The office is alive!

Milan, 18 May 2020

The present health emergency has accelerated deep and concrete reflections on the evolution of workplaces. During this lockdown, Coima Image has been committed not only to guaranteeing operability but also to opening a debate with sector experts and consultants. We have turned our eyes to the near future, investigating cultural contexts, behavioural models, and the material possibilities of a post-pandemic world.

Recently, some theorists have overstepped the mark, declaring the “death” of the office. Truth be told, the unusual situation in which we have found ourselves is defining a new paradigm: the office is alive and at the centre of the debate! 

This health emergency will change our way of living and of designing office space, aboveall in the knowledge that the precautions we are taking now are not temporary measures but will remain in the future, because change is continual, driven by an added incentive: once a path is taken, it is unlikely that the same path will be taken on the return journey.

Exceptional events of this magnitude are inevitable accelerators of processes already underway. Companies that already allowed remote working will tend to increase the number of days working from home. On the contrary, those that have never considered homeworking, will begin systematically to set it up.

We have discovered that the social link between humans is very strong. Creativity and cooperation increase with physical proximity and are the driving force for all businesses. Isolating separates and disorients people, while finding ourselves together once again in a physical space reinforces human relationships and increases a sense of community and the values it represents.

The office will become a place for experiences, increasingly appealing to talents and new generations. It will be an incubator of new knowledge, open to both the internal and the external world. Going to the office will become a choice linked to a particular encounter or event, no longer merely a custom, a habit. The physical office will change from the workplace to a meeting place.

Drawing boards will be more and more crowded: architects and professionals specializing in the sustainable environment and systems design will work with other experts, such as occupational psychologists and interiorscapers. Even client participants will increase: sitting at the same table from the beginning of a project will be the departments of Facility Management, HR, IT, and Health&Safety, contributing to the process of defining health standards, well-being, and technological implementation. The office will resemble a real ecosystem, an organized structure that will tend towards a stable state.

In recent years we have noticed an increase in the number of people inside workplaces. Some parametres will now be reconsidered: less density, less surface area dedicated to desks, more space given over to collaboration and socializing. Special areas such as cafés and restaurants, meeting areas in general, will be reassessed according to the parametres of physical distance and reduced crowding. The non contemporaneous presence of human resources inside offices will lead to holding virtual meetings more frequently, with an inevitable decrease in individuals’ psychological and mental energy. The need for more acoustically protected private spaces for people to concentrate and relax will grow. Spaces will continue to be shared, but there will be an increase in sanitizing procedures, and we can say good-bye to mouse- and keyboard-sharing.       

Rapid changes in the markets and economic models, and consequently in organization structures, force us to think about the office and workplaces as an adaptable organism capable of readily coping with new demands. The integrated projects of Shell & Core, such as Fit Out, will, of necessity, be based on the concepts of modularity and flexibility. The repetitiveness of standard floor plans, excepting the specific needs of different departments, converges in the ability to adapt and cope with recurring changes in company organizations.

Technology and digitalization will play a strategic role. Technology will assist us in booking remote spaces and tracking people’s presence in order to limit crowding. People’s smartphone applications will become more numerous and extremely functional in helping us simplify and respect protocols for space use. Wireless cameras and sensors will be the foundation of digitalization, systematically collecting information about the office and its use. They will then process that information and summarize it in detailed reports available to Facility Management users and staff, who will be quickly able to arrange maintenance and cleaning services.

Ensuring a soft change from the old to the new way of working is linked to a compelling Change Management and communication plan. With our clients, we determine what actions to take, helping them interpret change in the best way possible and reap the benefits. Management and leadership must adopt a flexible attitude based on trust and be ready to meet the changing needs of their employees with innovative solutions.

Dr. Estella Ricco, a psychologist specializing in work organization and communication, has identified the pros and cons of the innovative work method dubbed “homeworking”.
Indeed, much of the research indicates that among the positive features can be included individuals’ increased productivity, autonomy, and motivation, as well as a better work-life balance. At the same time, however, we mustn’t neglect the inevitably linked aspects of crucial importance: how to manage new organizational and work models (personnel training), the perception of a thinning of space-time, and finally the blurring of the line between private and professional life.

Experience tells us that workplace organization is today’s and tomorrow’s challenge, not only from a design point of view but also socially and culturally.

Companies, too, must accept this challenge and think of it as developing “creative destruction”:[1] resetting the certitudes at zero in order to give birth to the new.

Gianmarco Bocchiola

Photo credit: Maurizio Montagna

[1] Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy