Interior Design hosted its first virtual NeoCon roundtable yesterday, spotlighting the changing nature of office design in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the lively discussion, moderated by Interior Design Editor in Chief Cindy Allen and in partnership with commercial interior manufacturer SnapCab, seven designers discussed ways office design is shifting, while nearly 600 members of the A&D community listened in.
This moment “makes us reflect on so many different time periods of the workplace,” Allen noted at the start of the discussion, touching on trends in office design over the last few decades. “What even is the workplace now?” she asked the group. While that question proved difficult to answer in this moment of transition, each designer stressed the importance of the office as a hub of community and connection.
“COVID-19 is the only thing that could have proved that this remote working experiment could work and that’s inevitably changed the perspective for every large corporation and opened up possibilities about range of choice about how and where and when we work,” said Clive Wilkinson, president and design director of Clive Wilkinson Architects. “This is an incredible time to listen and learn,” added David Galullo, CEO and chief creative officer of Rapt Studio. “We’ve never had this amount of incoming input about what people need to survive in the workplace from this point and beyond.”
Participants agreed that while remote work has proven to be extremely productive, many still crave a gathering place to meet, talk through ideas, and collaborate. Now more than ever, the office needs to serve as a truly engaging and functional space that encourages social interaction. “We need to prepare so the environment optimizes things we can do together when in the office,” said Carlos Martínez, principal at Gensler. In other words, the office has to serve as a destination—a space that offers employees what they cannot access working remotely.
In the more immediate future, designers are tasked with creating workspaces that comply with health and safety regulations while we await a vaccine for COVID-19. But participants agreed that sanitation screens and the like will be temporary solutions, rather than permanent fixtures. Some employers have expressed that they do not want spaces to serve as sterile reminders of the pandemic indefinitely. “We don’t want to create barriers, we want to create opportunities,” said Mark Hirons, principal and design director for corporate interiors practice at CannonDesign.
Ultimately, the workplace is set to morph into a more communal and creative space. As designers take into account individual needs and wellbeing, knowing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, they aim to create healthier environments, implementing more touchless technologies and air quality measures. “This pandemic is about overall wellbeing physically and mentally,” said Annie Lee, interior design principal at ENV. “When we go back [to the office], how do we go back in a more harmonious way?”
Thank you to our roundtable partner:
Watch the virtual roundtable below: