Organic Fit-Out

Nowadays, almost everyone has their own theory how to organize work in the post-covid world in the most effective manner possible. Companies differ, that is why I recommend to avoid copying others too much, but to closely look at oneself and one’s own organization.

For nearly a year we’ve all been taking part in a situation that closely resembles a worldwide social experiment.

For years we’ve sat nicely in our office chairs at our office desks. We haven't left them for 30 years that have passed since the introduction of a PC and the Internet. There hasn’t been a significant change in our offices even with the arrival of laptops and smartphones that made our huge desks and ergonomic chairs not so necessary.

But there’s more. For over last 100 years, since the industrial revolution, we still function based on coming to work at a set hour. This too – in very many fields – is a completely unjustified relic of the past era. The system, which includes working at a given place for a given number of hours, has its roots in factories, where one needed to come (because that’s where the machines were) and there wasn’t a more sensible way to calculate salary (e.g. for working at an assembly line) than by using the number of hours worked. Why then, even though many of us could work wherever with our laptops, smartphones, and the Internet, do we still sit in office buildings like 19th century weavers at their looms, from dawn till dusk?

We’ve got used to it. But many companies no longer have this assembly line that would require our presence from 9 to 5. The work we do now is 90% communication and it can't be left after eight ours spent at the desk.

We were only awaken from our sleep by the 2020 pandemic,and the long lockdowns forced us to take a new look on what we are in fact doing in these offices and jobs all day long. Couldn’t we, perhaps, organize it all a little bit better?

Today almost everyone has a theory how we should and how we will work in the future. But it’s not good to force the ‘only good’ solutions. In this race, we are neck and neck with the rest of the world and not enough time has passed for us to see long-term effects of the currently most fashionable concepts.

We can't yet measure the reduced efficiency resulting from differing engagement in remote work, nor social costs (or perhaps profits?) of the situation in which families spend more time together. We don't know how many of our employees, for instance in the IT department, are already simultaneously working at several other jobs (not necessarily in Poland). We don’t know how many people moved to smaller towns because it's much cheaper and nicer to live in a small house with a garden there than in a block of flats in the city. In general, we don't even know how much we don't know, and the result of all this will have a profound influence of the future condition of our companies.

So in a way we are all caught in a trap; offices shouldn’t remain empty and the answer to “what’s next?” is extremely complicated. As I am in the front line of this game, I’ve managed to compose my thoughts a bit with regard to the experiences I’ve collected since the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve also observed certain regularities I would like to share with you.

Above all - there will certainly be no black an white solutions as to how the post-covid offices should function, and as such no unification of the work/design mode, especially in the long run.

In most of the companies we will ultimately have to combine remote work, the hybrid model, and stationary work of our employees. It isn't possible to include all these functions in one universal model.

That's not all – at least for a few years organization will still likely be undergoing changes and modifications. New research, concepts, and conclusions will appear and based on them managers will make decisions about changes that should be implemented. We will continue looking for better solutions and react to long-term effects of various models of working “the new way”. However, this obvious action, with the company’s best interest in mind, may lead us astray. That is why I recommend not to copy others too much, but to closely look at oneself and one’s own organization.

In general, companies are not monoliths. They have different departments and usually different, specific character of work. Research I have carried out with my clients has clearly shown that virtually each department has a different view on how it should work in the future. Oftentimes there are objective reasons behind it – a receptionist’s presence is physically needed at the reception desk, when it is open, and the HR manager needs files that are physically located on a shelf, because the company hasn’t yet digitalized all the data. Other times people's preferences decide – a programmer would threaten with leaving the company when ordered to return to the office because they work from home just as efficiently, while the sales team will say they are meant to meet with clients so they never really needed an office in the first place.

To ensure that practical solutions shaping the new office are adequate and fit the company’s profile, one should begin with a decent analytic process. For some time now we’ve stopped asking client’s board members of HR managers for briefing because it’s difficult to expect a synthesis in the current situation. More likely our clients will ask us. To give them an answer we do a brief ourselves, often based on dozens of interviews with the end users of an office. We learn how they work, what their current, past, and predicted preferences are, their communication ties, their ways of cooperating with other departments, how their workplaces are organized, and finally we apply quantitative grids. Only then are we offered a deep insight into the company and can suggest how to organize work and arrange it in space.

In-depth analytics should then allow us to recommend how each department should operate to maintain their efficiency and integrity and how they would want to use the company’s residence in the future. Here, these recommendations may and should vary.

In case of larger organizations preferences of various units will be spread over the entire axis – from remote work, through every hybrid form, to full stationary work. The good news is that when it comes to design these aren’t mutually exclusive.

As such, an optimal solution will be arranging space in such a way that will create zones corresponding to desired forms of using space (individual work, group work, ad hoc meetings) on a proper scale. Some departments will need rooms and offices, other only conference rooms, and other will need hot desks on open space. New rooms facilitating remote contact begin to appear in designs: “zoom rooms” for one on one meetings, microstudios for recording webinars, but also quiet work rooms (such as reading rooms), or areas for informal meetings – which will play a completely new and important role. One could not parametrize or average all that – it requires a flexible approach and working closely with the client.

Because in every case we’re following a changing entity – we’ve created our own term: ORGANIC FIT-OUT. Design should be like skin – impalpably glued together with the new form of the given organization and the new way of functioning should become its natural component. To achieve this, one must look inside their own company as this may lead us to many interesting and innovative conclusions, not only in terms of design, but a deeper understanding of the culture and needs of our own company.

Katarzyna Miastkowska
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