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Thursday, March 28, 2019
/ By:
Liz Miles

Two years ago, I channeled my inner Joan Didion, said “Goodbye to All That”, and accepted a four-month assignment “Down Under” after seven years of NYC living. Once it became clear that those four months were actually going to be more like 12, I decided to really say “Goodbye to All That” and gave up my home in NYC - “home” being a lease along with the majority of my furniture. At the time, the thought of starting from scratch if (when?) I returned seemed daunting.

During those 12 months, home looked like the Sydney Opera House, sounded like exotic tropical birds, tasted like flat whites, smelled of saltwater, and felt isolating. It was an experience filled with high highs and low lows, and it challenged me in the most unexpected and remarkable ways. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, but also provided clarity that I wasn’t quite ready to really say “Goodbye to All That” (sorry, Joan).

A year ago, I said “Hello Again to All That” and moved back to NYC. The starting from scratch part that seemed daunting? It was a wonderful, and uncommon, opportunity to discover the true meaning of “home,” which became really clear as I sat on the floor of my apartment, eating Mexican takeout, looking over at my mattress, my bike, the stacked boxes of clothes and books, and a couple sentimental kitchen pieces from Mom. Home isn’t your belongings, a geographic location, smell, taste or sound. Home is a feeling, and for me, it feels stimulating, dynamic and inclusive.

Little did I know, all this was the perfect preparation for my next assignment - the opportunity to lead the creation of a real “home” for the headquarters of the International WELL Building Institute. After camping out in Class B office space for more than a year and growing four times our size since inception, it was time for us to move on. Especially as the leader in the movement to transform spaces in ways that help people thrive, we were more than overdue to “walk the talk.” So, I took what I learned from my own experience and applied it at scale. But this time, I had 42 officemates to consider, and they all happen to be experts in public health or architectural design and are generally passionate (and opinionated) about our space. Challenge accepted.

Some needs were obvious, like pursuing WELL Certification and adding more rooms for meeting space, but there were a few things that caught us by surprise when we asked the staff, “What do you need to feel happy, healthy and productive?” The responses centered around some key themes:

  • Quiet spaces for focus and design to promote productivity

  • Acoustic privacy for collaborative spaces

  • Self-expression

  • Dynamic sit-stand workspaces

  • Thoughtful lighting design and access to natural light

  • Adequate break and quiet areas to unwind

  • Pet-friendly office culture

  • Tools for collaboration and inclusion of remote employees

Then we got to work. All 43 team members, including the executive team, landlord, architect, designer and workplace consultant collaborated to reach some key decisions that were grounded in our values:

  • Making all desks sit/stand

  • Dedicating all enclosed spaces to collaboration (no private offices)

  • Dropping free address to allow for “individual desk expression”

  • Welcoming our furry friends, Sage, Hugo and Ralph

  • Establishing the best part of the office - the corner overlooking Madison Square Park, flooded with natural light reflecting off our landmarked gold-trimmed windows - as our community lounge

It’s been four months since move-in, and as we get comfy in 2019 and cozy in our new space, it’s really starting to feel like home - both lively and peaceful, individualistic but collaborative. Our home helps keep us well, nudges us to make healthier choices, and is ultimately defined by the collection of unique individuals that make up our organization, regardless of where they work in the world.

Welcome “home” IWBI!

Following a year-long assignment in Australia to lead the regional expansion of WELL, facilitate the internationalization of the WELL Building Standard and establish local support, Liz has returned to New York City to work closely with leadership and internal teams to strengthen critical relationships and support a broad range of programmatic activities that are key to advancing the IWBI's mission: to improve human health and well-being in buildings and communities around the world.