Much is being said about social distancing mandates pushing Work-From-Home (WFH) as a new norm, and that, as a consequence, many more people and organizations will choose to work this way in the future, part or even all of the time, perhaps even signaling the end of the office as we know it. The operative concept here is choice. When individuals can opt to come into an office to collaborate and connect – with each other and with the common mission of an organization – or at other times select the heads-down privacy and easy commute of a home workspace, they are truly empowered.
If anything, these past weeks of social distancing have taught us that intense and prolonged isolation can be unhealthy, especially mentally. We crave connection as a human condition. Heads-down focus is one thing, but what if your process is highly collaborative, visual, or even tactile? Virtual tools are providing a vital substitute, for now. But there are limitations. We are all doing our best with video meetings - in our firm, this means a weekly all-hands, Studio check-ins, Teams channels and instant messaging for day-to-day project communication, and a weekly happy hour just to shoot the breeze and feel connected. “Together apart”, as the saying goes.
These survival tools, however advanced, ultimately cannot replace the power of in-person interaction, or the feeling of connection that comes with sharing a physical place. A place for collective storytelling through an on-brand, on-values experience. An environment that signifies the ethos of the organization through the built space itself. This is what compels us to create places that inspire. Places centered on the human experience. Will these spaces be designed differently now? Undoubtedly. But we will still need them.
As we emerge from this prolonged and necessary period of distancing, we will do so with an increased appreciation of the power of community, and of place. And we will gather, and collaborate, and connect, and now and again we will choose to work alone, but mostly we will seek to work together, and for that we’ll need Places with Meaning, perhaps more than ever. We look forward to continuing to tell our clients’ stories with this renewed appreciation.
Sascha Wagner is President & CEO of Huntsman Architectural Group, a leading workplace design firm with offices in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.