The Virtual Interiors Event was a triumph – hats off to organisers Beth Harrison and Sally Rice, who created an interactive online show packed full of interesting presentations and products. Congratulations also to all the sponsors, exhibitors and expert participants. In times like these it’s tempting to ‘close the shutters’, so it was refreshing to soak up the energy and enthusiasm of all involved.
The technical platform was superb; facilitating direct contact and networking using both messaging and full audio/video – and for the presentations a handy Q&A tab ensured that all attendees could clarify any point of interest.
While many manufacturers have simply plodded on, perhaps it’s not surprising that Virtual Interiors Event participants have used lockdown time to thoughtfully consider the impact of Covid and deliver new products relevant to the evolution of work. For us, there were three stand-out exhibitors – all who understand intuitively the most important component of the future workplace (We’ll come to that later)
We loved HK’s Spaces Collection; a family of tables and dividers that look beautiful. Crafted primarily from natural materials, the elegant and thoughtful designs somehow achieve a balance of nature and function, incorporating a mix of linear and flowing forms that ‘pop’ with clever lighting and natural planting.
Orangebox have long been leaders in the development of products that don’t only follow, but often lead, the vocabulary of office design. Their Campers and Dens range by Architect Mark Partridge gets to the heart of the challenge of creating work settings that give occupants choice and control over their work settings; a ‘tool box’ for clients to apply in their own unique way.
In a very interesting presentation by Mark and colleague Nathan Hurley, we learned about the ‘5 intuitive layers of privacy’ and acquired some new buzz phrases: …(products should) ‘Facilitate not Stipulate’, and ‘Create Avenues not Corridors’.
We’re looking forward to working more with Orangebox; we see great potential to apply Campers & Dens to our own Pandemic Resistant Office (PRO) Concept.
There were many great talks by leading experts, and regrettably we can’t cover them all here. But we have picked a few that, from completely different perspectives, agree on the single key component of our future workplaces.
HOK – The new inclusivity; neurodiversity, social equity and workplace inclusion
Kay Sargent of HOK gave us some well-researched insights - and some surprising statistics - pointing out that our office populations are simply a reflection of the ‘wonderful tapestry’ that is our wider society.
Although Kay’s talk was focussed on the ‘neurodiverse’, we couldn’t help thinking that much of what she discussed applies to us all; because each one of us experiences life in a unique, subjective way.
Kay began by defining the sort of ‘conditions’ that may fall within the definition of neurodiverse; Autism, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s and ADHD, revealing that more than 85% of those with ADHD don’t know they have it. Although such conditions are likely to lead to greater sensitivity to the working environment, these people can be fabulous team contributors, being typically highly intelligent and hyper-focussed, with an ability to think outside the box.
We enjoyed some of the thinking tools and acronyms suggested by Kay:
The 6 modalities of work: Concentrate, Commune, Create, Congregate, Contemplate – and Socialise.
JEDI: Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion.
Kay concluded that we should no longer be designing environments; but designing experiences, because experience is different and subjective for each person. Our approach should always be to develop an ‘Eco-system of spaces’, providing the opportunity for individuals to choose and control their environment according to the task at hand, and their personal needs.
Spacelab – Adaptive reuse: The evolution of the workplace
Their own research suggests that most of us will work from home at least 2 days a week. However, they pointed out that things are not as ‘black & white’ as they may appear right now, and had some interesting ideas regarding a ‘close to home’ or ‘community working hub’ scenario, which has the benefits of no commuting, more time flexibility, and the ability to concentrate without distraction.
However, nothing can make up for the energy and buzz that comes from face-to-face interaction with colleagues and the commute isn’t all bad; for many it’s an opportunity for ‘me-time’ and personal reflection.
So where does that leave us? Rosie and Kara suggest that the corporate office will remain, but the balance of space will change, leading to a circa 30% overall reduction in space required by most companies.
|Desk Space||Shared Amenity Space|
But this is a journey; most businesses are committed to exiting lease terms; those that can’t move must evolve i.e. get more out of their existing spaces, to create environments that are ‘inspirational’.
We love that Spacelab had the drive to test this approach on themselves, creating (just before lockdown!) ‘The Depot’ in which their own Ground Floor space was converted to ‘a hotbed of innovation and diversity’, open to the local community with features such as a coffee shop and an art gallery.
Featuring a wealth of spaces suited to the different modalities of work and social interaction, The Depot demonstrates synergies with HOK’s thinking, where occupants are given the opportunity to both choose and control their environment.
We think (see PRO) that there are potential issues with close physical contact with people outside the ‘trust group’, but it’s clear that the Spacelab team are thoughtful, warm and utterly committed to find the right way forward for themselves and their clients.
Dr Craig Knight - The psychology of the post-covid workplace
Psychology is a very complex field, but Craig, founder and leader of Identity Realization, managed to make his fundamental points clearly and succinctly. Based on his 17 years of research, we have the feeling he knows what he’s talking about!
He was refreshingly blunt in his view on the vast range of reported data in the media: “SO WHAT?” he says, pointing out that if you don’t ask the right questions, you have no basis for reliable answers.
He claims that we need to focus on the Science of Wellness; because a feeling of wellness is proven to deliver multiple benefits, including higher productivity.
The key contributor the Employer can make to wellness is autonomy. Craig used the analogy of bringing up children; you get better results if you “treat them like adults”.
So again we return to the importance of choice and control; the successful new workplace will allow responsible employees to determine where and how they work, rather than return to the old standard of ‘9 to 5 at your desk’.
By now it must be clear that the key workplace components upon which the experts agree are Choice and Control. Choice about when and where to work, and the control to select appropriate work settings that support individual wellbeing and the task at hand.
We’re rather pleased that we came to the same conclusion in 2019. See our article here: Office Design Trends 2019. In one way, Covid has changed nothing; it’s merely accelerated our adaptation to the changing world of work.