Gensler is using a new software program to help optimize social distancing in the workplace for Houston companies returning to the office. Photo courtesy of Gensler

The COVID-19 pandemic has displaced many Houstonians from their office jobs to makeshift work-from-home setups. With coronavirus cases climbing in Houston, the obstacle of returning to work safely is undoubtedly on the minds of business owners across the city.

Thankfully, there's an algorithm for that. Gensler, a global architecture firm, has unveiled its ReRun program as a pandemic response tool to help offices create workspace layouts for safe social distancing.

ReRun allows Gensler to upload a floorplan into the program, which applies generative algorithms to determine safe separation between workplaces by creating circles ranging from six to eight-foot diameters. The tool can quickly generate scenarios and identify the most optimized capacity to meet social distancing demands, easing the role of operations and human resources.

"It's really just a tip of the spear in terms of occupancy planning, because once you know that information, then the next question is what do I do with that?" says Dean Strombom, strategy lead and principal at Gensler's Houston office.

"ReRun is the first tool we utilize to help [clients] determine how many people might be able to come back and still achieve the social distancing side. Then we work with them on how they should come back, whether it's a percentage of employees, staggered shift work or alternating days," Strombom says. Circulation patterns are also taken into account by the Gensler team, who analyze the traffic of hallways, meeting spaces and lounge areas.

Dean Strombom is the strategy lead and principal at Gensler's Houston office. Photo courtesy of Gensler

The international firm, with 50 offices around the world, has rolled out the ReRun tool to its database of clientele. The platform is also available to businesses outside of the firm's existing portfolio, who can use the tool by providing a simple CAD design of their workplace. ReRun is applied through the company's SaaS space management software, Wisp. Using occupancy planning, Wisp provides clients with color-coded floor plans to help visualize and communicate to their teams which seats are available or assigned for occupancy as employees phase back into the office.

The response has been positive among clientele. Strombom is currently applying Gensler's social distancing tool with a large financial services company with locations throughout the Houston area.

"We are loading the information from ReRun into the Wisp program, and then we'll be helping them determine how they will return to work, and specifically where people will sit," he shares. The company plans to come back with 20 percent of the workforce, increasing overtime with the help of Gensler's team. "Who comes back when and specifically where is what they're most excited about."

The company has determined four work modes employees exhibit: focus, collaboration, socialization, and learning. By categorizing the work modes, Gensler is looking ahead at how interior architecture can accommodate these phases.

"More recently, we've been talking about a need for regenerative spaces so that people can become more engaged in the workplace," says Strombom.

As described in a Gensler blog, isolation rooms were optioned as a way to contain an employee who begins to feel symptomatic but these rooms can also serve a different purpose for employees acclimating to a new normal.

"The isolation room is what we often call a wellness room in an office where people can get away from the general tensions that they may be feeling in a workplace where they can relax and reinvigorate themselves in a quiet space," says Strombom.

As the architecture industry adjusts to a post-pandemic world, Gensler is working with developer clients and building owners to share the near-term and long-term changes the company foresees. Strombom says clients have flexibility as a priority.

ReRun allows Gensler to upload a floorplan into the program, which applies generative algorithms to determine safe separation between workplaces by creating circles ranging from six to eight-foot diameters. Graphic courtesy of Gensler

"We have to think about the entire path or the entire entry sequence in office buildings that is true for residential as well. From the moment that you pull into the garage, what are all of those points along the way where you've got to be concerned about contact and cleanliness?" Strombom shares.

Strombom foresees new building systems coming to the forefront, for example air conditioners with a focus on keeping clean air circulation within the office building. He also predicts a need for flexible spaces that can change depending on the circumstances.

"You hear a lot about temperature readings and separations of people within building lobbies during pandemics. We need systems in place that you can rapidly deploy when something like this happens, but the majority of the time it can revert to a more normal circumstance," he says.

Tight spaces also require a new way of thinking.

"We've realized that the elevator cab is really one of the pinch points in office buildings if you're trying to maintain this social distancing," Strombom shares. "There's technology [out there] that can identify how many people are going to be entering a cab and restrict that occupancy. So that is something that's going to need to be done for the near term."

In a Gensler survey of its Houston office, 72 percent of respondents expect a maintained or increased level of virtual collaboration compared to these pre-COVID levels.

"As people have been semi-forced to work at home, they've realized that not only is it possible, but for some people it's the preferred way to work," says Strombom, who predicts virtual meetings will continue on.

While platforms like Zoom and Skype make meetings tenable, company employees are still anticipating a future in the office.

"Those of us that are now working from home, if you ask people the majority of respondents to the question of what they miss most, it's really the people," Strombom says.

From common space to desks and offices, ReRun can help enable social distancing in the workplace. Photo courtesy of Gensler

Memorial Park Conservancy's renovations include some projects that are rare or never been done before. Photo courtesy of MPC

These were Houston's top impact innovation stories this year

2019 IN REVIEW

When it comes to the impact that innovation has had on Houston, a number of things stand out for 2019. And, so many of these top stories from this past year are just beginning.

InnovationMap's most read articles in its impact category include new technologies for flood resiliency, The Ion's development, Memorial Park renovations, and more.

These Houston entrepreneurs and startups are searching for flooding solutions

From a water-absorbing tower to sensor-enabled rubber ducks, here are some flooding solution ideas coming out of Houston. Courtesy of Gensler's ByDesign

The feeling is all too familiar for Houstonians. Tropical Storm Imelda hit Houston with devastating flood waters just two years after Hurricane Harvey did its damage.

With any obstacle or challenge, there is room for innovation. Over the past year, InnovationMap has covered various flood tech startups in Houston. Here are six innovations that can make a difference the next time a storm decides to take its toll on Houston. Continue reading.

Memorial Park Conservancy plans to deliver its first project of its master plan redevelopment next year

Memorial Park Conservancy is gearing up to unveil one if its first projects within its 10-year master plan redevelopment. Photo courtesy of MPC

Memorial Park Conservancy has until 2028 to deliver on its master plan redevelopment project, but if MPC president and CEO Shellye Arnold has anything to say about it, the plan will be completed way ahead of that.

The project is a collaborative effort between MPC, Uptown Houston TIRZ, and Houston Parks and Recreation Department to redevelop the 1,500-acre park. In 2011, a major drought decimated the park and areas saw losses of 50 to even 90 percent of the canopy of trees.

"As tragic as it was, it made people take action," says Arnold.

Following the drought, these organizations looked to the people to see what was needed and wanted by the 3 million visitors and residents of the 170 ZIP codes that frequent the park annually.

"There was a huge outcry to do something," Arnold says. "That something became an effort to define the future of the park in a way that would be powerful, bold, thoughtful, innovative, and very resilient. It would consider Houstonians of the future and Houstonians today. It would consider soils, storm water treatment, the wildlife, and what people want." Continue reading.

Overheard: The Ion breaks ground in Midtown's former Sears building

The Rice Management Company has broken ground on the renovation of the historic Midtown Sears building, which will become The Ion. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The Ion — a to-be entrepreneurial hub for startups, universities, tech companies, and more — is, in a way, the lemonade created from the lemons dealt to the city by a snub from Amazon.

In 2018, Amazon narrowed its options for a second headquarters to 20 cities, and Houston didn't make the shortlist.

"That disappointment lead to a sense of urgency, commitment, and imagination and out of that has come something better than we ever could have imagined," David Leebron, president of Rice University, says to a crowd gathered for The Ion's groundbreaking on July 19.

However disappointing the snub from Amazon was, it was a wake-up call for so many of the Houston innovation ecosystem players. The Ion, which is being constructed within the bones of the historic Midtown Sears building, is a part of a new era for the city.

"Houston's on a new course to a new destination," says Mayor Sylvester Turner. Continue reading.

Third Ward community expresses concerns with The Ion project that's underway

The local community has raised some concerns about Rice Management Company's Ion project's effect on the Third Ward. Courtesy of Rice University

The city of Houston has been buzzing about Rice Management Company's Ion Innovation Hub — a 270,000-square-foot coworking and innovation hub project expected to deliver in 2021 — but there's one group isn't so thrilled with the plans: The Third Ward community.

In a public community meeting on November 12, community members gathered at the Wesley AME Church to plan a Community Benefits Agreement that would legally bind The Innovation District's development team and the Rice Management Company to move forward with the local residents' indicated best interests. According to the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement, a newly formed group to work on the CBA, it would be the first of its kind in Houston.

The coalition is supported by Third Ward is Home Civic Club, the Emancipation Economic Development Council, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats - Harris County, and the Houston Society for Change. Continue reading.

4 things you need to know from the Greater Houston Partnership's annual report as it pertains to innovation

downtown houston

The Greater Houston Partnership has the facts. Nick Bee/Pexels

Every year, the Greater Houston Partnership — the city's economic development arm — gathers up data and reports to paint a full picture of the Bayou City. In the past few editions, innovation has been a key component.

The GHP's innovation coverage spans three pages under the top industry and sectors category. From tech startup growth to money raised, here's what you need to know from the 2019 Houston Facts. Continue reading.

The Rice Alliance unveiled its new Gensler-designed, 3,000-square-foot office space. Photo courtesy of the Rice Alliance

Photos: Rice Alliance reveals new office space

new digs

Rice University's entrepreneurship-driving entity has a new, updated office on campus. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship cut the ribbon on its 3,000-square-foot Bill and Stephanie Sick Suite just in time for the holidays.

The space was made possible by a $1 million donation from its namesake couple, Rice engineering alumnus William "Bill" Sick and his wife, Stephanie. Bill Sick was among the first supporters and mentors to the program when it was formed in 2000.

"[Bill is] passionate about building entrepreneurship at Rice University and passionate about the importance of entrepreneurship in driving innovation and economic development in this country," Brad Burke, managing director at the alliance, says. "Bill has watched Rice's program go from an unranked program to the No. 1 entrepreneurship program in the country and felt the Rice Alliance needed a larger, more appropriate space commensurate with the Rice Alliance's impact on Rice and on the Houston community."

Burke says the Rice Alliance's new home — located in McNair Hall, which houses the Jones Graduate School of Business — will be better accommodating for the number of industry professionals that come onto the Rice campus for events, programming, mentorship, and more.

"The Rice Alliance meets frequently with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, students, mentors, and other members of the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem," Burke says. "The new space is on the first floor of the Jones School and is much more accessible and visible to our guests and visitors."

The Bill and Stephanie Sick Suite has doubled the Alliance's space and has allowed the organization to co-locate with another innovation-focus entity on campus. The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or LILIE, will have an office in the space, better connecting the two organizations that have worked hand-in-hand for a number of years.

Some visual elements of the space include bright green walls, which sets the Rice Alliance apart from the school with an energetic feel. The space also features a number of Houston art, including:

  • A three-paneled piece by local Houston artist DUAL, which was commissioned by Rice Alliance for the 2019 Rice Business Plan Competition.
  • A neon sign, designed and created by Houston artist Tim Walker of The Neon Gallery adorns the entrance wall.
  • In a way to honor Houston's history, mosaic tile flooring from the Blue Tile Project is also featured in the space.

Gensler designed the space and b. bell builders was the general contractor. Quynhmai Nguyen, Rice Alliance's senior director of operations and event planning, worked with Gensler and made the final detailed design decisions.

Energetic new space

The new space, which premiered with a holiday party last week, features a neon sign, designed and created by Houston artist Tim Walker of The Neon Gallery.

As the city grows, Houston faces more and more challenges from transportation and infrastructure to gentrification and climate change. Getty Images

Overheard: Expert panel weighs in on the future of Houston — from mobility to climate change

Eavesdropping in houston

As technology and infrastructure evolves, Houston is growing and evolving with it — in both good ways and bad.

On October 30, Gensler hosted its annual Evolution Houston forum that brings together various personalities and industries to discuss the future of the city of Houston. The panelists discussed gentrification, climate change, mobility, smart cities, and so many other hot topics Houstonians hear or think about on a regular basis.

Missed the event? Here are some powerful quotes from the discussion.

“I like to think of Houston as an adolescent city, struggling for its identity.”

Peter Merwin, design principal at Gensler, who adds, "If you look at places like New York, London, Paris — those are all luxury cities. They are fully formed, and a consequence of that is that they become unaffordable. It's something that we have to be careful about in Houston."

“One of the things that has been echoed by many of the artists and many of the poor people over the last few years is, [people] ‘want the culture but they don’t want us.’ It’s very reflective when you go [into the communities.]”

Kam Franklin, activist and singer-songwriter of The Suffers. Franklin described how she would move from the various neighborhoods she's lived in after they've grown in culture. She would see such a huge increase in her rent as people were more willing to pay the premium to live in these newly desirable neighborhoods because of the culture, but its pricing out the original inhabitants. Franklin added, "I'm not going to tell any of y'all where I moved."

“We have to continue to support the diversification of mobility options.”

Abbey Roberson, vice president of planning at the Texas Medical Center. Roberson says transportation is something she particularly focuses on considering how many people filter in and out of the TMC on a daily basis. The medical center wouldn't be able to support the traffic with out various modes of transportation — busses, light rails, etc. Roberson adds that this translates to the rest of the city. "We can't just be doing one thing or the other."

“We’re creating this great culture of trail activation.”

Steve Radom, founder & managing principal at Radom Capital LLC, which developed Heights Mercantile off a bike path and is now building out The MKT, which is also along the same bike path. Radom notes that the city has seen a 300 percent year over year in walkability and a 70 percent increase in bike traffic.

“Climate change is not something the city of Houston can change alone.”

Lara Cottingham, chief of staff & chief sustainability officer at the city of Houston. The city's climate action plan is a result of the devastating floods has seen almost annually. The plan is still being drafted but a version is expected to be released before the end of the year. Every city is facing sustainability challenges, and partnerships are what's going to drive change. "In Houston success means partnership," Cottingham adds.

“How do you talk about a city this big and diverse — every neighborhood has its own identity.”

Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge in Houston, discussed how Houston functions differently from other cities in that it its various neighborhoods — the Heights, Montrose, downtown — are different from each other.

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Houston expert: How to thrive as an employer amid The Great Resignation

guest column

With Baby Boomers and older generations exiting the workforce in droves and COVID-19 variants still straining hospitals and doctors’ offices, the health-care industry is experiencing its own “Great Resignation” at a time when health-care occupations are projected to add more jobs than any other occupational group.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that “Employment in health-care occupations is projected to grow 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.6 million new jobs … mainly due to an aging population, leading to greater demand for health-care services.”

This greater demand might run into a supply issue if employers don’t act swiftly to find creative ways to retain and recruit their staffs. Today’s workforce knows its value and is no longer so easily enticed or satisfied with basic benefits packages. It’s an employee market and employers across all industries are having to step up and bring their A-game when it comes to retention and recruitment.

What you can do to up your ‘A-game’ in 2022

COVID has taught employers that they must change to survive. Spend the time now to develop a strategic plan that will allow you to adapt and improve throughout the year. Be sure to give yourself a cushion in your budget that will allow you to meet new employee demands as they arise and to be generous with relocation and sign-on incentives when you compete for top talent. You can later list these incentives in your job advertisements and highlight any other benefits that might capture interest and bring talent into your organization.

Start your recruitment and retention efforts with a survey of your staff. Find out what they really need and want from you, then try to find ways to meet their demands. Some simple ways for you to take care of your employees right now include:

Bring employees meals to their floor.

Hospitals are becoming filled up once again with sick patients and most are understaffed as employees are contracting COVID from patients. Treat your staff to healthy food—not cookies and cakes—allow them to really stop and take 15 minutes to breathe and fuel their body. This can be done twice or three times a week for each shift. Talk to them about food options or restrictions so that everyone feels like they can participate.

Bring in a counselor on a monthly basis that employees may access during their shift.

Providing this accessible, valuable resource will give your staff the opportunity to address their mental health and wellness and can help you reduce burnout among your ranks.

Allow at least one meeting a week to be focused solely on your employees.

Often the shift start-up meetings are rushed due to the day’s demands. Spend at least one of these meetings a week asking your team things like, “Where do you feel you impacted someone this week?” or ask everyone to share a personal achievement that has helped them personally keep going. This will help you build unity with your team and develop a more positive, empathetic relationship.

Provide bonus incentives to take on extra shifts.

There’s a lot of work to be done and often too few people to do it, so make it worth their while by offering a bonus for taking on more work than normal. You can also provide an option for them to earn overtime on a rotation so they can plan accordingly and still have opportunities for rest and a life balance.

Help relieve the stress of being in a high-risk environment by offering additional paid sick leave for a COVID-related absence.

The paid leave should be for the employee to quarantine at home and convalesce or care for an immediate family member who has the disease, and it should not take away from their accrued unused time off. Consult your HR advisor or attorney to find out whether paid sick leave is legally required in your jurisdiction.

Say “thank you.”

It may sound overly simple but just having the executive leadership go in and say thank you, shake hands, or even show up to a shift meeting can show the staff that their leadership cares about their hard work and recognizes the excellent care they are providing to their clients and patients. People in health care or associated service industries just want to know that they are making a difference, so share positive feedback from patients when you can. It matters.

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Denise Macik is the manager of strategic HR advisory services for G&A Partners, a leading professional employer organization that has been helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses for more than 25 years.

Houston 3D printing company closes latest round of funding, plans to hire

money moves

Roboze — an Italian high-performance 3D printing company with its U.S. headquarters in Houston — closed a multimillion-dollar round of funding this month with investments from an international group of leaders from diverse backgrounds.

Investors include Nova Capital, Lagfin, Andrea Guerra, Luigi De Vecchi, Roberto Ferraresi, Luca Giacometti, Denis Faccioli and others, according to a statement.

“We are honored to have a group of investors of this caliber, who strongly believe in the vision of Roboze and in the change of production paradigm that our technology is enabling by replacing metals and producing parts without wasting raw materials," Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze, said in a statement.

Roboze aims to put the funds towards the research and development of a new "super material" developed in the company's R&D facility in Italy, where the company is also building a new chemistry lab.

The company added that it will also be implementing an aggressive hiring plan in 2022, hiring 60 experts in the next 12 to 18 months in fields such as materials science, chemistry, business development, aerospace, medical devices, and field and applications engineering. Half of the new jobs will be based in the U.S. while the others are slated to be located in Italy and Germany.

Roboze specializes in manufacturing industrial 3D printing technology, such as its ARGO1000, which the company says is the largest printer of its kind. Through a process called Metal Replacement 3D Printing, the company uses super polymers and composites like PEEK and Carbon PEEK to create large-scale, end-use parts for an array of industries—from aeronautics equipment to medical manufacturing.

The company currently works with GE, Bosch, and Airbus, among others, and announced in the statement that manufacturing giant Siemens Energy acquired its first 3D printer from the company.

"We think additive manufacturing is playing a key role in digitalization and cost out in the energy sector. At Siemens Energy we evaluated many companies and found that Roboze technology for high temperature polymers has met our engineering qualification and expectations," Andrew Bridges, Service Frame Owner at Siemens Energy, said in a statement. "As a result, we acquired our first machine and look forward to expanding our relationship with Roboze."

Atlanta growth equity firm acquires Houston health care startup

M&A moves

A Houston-based startup specializing in minimally invasive vascular procedures has made an exit.

Fulcrum Equity Partners, based in Atlanta, has announced the acquisition of Texas Endovascular Associates, a specialty physician practice across five locations in the greater Houston area. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are excited to partner with the Texas Endovascular team to continue growing the impressive platform they have already built,” says Tom Greer of Fulcrum Equity Partners in a news release. “The company has created a differentiated service model and is well positioned to continue its growth in Texas. We look forward to building on this strong presence in the state as well as pursuing strategic acquisitions as we expand its geographical footprint.”

Fulcrum manages over $600 million in assets and provides expansion capital to rapidly growing companies within health care — including IT, B2B software, and more.

The new funding will spur Texas Endovascular's growth into its next phase of business.

“We knew that finding the right equity partner was critical to our long-term growth prospects,” said Sean Mullen, CEO of Texas Endovascular. “After an exhaustive search and after meeting with multiple prospective PE firms, we chose Fulcrum because of their healthcare experience, collaborative approach, and impressive track record. We are excited to enter this new chapter in our company’s life with Fulcrum as our partner."

The two entities collaborated with Founders Advisors LLC, a merger, acquisition, and strategic advisory firm serving middle-market companies.

“Working with the founders of the practice, Drs. Fox and Hardee, as well as the CEO, Sean Mullen, was a pleasure. The entire team at Texas Endovascular acted as a cohesive unit and persevered to find the right partner in Fulcrum," says Michael White, managing director at Founders Advisors. "We are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this process and we are looking forward to the future of Texas Endovascular in partnership with Fulcrum”.