360 spoke with Wivian Eidsaunet about how the COVID-19 pandemic may be an opportunity to finally focus the workplace on the needs of humans and strike a better work-life balance.
More Personal Choices
360º: How has COVID changed your perspective on the future of your business and the industry?
For sure, when people return to the office they have higher demands on their employer. It's very much about feeling safe - if I go into the office, I want to feel protected and feel that my employer will take care of me. How close do I want to be to others in meetings? Can I do focused work from a desk that I know can be “mine” for a few hours? Where can I have a coffee and meet my colleagues safely?
Not everyone's the same. We will have to design spaces that enable users to make these personal choices smoothly and adapt to each individual’s needs. There is a very big opportunity for us, as architects, to move the conversation away from tactical measures, such as the ventilation for example, and focus instead on what's best for the human being and how we can design spaces that enhance people's wellbeing.
The Need for More Individual Spaces
360º: Which trends do you think are here to stay, and will change the way you plan to design space?
Most of the shifts we see happening are obviously related to meeting habits. Traditional ways to gather will be harder now because you can’t have everyone in the same room. If it is a large team, some will still have to use Teams or will have to be in a different room in the office even though everyone is in the same building. These “tweaks” will allow everyone to feel safe, but are affecting the ability of the team to generate ideas and co-create, as people do while they are physically together. So what we see are some very practical new habits we need to design for.
For example, having shorter meetings in an open space instead of an enclosed room is making people feel safer. Similarly, the need for small meeting booths or other individual spaces will be quite significantly higher than before COVID. On a higher perspective, designing for wellbeing will mean a need to increase the diversity of spaces people can choose from, and provide a variety of different options that will allow everyone to feel at ease.
“You have to be creative, innovate and problem solve. And that’s very difficult when you can’t be together. A lot of people want and need to get back to the office to start things up again.”
360º: We learned a lot while working from home - why do you think we should still go to the office?
So many people have been feeling they're efficient working from home and it's nice to work from home. Perhaps they feel this way because they were already connected to the tasks and the people and kept on working on these projects. But now, people are saying that this doesn't work anymore as they begin new projects. You have to be creative, innovate and problem solve. And that’s very difficult when you can't be together. A lot of people want and need to get back to the office to start things up again.
Focus on Humans
360º: How do organizations need to think differently about the workplace now?
A lot of companies are still just waiting, trying to figure out what to do, how to do it, waiting to see how others are doing it. I'm hoping everybody will be changing their starting point from being a technical one — focused on square meters, distancing, ventilation etc. — to one based on human needs. What do people really need to feel good and give their best? I really look forward to that conversation. It's about people and people's needs. The upcoming challenge is about where and how we create the spaces that make people feel safe, encouraged, creative, calm, energetic. This is an opportunity to make the workplace better and rethink in a holistic way our approach to wellbeing.