Eric. Thanks Francis. What an
Francis: absolute pleasure.
Thank you so much.
Kirk: And we’re back. So, so as we get started, I just wanna say again, hi Marks to [00:38:00] my colleague, co-host of the who does all the work, Mr. Brown, the other, Mr. Brown. That was a fantastic conversation and I loved how you got Emily and Francis talking about this work and can I start, there’s so much in the.
Deep detail of what happened here way before you get to the redesign. And can I just make a pitch that one part of what’s happening here is Emily’s willingness to listen to Francis when Francis says, Hey, and bet us on your team so we can go deeper with you, get to know you better. So that we can come to you with better ideas.
I actually thought that was a really interesting subtext for this whole project, and it just kind of flashed by very early on. But I definitely heard that loud and clear that Emily’s desire and interest in having a deep and collaborative relationship with Francis from the get-go that started on the website becomes the fodder for what turns into this incredible office redesign.
Eric: know, we could almost turn this. [00:39:00] Episode into a story about how to be a good consultant and how to be a good client. Yes. We, we see this all the time in the, in the field. So every so often I’ll have, have a client. It’s like, I’m not being a very good client, am I? Because for whatever reason, our organization is institutionally blocked or we can’t make decisions, or we’re not open to things or whatever.
Or, and sometimes, like, I’m not being a very good consultant because I’m not listening carefully enough, or because I’m in, in, you know, Trying to foist my evil and highly subjective ideas about what’s right onto an unsuspecting client that deserves better. So, you know, we both see these things all the time, and I, I think that, that the parallel that story that’s happening here is that Francis is incredibly kind of, Gracious and thoughtful, and he listens and he’s, he just understands the, the environment in which he’s working.
And Emily, of course, is open and creative and thoughtful and willing to take risks. And of course she works at an [00:40:00] organization that allows her to take risks. So, you know, huge props to Naela and the rest of leadership at the Spencer Foundation to literally be. Willing to tear down their space because your consultant says, you know, I think we can help you work better.
This is also a story for sure. About how do we work in the after times, and we can get to that later as well. But I don’t think there is a single person with the sound of my voice, and I think I might have said this during the conversation, who isn’t thinking about how do we work in the after times and how does our space work and should we move or should we get a new thing, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
So all of these things are really, really important and I think that’s what the fun part of this business can be Sometimes.
Kirk: Another part of this is Emily’s background coming to the Spencer Foundation. She’s the relatively speaking, still new communications director there, but brings to that this, again, really interesting.
Set of prior work. So she’s done communications director work [00:41:00] before for the Uni University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. But before that was a reporter, and I always love to see that link between the reporter and then the communications director platform, but clearly brings this spirit of inquiry.
And openness and wanting to receive innovative ideas. And so lo and behold, she reads a website project and what win wins her over for ones earth, sweater, sphere, they put a set of questions in front of her and sell her on the power of questions. And again, I thought that was just such a beautiful little glimpse into what looked to be like a really artful marriage between these two partners.
But also the, the OneSphere part of that, their, their strategic sensibility in terms of how to build that relationship. I love hearing about these winning client partner relationships. They’re so cool to hear about. And
Eric: if you go to the Spencer website, you’ll see that it’s framed around the questions that they have around education and research and how do you use these things in, in partnership And for most [00:42:00] foundations.
For foundations, and I love foundations, I. You know, I used to work at one. They like to have the answers to, to be willing to frame questions, seems to be a little different and kind of brave and all that kind of stuff. And Spencer is more than willing to understand and to share that we don’t have all the answers.
What we want to do are to ask better questions because in research. I mean, that’s what your research is always framed around is a central, some kind of question, maybe aligned with a hypothesis, but not an understanding that you have the answers. I think we all would do well to do, ask more questions and provide fewer answers.
Kirk: So you’ve worked in a major foundation, which day is worse? The day someone comes into your office and says, Hey, let’s redesign the website, or the day that someone comes into your office and says, let’s redesign our physical office, and I would actually like you to lead that project, which of those cha, which of those projects is more [00:43:00] challenging?
Eric: Whichever one happens on whichever one happens on Monday. That’s worse. I, well, they’re both very hard projects to do. Website redesigns, of course, everybody knows, are really challenging because you’re trying to come up with all of the wisdom in the universe and put it into one little place and you have all sorts of things that you have many, many business requirements.
A lot of folks all wanna see their hopes and dreams landing in that website. Now, space is the hardest thing of them all because you’re where people sit. Is coin of the realm. Now mind you, these days people don’t sit, they don’t go. But the other question is, and as as a person who runs a organization in which there is no, there is no actual physical office space that people come together, you understand this as well as anybody, Kirk, but that distance can be a challenge and bringing people together to be creative and to.
Use base to engage with each other is a big deal and everybody’s thinking about it. But I [00:44:00] think right now, I think there’s a, there’s notice this notion that the important people go to offices, that they can close the door. The less important people have to sit in some bullpen where they have to listen to each other order, you know, take out, and the other people, you know, have to come in because they ha they, their work is physically attached to the place itself, like they have.
You know, they have to do things in the, in the space. Those, I, I think that’s starting to change, needless to say, but the real question is, and I, and I I might have mentioned this as well, I’ve, I’ve been seeing a lot of organizations that have some kind of fairly, you know, non-specific, you have to come in.
Three times a quarter or once a week, someone arbitrarily. It’s totally arbitrary. And so what’s the business purpose there? What’s other than it feels, can feel a little bit, I don’t know, punitive or something. Anyway, I guess my point is this, is that if you can come up with a really good, you know, like use your time, [00:45:00] use every.
Second of the day specifically. And so if you don’t need to be there, don’t be there. If you do need to be there, let’s make it cool and fun and engaging and creative and do it like that. And then foundations all wanna be a hub for something, for their grantees, for their community, for their whatever. And if you can na, use your space to do that too.
That’s a real gift that you can give because not everybody can afford a nice space and you can provide. You know, amenities and things. So you can cater for them. You can make, just make it easy for your grantees or for other community organizations to be creative and engage. And the fact that you’re there and you’re proximate to it can have some kind of effect.
So I think that’s what we’re all thinking about is how do you reimagine that? And Francis, as an architect, Said, okay, let’s, let’s attach that and let’s do it in the context of a foundation that has a mission, that has stories to tell, that has people who they want to connect with these organizations. And so [00:46:00] when you walk in Spencer, you see the stories, you hear the mi, you see the mission, you see the messaging.
You kind of get a sense of what this place is. And most foundations. Basically have a portrait of their founder and maybe a quote on the wall, and that’s as good as you get.
Kirk: Well, it’s funny, you know, that past that background as an architect that Francis brings to this project in in, in the work at OneSphere, I.
Certainly that sensibility around the user experience is deeply embedded in his thought process. You know, what is the user gonna experience here? And you know, as we talk about this wonders sphere.com, they’ve got this project spotlighted, it was one of their case studies. It’s under the Spencer office refurbishment page on their site.
And it’s such a reminder that we are always, always, always communicating. We are never not communicating. Right. And, and as as somebody on this, on this podcast has Sagely pointed out to me from time to time who, if, if they’re not hearing it, it’s, it’s cuz we’re saying it wrong. Right? Right. If they’re not hearing it, it’s [00:47:00] not them, it’s us.
Eric: audience’s fault. If they go uncommunicated with that is, and the
Kirk: notion for the second you walk into the office, you start receiving this. Conversation that’s rooted in purpose about what this foundation is about. Its values and its invitation to you to find your place in it is such an artful and thoughtful way to think about how to use that physical space to start conveying and communicating from the second you walk through the elevator door.
And I love that little s snippet you guys discussed about people coming in and. Having opportunities to take pictures of themselves once they’re in the space, because it’s cool to be at the Spencer Foundation. And it’s actually true. It’s really cool when you’re a grantee and you’re walking through those doors.
Doesn’t matter if you’re gonna get a grant or not, the fact that you’re even part of the conversation for these organizations that are doing such seminal work that’s really valuable and it should be acknowledged and and in fact, rewarded for that grantee that they even have [00:48:00] the cache to be part of the conversation and it really feels like.
Francis brought that sensibility all through. It’s in the through line of everything that you see about this project when you see it on the Weere website.
Eric: Yeah, that’s true. And the other thing is that, again, this goes back to what is the tone that a foundation shares with its partners, whoever they are, whether they’re grantees or co-founders or oth or others, what, how do they interact with their various constituents?
Do they do it with a sense of. Wanting to learn with an openness or they do it with a, with other ideas in mind. And Francis was really clear and even afterwards he said to me like, the fact that Spencer was so open and willing to have this conversation and willing to listen to my ideas and you know, brave enough in a sense to change the way they do things.
That was, that was really important. It was essential. And I think that that’s exactly true. That here’s a foundation that really [00:49:00] gets what it’s like to be a partner and what it’s like to learn, and that’s. Something new. I, I, again, I think that we all can learn from that process, from this thing that they’ve gone through because everyone is trying to reinvent what it’s like to work in the after times, and that’s huge.
We don’t know. We like, we just, there’s so little evidence yet we all know that everyone. Hates everything about everything like that. I don’t wanna go in, I don’t wanna stay home, I wanna stay home, but I wanna be able to engage, but I wanna engage what I wanna do in all my time. Oh yeah. Yeah. How do you figure that out?
I don’t know, but I think that they’re giving it the old college try giving that they do a lot of higher education work and that’s, that’s really exciting.
Kirk: Well, and it’s clear that the physical way the space has been recast is gonna slowly but surely it’s gonna be interesting, you know, what came first, what came second?
Cuz it’s gonna rewire brains to just be in this new space. Right? And, and, and, and even that conversation about what it [00:50:00] used to be, it was a giant loop basically going, wrapping around the outside of the building. You could come in and go out and never cross paths with another coffee. And, and by the way, that description.
Describes so many, it char it could characterize so many different foundation offices that I’ve walked into over the years. And, and the other thing by the way, that I think often gets conveyed and, and I don’t think intentionally in major foundation setups, it’s not an invitation to be part of this process, but it’s almost a statement saying, you don’t belong here.
You don’t walk, walk, walk. Welcome to the castle, but you actually don’t belong here. And I really loved. Emily’s comment that, you know, the Spencer Foundation was working with this notion that there are good ideas everywhere. Spencer does this evidence-based work around education and there are good ideas everywhere.
It’s not just from five major universities, and we need to have a space that reflects that invitation to come and be part of our. Process and then also be flexible and be e easy to reconfigure. But that thread you were on, Eric, about, you know, who’s gonna figure out in the af I love how you’re talking [00:51:00] about this the after times, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s BC in, in, in AC right before Covid and after Covid.
Right. But, but you know, so, so this notion of whatever you’re gonna say about how to use that physical space, It should be rooted in clear principles. And I thought that was also a really cool part of this. Again, it’s, we’re always communicating, our communication always relates to purpose. And so we’re thinking about how to physically bring people together, which, so as somebody who runs a virtual agency, and I’ve got folks all over the country and we actually wrestle with, we have our own challenges around how to foster collaboration.
Like I loved Francis saying, we have to be together. We have to do that brainstorm around. A physical table to make it work best for them. For us, we do it virtually. And by the way, Francis big idea. Come up with the cool better way to enable for virtual collaboration. You know, cuz Erica, like what you and I are doing right now is best, best in class, right?
You have a couple of small little windows, you know, you’re staring at each other, you know, virtually we are
Eric: the best in class Kirk, but
Kirk: we are the [00:52:00] best at class. Wait, but see people. See people wrestle with this notion of how to bring people together, how to have that come back to the office, what are the principles behind that?
And then try to create a very intentional space that that supports that and actually makes that a real invitation. Cuz I will say, and this is why I hope people go to the Wonders for Website to check out this project, this space is physically beautiful. It’s you walk, you can tell, you walk into it and there’s an invitation to go, come in and come, come, go further.
And I love that upside down thing there. It’s, the foundation isn’t sitting there saying, you don’t belong here. But the foundation is saying, come in, join us, and actually be, join us on this journey to answer these key questions. I just, it’s a beautiful way to think about the role of foundation.
Eric: And I have to tell you, I was there before they did the transformation and it was like every other foundation in a high-rise building with a central core.
Where all the heating and the duct work goes. I mean, those buildings have been designed, they’re the same everywhere. You know, they circulate around that central core. And it’s [00:53:00] true. You could go around in a circle and not, you could not run into people. It’s, it’s like you’ve seen that a million times and now it’s beautiful and it works and it’s, it’s functional and it serves a purpose and it serves the community.
And they didn’t have to move out of this basically standard. Office building. In order to do that, they had to change the way they think and they had to change the way they operate in space Now for folks who are starting and moving into new spaces, well now the sky’s the limit. You can really, really do stuff.
So they did the best they could with they did great things with the standard issue architecture for those folks who are moving into lofts and building a space and all that other stuff. Who, boy, oh boy. You, you, I’m, I’m. I’m excited for you cuz you can really do something wonderful with that. Well, and I
Kirk: do hope we hear more from this as this goes on.
So I hope Emily reports back to you, Eric, about how this is working and serving the Spencer Foundation as they move forward. I’d love to hear from [00:54:00] Wonders Sphere in Francis if they do other audacious projects like this. And and again, I just love, there’s a certain kind of audacity, but also in deep integrity.
And the working relationship between these two entities, you know, the Spencer Foundation at OneSphere, that they can collaborate this way, this nimbly across this range of topics, and obviously Emily and Francis are crucial to that. It’s clear they have the ability, the capacity as individuals to work together, but it’s also clear that the Spencer Foundation is providing a place where someone like an Emily.
Can actually take some risks, try some things out, and, and, and lo and behold, get some things done. Emily delivered a website on time and on budget, and then turned around and led, you know, helped, helped Reenvision the physical office. That sounds like it did something similar. That, that, that’s gold medal stuff from where I’m sitting.
That’s, that’s pretty
Eric: impressive. That’s not nothing. Well, you know, there’s this, this concept in improv. If this is true, then what else might be true? And so like, you know, that’s a guy who, for [00:55:00] example, he hates the color purple. Then you’d, you play with that? It’s like, okay, what other colors doesn’t he like?
And you can have some fun. But this, it’s true in this instance where at if, if a, a partnership can work, what else can we learn from it? And if a foundation can be creative, how else can they be creative? So they may be creative with their space here, but it also means that they might be able to. Be creative with their grant making or how do you engage grantees together, or how do you use that space in a new way that you hadn’t thought of?
And I would say that those are the sorts of things that, this isn’t just an episode about space, it’s an episode about how do you be creative in using communications in forms that you hadn’t thought of before. So it actually is sort of, kind of, An episode about communications, even though
Kirk: you wouldn’t think so.
It, it absolutely is. Well, that was terrific. So that’s e Krone Phillips and Francis Court. Emily Kron Phillips from the Spencer Foundation, Francis from OneSphere. Please go check out the OneSphere Project Brief about this In Office Less Ordinary, where they [00:56:00] help transform the headquarters of the Spencer Foundation into an open space that tells its story.
This is absolutely about communications. And Eric, that was awesome. Thank you for doing that. That
Eric: was fun. See you next time.
Kirk: Okay everybody. That’s it for this episode. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about what you heard today or people we should have on this show. And that definitely includes yourself.
And we’d like to thank John Ali, the tuneful and inspiring composer of our theme music. Our
Eric: sponsors, the Communications Network and the Lumina Foundation, and please
Kirk: check out Lumina’s terrific podcast, today’s students tomorrow’s talent, and you can find firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric: Certainly thank today’s guest, and of course, all of you, and
Kirk: most importantly, thank you, Mr.
Brown. Oh, no,
Eric: no, no, no. Thank you, Mr. Brown.
Kirk: Okay, everybody, till next time,
Eric: let’s hear it.[00:57:00]