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March seemed like a decade. April seemed like a second. The world has changed and time is elastic, relative. Here, Cirkularis8 Founder and CEO, Kristoff DuBose, looks beyond the physical effects of COVID-19.
At the epicentre of this horrific pandemic, health and safety is at the forefront of our minds; protecting our families, our friends, our colleagues, our frontline workers, our healthcare professionals, the vulnerable and ourselves is, of course, THE most important thing right now.
Some of us are fortunate enough to still be working, still be testing the old grey matter on a daily basis. In terms of mental health, this is as good for us as any walk in the park or jog around the neighbourhood. Our work can be what keeps us sane if we use it in that way.
Mental health issues have been at the forefront of everything we do for some time now – we certainly didn’t need a pandemic to tell us how big and important an issue it is when it comes to the workplace. There is something of an irony here; while we as design firms work with our clients to address and help with the issues of mental health and wellbeing, our own mental health and wellbeing are being severely tested by the pressures put upon us by comparing our output in this new world to our output in the old world.
In the old order, the greatest pressure was time – or lack of it. In a hugely competitive market, a new breed of smart, agile design firms had emerged and rapid turnkey solutions were offered to clients who grab with both hands. But at what cost? I’m not talking about fees here – I’m talking about the business cost of forgoing detailed research, consultation and design. Surely these need to be at the heart of the process in order to achieve those ultimate, desired goals?
In a hugely competitive market, a new breed of smart, agile design firms had emerged and rapid turnkey solutions were offered to clients who grab with both hands. But at what cost?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped us all in our tracks, more and more clients were indeed focused upon rapid turnaround and delivery, rather than considered and collaborative approach. ‘We don’t have time for that!’ ‘We’re losing out on rent!’ Well, time is something we now have (a very small silver lining, I know). We have the tech to keep talking with our clients, we have the tech to pull together serious design work – and now we have the time to ask those critical questions and stir the bottom of the pond. We’re questioning all of our projects right now – which are being afforded more time and consideration. There is no question that will ultimately produce so much more for our clients.
Needs are changing, or have changed irrevocably, and we need to wrap our heads around that. There were forces already underway that has only intensified as a result of Covid-19, remote working being the most acute.
Looking ahead, post-lockdown, let’s hope that a lot of business leaders realise that this is (literally) the future. We’ve spent hours, days and months educating our clients about true sustainability – about adopting long-term solutions, about not being seduced by fashions or fads, about specifying products that will last – rather than simply looking at the bottom line. Quality will always win out, whether we’re talking about a chair or about the entire scheme.
This has been and continues to be a time of reflection. I’ve spent many hours, days, weeks and months considering how, as a firm, we approach our work, our processes and our own wellbeing. I’ve pondered over efficiencies, for example. Would it improve our own working culture if we cut out even some of the crowded, painful commutes most of us take, and instead worked remotely more often? What happens if the office is more about events and collaboration than about single-person focus work? I’m often derided as crazy for being an office design and delivery specialist that is encouraging people to work remotely. But don’t we have a moral imperative to at least explore it?
As I said earlier, we have the technology, so maybe we should be using it to improve such efficiencies. The C-suite executives I’ve been speaking with are all interested in how to maximise efficiency if they can no longer mandate that their teams work in the office.
While considering this, we are working with them to re-think their approach to the workplace. I hope we will see that a considered approach, with adequate time being given to the consultation and design processes, produces markedly improved results. There won’t be any silver bullet solution to roll out. Every organisation will be different and will have a unique way of working post-COVID. Awful circumstances have almost certainly accelerated conversations into considering and reconsidering how we deliver the right solutions for our clients.
Will there be an across-the-board willingness among business leaders to stop and study their approach and make the necessary pivots in workplace strategy? Time will tell.
Inspiration for your next read
The last in our series on how the current crisis will affect the commercial interiors (and wider) world, we’ve asked a number of leading end users and workplace experts to offer their opinions on where we’re likely to find ourselves post-COVID.
Angela Bardino, Design Principal at leading professional services firm, Jacobs, examines employees’ impact on both immediate business and subsequent end user groups.