How do you design workplaces that provide comfort and nurture productivity? Having started her London-based studio in 1994, interior architect Sevil Peach has pondered this question for over two decades. While creating office environments for multinational companies as well as experimental start-ups, she and her team found two core values that underpin successful workplaces of all sizes: human connection and collaboration. Will Covid-19 change our workplaces? Should architects and designers consider entirely new office typologies? Sevil Peach’s spontaneous reply: "Don’t panic."
Humans thrive on face-to-face interaction. We also have an in-built reflex to place ourselves within associative constructs from which we draw support, be that family, a circle of friends, a team, an organisation or a nation. Bearing in mind that there might be exceptions, isolation, as a concept – for instance in a home office – even though it is nice to be able to shut yourself off from time to time, is not a natural long-term human situation. It does not relate to what people’s needs are. The office is a place that provides the necessary interactions to encourage and foster innovation. It is where you can come together as a team, to meet our colleagues, to communicate, to collaborate, to share experiences, to learn from one another. For these reasons, I think, the office is here to remain, but possibly in a different format. It will need to re-imagine itself. It needs to become the place you want to go to and for a particular purpose, not purely out of habit, but out of choice.
Even before the lockdown, very few of us would sit down at our workplace at the beginning of our day and remain at it throughout the day. We constantly interact and move around to undertake varied tasks, which do not all require the same ‘setting‘.I think in the future, the office will provide an even greater range of differing settings to support the tasks we need to undertake, creating more of a studio-like atmosphere, with a range of work settings, including teamwork, focused work, soft work, meetings, retreats and communication, all within a framework that supports well-being and safe social interaction.I certainly hope the days of regimented rows of desks disappearing into the horizon are over, to be replaced by a more pluralistic, people-centric and humane approach. One that defines the office as a series of ‘readable‘ and human-scale places.I also think that the role of the office within each organisation will be challenged, particularly the idea of having 7000 people in one place every day. I am sure that many COOs and CFOs have realised just how much it costs to run an office now that these are unoccupied, and will be looking to identify what their essential roles are, as touched on above, and what can be achieved in other ways.It was interesting to hear that before the lockdown came into effect, certain companies, in this instance in New York, were already in the process of setting up satellite hubs to avoid their employees needing to travel all the way into the centre of the city.A positive effect of this could be that it leads to less traffic and reduces our collective carbon footprint, as well as providing a better work-life balance, given that burn-out is an increasingly serious concern for companies.