September/October 2021


CI September-October – The Shared Workplace Revolution

Although we have been in the COVID trenches for what seems like a relentlessly long period of time, there now appears to be light at the end of this tunnel. With vaccination rates on a speedy incline and phased re-openings across the provinces, things are slowly returning to normal. And yet, it is estimated that over half of Canada’s workforce is anxious about returning to the office, citing mental health, anxiety, and fear of overall wellness as the biggest concerns for wanting their office to change before they return post-pandemic.

In this issue of Canadian Interiors we look at a variety of workplace projects that differ in terms of the work being done in them, but are spaces that encourage creativity, collaboration and an entrepreneurial mindset, and share common design values based on wellness, flexibility, innovation, and the importance of the human and social character of our workplaces. They emphasize a dynamic organization of spaces and working environments, a minimalist and warm design, as well as special attention to the comfort and health of users.

While it is encouraging that people will be returning to these workspaces, even when the pandemic is officially declared over its effects will be long-lasting. Which is why we are having a one-on-one conversation with Johanna Hoffmann, CEO of Oomph Group, to discuss why the space planning, project management and procurement skills of designers and architects are urgently needed now; and what it will take to get design firms through the crisis by finding creative ways to generate revenue and other stop-gap solutions that while not necessarily permanent, will help them not only stay on their feet but continue marching on even after normalcy returns.

We also survey new Office furnishing products launched recently that show design innovations as it relates to flexible space solutions that give employees the freedom to work the way they want to work while in the office.

Finally, we wrap the issue up with a review of a new tome that captures Vancouver-based polymath Omer Arbel’s love of experimentation and innovation.

Editor’s Notes: An Already Old “New” Normal

“When businesses look to adapt to a situation, they implement new processes, systems and structures and the only way of making sure these transitions are successful is employee engagement,” said Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, in an op-ed he wrote recently regarding post-pandemic returns to work. “Quite often, however, employers find that despite all the training and business-led improvements, their people remain resistant or unhappy to change.” Most would agree with this statement, but what is interesting isn’t its pandemic-related truth, it’s that this statement has been true for a long time.

Surveys and reports are coming in fast and furious these days from all corners of the commercial real estate world, analyzing worker sentiments about every facet of returning to the office. The overwhelming consensus to corporate reopening plans is a post-pandemic hybrid work model, where some employees are onsite while others work from home. While many companies had already started shifting toward the hybrid model, the pandemic thrust that shift to the front of employee minds. So, what have sentiment surveys revealed? As pointed out by Megan DeLaire in our cover story, “JLL found that the less people liked their offices before the pandemic, the less enthusiastic they are about returning. Nostalgia for the office is highest among people who reported a high level of satisfaction with the office before the pandemic, and lowest in those who reported low levels of satisfaction.” Does this surprise anyone?

“With constant adjustments, from lockdowns to lifting of restrictions and being told we are returning to the office for the date to be pushed back time and time again, employees have been locked in a constant state of fear and confusion,” says Holmes. “This is echoed in the relatively small positive effect that flexible working is having on improving engagement levels of employees with their employers.” Surveys show much of the workforce feels disenchanted and has low expectations of their employers and want them to provide more wellbeing support over the next few months. This is where designers should step in, but not with new wow-factor razzle-dazzle design moves, but with a refocusing on wellbeing solutions that were paying dividends even before the pandemic. As Nicolas Lapierre of L’Abri says, “I don’t think the pandemic is bringing as much change in new ideas. It’s putting forward what we already knew were the best practices, but there’s a new importance given to those.”

— Peter Sobchak