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WOD Feature: Jane Clay, Gensler

Ahead of our up-coming Studio Tour with Gensler we speak with Strategy Director, Jane Clay.

WOD: Let’s start off with your background and how you became involved with the workspace sector…

JC: I think I was always destined to be in the field of design. From a young age, I would spend hours at the kitchen table drawing sections and floorplans of buildings and houses. Layouts, space, and flow just had to be right – it was an innate instinct, I think. And quite an obsession!

I have always been interested in understanding the “why” of things – the design thinking before the design itself is realised. I am an interior designer by trade, but I moved into Workplace Strategy fairly early in my career. My interest in the pure design side developed into a desire and curiosity to understand the psychology of the workplace, how the business related to the culture, and how culture and workstyle influenced how and why spaces needed to be designed in a particular way. What really fascinated me were those influencing factors behind the psychology of the design.

Spending time asking questions, listening to, and collaborating with clients is pure joy, especially when they are open to innovation and pushing some of their own boundaries. Ultimately, the strategy sets the foundation for design and architecture, so in a way, it becomes my grown-up version of that kitchen table.

WOD: Tell us more about your current role…

JC: As Principal and Strategy Director at Gensler, I am responsible for developing new business, overseeing our workplace strategy, developing innovative solutions for our clients, exploring new practices, evolving our services, and mentoring and coaching the next generation of talent. 

We are working in an exciting time in the world of Strategy. The post-pandemic world offers a different way to look at workplace design with more opportunities for real-time experimentation. What people are looking for is different, future-focused, and more provocative in many ways. The Business-as-usual work still exists of course, but it’s less what Clients really want or need. We have really started to mix up the menu of services, adding new things to the mix, exploring, testing and finding new ways to bring value to our clients. This paves the way for innovation and a new freedom in the craft of strategy.

WOD: What are the key issues relevant to your client base at the moment?          

JC: We’re increasingly seeing that our clients are interested in the next generation and understanding how they want to work. Businesses are more frequently hiring from outside of their traditional industries as organisations evolve, particularly with the growth of AI. We have noticed a real point of change in workplace design with more and more clients thinking beyond the 5-year timeframe and looking 10 or 20 years ahead to ensure that their workplaces are future fit for new generations of workers. Gensler’s 2024 Global Workplace Survey, which features perspectives from 16,000 office workers, found that top performers have access to high-performing workplaces that offer a diverse range of work settings, and these are not only in the building but within the local community environment. Thus, a workplace is now very much a part of an ecosystem of spaces.  At Gensler, we collaborate with our clients to redesign their offices to create environments in which talent can thrive. We frequently work with developers to ensure that the building experience is right for future occupiers, and this always requires us to think ahead. 

WOD: Can you provide some examples of recent projects or initiatives you have worked on? And tell us what makes them stand out to you…

JC: Many of our clients are now asking the big question of whether they should stay or go ahead with their lease break. This reflects a growing confidence in the market post-pandemic, that it is safe to make some big decisions finally. We recently collaborated with Buro Happold on a stay/go strategy for their office.

Working through the process with them, they concluded that they had outgrown their space and needed to relocate. The strategy we developed included creating an optimum checklist for finding the next space, which, in the end, was the Featherstone Building in Shoreditch.

Following the strategy phase, Gensler’s design team worked with Buro Happold to design their new 35,000 sq. ft. home – a refreshed, sustainable space for clients and employees to collaborate. One of the key points about the project was the focus on sustainability and reusing existing furniture recycling where possible. This is very much the Buro Happold way. 

Another very positive shift is the refocus on Stage 0. The brief is the foundation for the design, whether architecture or interiors, and we are seeing more commitment to the strategy stages. A great strategy is the interpretation and translation of sometimes ambiguous and seemingly unconnected thoughts, needs, drivers, and values – meshed with the overarching project purpose.

To weave these together successfully and with true impact requires listening, questioning, provocation and above all, the right amount of time and effort. 

WOD: What are your thoughts about the role of women in our industry? Are there still barriers and ‘glass ceilings’? What changes are needed, if any, to support women in office design?

JC: There continues to be some barriers and glass ceilings in the industry, particularly in architecture and real estate, which still tend to be male-dominated. The design industry is improving but we still have some way to go when it comes to perception, so that design is seen to be on equal footing as architecture. It seems to me that design is still somehow seen as ‘less than’ the male-dominated field of architecture. 

To continue to seed change we need more women to be supported throughout their careers so that they can progress to senior leadership. The gender pay gap is closing, but women  are not quite there yet. At Gensler in the UK, we are very focused on closing that gap and are proud that over 50% of our staff are women, with a strong representation of women leaders, including four newly appointed Principals. 

Groups like WOD or WIN (Women in Innovation) are also incredible forums for sharing our knowledge and our experiences and finding the mentors we want!