Design for change: Exploring the future of work

Sujata Burman, Nasim Koerting and Cathrin Walczyk discuss the future of working environments

This week is the London design festival – held virtually this year – which is a week-long event that celebrates London as the design capital of the world. Its aim is to spotlight brilliance and to give a voice to the design community in the UK.

At PTT, one of the things we try to do is to tap into other industries that rely heavily on design and to incorporate some of the techniques or ideas we learn into our way of thinking and working. Especially relevant at the moment is the topic of how we will work in the future once we are done with the Coronavirus pandemic. The planning for that at companies like The Office Group (Nasim Koerting) and Universal Design Studio (Cathrin Walczyk) has been underway for some time, so it was interesting to hear what Nasim and Cathrin had to say when they were interviewed by Sujata Burman from Wallpaper magazine.

Here’s a brief summary of the main points.

The pandemic has highlighted and accelerated the need for change. A lot of the ways we worked before are already obsolete, and so companies have basically been forced to adapt and pay more attention to their workforces to make sure that the future can be prosperous and healthy. The three areas that stand out are:

  • The use of technology to do work – including working remotely and travelling less
  • Flexible working – with regards to location, time and working style
  • Balance – in a sense that work and life combined has higher levels of meaning

When you apply those three points to the office environment employees are requesting that the office become more open plan with more islands or spots to work and fewer rows of desks. The panelists claim this is because the different places to work should reflect the type of work being done (collaborative vs alone), or the needs of the users (fast-paced work, downtime, working in privacy). Outside of how the office should be laid out, there were four other areas of discussion.

Hygiene: There have been a lot of short term measures to combat the virus, like using perspex screens and hand sanitiser. But these are all mitigation tactics and aren’t sustainable long term. The challenge for office design will be to remove those obviously scary measures and replace them with more innovative and comfortable solutions.

Employee needs: Although comfort and safety are prime concerns, one other unthought of area so far is how people have reacted to working at home. Your home environment is created ‘just for you’, but offices have traditionally been created for the company needs or to reflect a brand image. What people value at home are nice surroundings and higher levels of natural light. So, to make the journey to the office become a deliberate and scheduled act rather than a daily obligation will require making the office inviting and inclusive.

Privacy: The panel had already noted a shift to a more open office style, but wanted to emphasise the need for privacy too. Employees are asking for smaller, closed spaces to make phone calls and to have Zoom meetings. Recently we have all created our own physical bubbles at home and suddenly bursting them isn’t easy, so having smaller private spaces within an inviting open office is important.

Doing actual work: Not everything can be done remotely or on Zoom. The technology might have saved some companies, but especially in design and creative industries – including learning design consultancies – there have to been times allocated in offices where certain processes are done face to face. So the challenge for offices – or workspaces as people like to now call them – is to make sure that they are geared up for collaboration sprints and accessible when needed. This means that some companies are creating satellite offices nearer to where people live so there is less commuting, while downsizing their city-centre offices.

What about the workspace and learning?

What we have noticed at PTT largely reflects what the panel has said. There will be instances where people will need to come together for certain training sprints, especially if they need to collaborate. They will also need to work in small groups – either virtually or face to face. So, although the majority of a learning journey can be asynchronous or virtual, we should consider how the workspace can be used effectively for the pieces where people have to come together. Our challenge is to finally embrace and optimise ‘blended learning’.

Thanks to the panel for a great discussion. To learn more about the London Design Festival visit: https://www.londondesignfestival.com/

And as usual, comment on and share this post, thanks.

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