We have been forced to learn quickly

A visit at the Dancing Office

A real-life test for Dancing Wall: Swiss designer and architect Stephan Hürlemann has adapted his studio to the new normal – with the aid of the Dancing Wall. He developed this system of mobile multi-functional wall elements together with Vitra as a tool for agile working. In the following interview, Hürlemann explains how offices can be quickly and easily reconfigured to suit new requirements and processes using these wall elements. Even the challenging task of maintaining healthy distances is effortlessly solved with Dancing Wall.

Stephan Hürlemann, how and where are you currently working with your team?

We slowly started returning to the office in May. Before that we were all working exclusively from home.

What are your personal experiences working from home?

Remote working has a lot of advantages. It’s really nice to participate in day-to-day family life and eat a midday meal together. However, working from home has made my day considerably more strenuous, because I spend almost the entire time on video calls. Everything is much more focused and intense – you scarcely move. My co-workers say the same thing. In addition, we really miss the personal interaction – along with all of the things that happen spontaneously at the office, things you can’t plan. You see or hear something and it gives you an idea; the little nuances are missing. That’s particularly difficult in a creative context, because these kinds of interruptions are an essential element in our line of work.

Last year you designed a new workplace for your studio that utilises several Dancing Walls to implement the Dancing Office concept for agile working. Have you now adapted this office interior to the new situation?

Now that we are gradually returning to the office, we face the danger of falling back into old patterns and behaviours. It’s easy to forget about keeping your distance. For this reason, it was clear to me that we needed to rearrange our studio. The interior architecture should help us to automatically maintain the necessary distance and feel safe. That’s not achieved just by putting tape over every other workstation. With Dancing Office, we have the ideal infrastructure for responding to the new situation. I reconfigured the whole office with a couple of co-workers – in just one-and-a-half hours!

What is the overall effect of this crisis on the concept of agile working?

The concept of agile working offers employees a diverse range of locations for work and interaction. Teams move around autonomously in the office and are free to set up their own workspace. In times like these, when keeping distance is the top priority, that holds a certain risk. Therefore, it’s now all the more important to design the work environment in such a way that the architectural elements and furnishings help employees to keep their distance – without having to think too much about it.

For many people, working from home has become the new standard. Does that change the significance of the home office in the realm of work?

The discussion about working from home is nothing new. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has strongly accelerated this innovative process. What might have normally taken six years happened in six weeks. We were forced to learn quickly. And these experiences will stay with us. After the coronavirus, working from home will be taken for granted. Companies can permanently incorporate these external ‘satellite’ workspaces in their office concept and thereby reduce the number of workspaces in the main office. And in terms of climate change, working from home and video conferencing mean less travel and a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Do social distancing rules mean that the single office will celebrate a comeback? Because people only feel safe in separately enclosed spaces?

No, I don’t think so. Over the longer term, focus work will probably shift and move into the home office or ‘third places’ like hotels. This also solves a problem that many open-plan offices have: it’s not always easy to concentrate in open spaces. And at the same time, office work in corporate headquarters is changing. In company offices today, it’s not about sitting at a standard workstation for eight hours a day. There’s a greater emphasis on teamwork, interaction and coming up with new ideas. As a consequence, these spaces will also change – transforming the office into a place that evokes a shared identity, that fosters a sense of belonging. Companies will have to define their values more clearly. Employees want to identify with the business they work for. It’s about the overarching idea that you stand for.

Publication date: 27.10.2020
Images: © Vitra

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