Canadian Interiors September-October 2022 – The Office Re-imagined
Over the past two years, we have witnessed a dramatic change in what people think “going to work” means, with surveys showing that workforces are interested in collaborative work and gathering in an office while still continuing to work from home for more solitary tasks. This has led to a ripple effect in the field of workplace design, one that is trying to adapt to a massive shift in human behaviour, organizational processes, and diverse technologies that embrace a departure from the workstation-focused environment to a more varied workplace.
In this issue of Canadian Interiors we unpack new workplace environments that aspire to place humans at the centre. The striking design approaches illustrate maximum flexibility in environments where employees can choose to work from home, at the office, or a combination of the two – with everyone empowered to work in a way that makes sense for them.
In this issue we also dig deeper into how important thoughtful design is in supporting accessibility, inclusivity, and health for the team. We explore the challenge and opportunity in addressing a workplace design strategy for neurodiverse employees who may struggle with sensory issues in office environments; and we also explore the concept of trauma-informed design, which integrates principles of trauma-informed care into the built environment to create physical spaces that promote safety, well-being and healing.
Of course, no conversation about the evolution of workplaces can be had without a parallel conversation about the objects and furnishings that are needed to outfit those spaces, and in this issue we highlight an array of new office furnishings that offer the flexibility, personality, and privacy employees crave.
Flexibility is undoubtedly the name of the game when it comes to current workplace trends, which presents new sets of challenges and opportunities for designers. “As the nature of designing and making physical objects – particularly products for workplaces – continues to evolve, the way we approach that work needs to evolve with it,” says Lee Fletcher, founding partner of the award-winning Toronto-based product design studio Fig40 and the newly formed Fletcher Scott Studio. “The business of office furniture is in a heightened state of flux,” he says in an exclusive op-ed. “It is of course largely driven by the vast uncertainty around the nature of work, how to create optimal work-life balance and how to create environments people want to work in effectively, all while incorporating aspects of safety, accommodating those with varied needs and all within an economic framework that works.”
Editor’s Notes: Earn the Commute
Despite claims that we are experiencing a post-pandemic return to normalcy, the world of work continues to change and where and how employees do that work is still in flux. While some companies have embraced hybrid or fully remote working models, others are calling employees back into their physical offices. These varied approaches to the future of the workplace create an interesting challenge for designers: what should the office look like for those who want to come back?
“Leadership surveyed employees throughout the work-from-home period to gauge their interest in returning to a communal workspace. We know they weren’t alone in wondering if anyone would want to come back at all – this question has been a hot debate for many months now for so many companies,” says Amber Kingsnorth, principal at Vancouver-based Mãk Interiors in reference to the Hootsuite headquarters project they worked on (and one of several new office projects featured in this issue). “What they discovered is that most of their team was interested in collaborative work and gathering in an office, while continuing to work from home for more solitary tasks.”
Hootsuite no doubt also discovered many employees express “avoiding the commute” as the biggest benefit of working remotely: the cost of working in an office goes up if you factor in commuting, lunches, coffees and after-work social activities. Employees want to want to return to the office, but it goes beyond just what the office will look like when they come back through the doors. LifeWorks’ Mental Health Index for June showed an even split between work stressors and personal stressors, and the 26 per cent of Canadians that report work as their primary source of stress cite volume of work (25 per cent), performance demands (14 per cent) and lack of support (12 per cent) as the leading sources. Conversely, employees who felt supported by their employers during the pandemic reported the top two actions their employers took were offering flexibility (51 per cent) and promoting mental health services and resources (41 per cent).
We know that workplace environments play a significant role in supporting collaborative thinking, creativity and innovation, but a successful office re-launch will require more than just moving from a workstation-focused environment to a more varied workplace. Colourful furniture and mural graphics alone can’t stem “great resignations” and “quiet quitting” in a corporate culture that isn’t taking work volume, recognition, wellbeing support and other factors seriously.