Office life with and after the Covid-19. Many companies, large and small, wonder. How to reconcile sanitary measures and conviviality? How to arrange the space according to the new constraints: social distancing, teleworking, ventilation … How to want to come back, masked, in an open space riddled with plexiglass walls? Vitra, the Swiss pope of designer furniture for homes, public places and offices, is refining a specific offer for this office life according to. Detailed review with Isabelle de Ponfilly, Managing Director of Vitra France.
Challenges – Office life before, is it possible?
Isabelle de Ponfilly – Since the pandemic, there has been a point of no return. Today, companies – and employees – have no choice but to think about a new way of working, whereas until now, on both sides, there were still many refractory to telework, to the flex-office … The 100% face-to-face was adorned with all the virtues. There we have no choice. The health, ecological and economic crises force us to question the whole office life in question – and above all in motion! Ways of working like place. It’s not about going all at all, as some groups are doing right now, who call it “everyone in telework” or the massive return to individual offices – which can be extremely anxiety-provoking. But to be flexible, to adapt. And tell yourself that nothing is final. After all, whether it's the medical, political, or economic world … everyone sails by sight!
What are your client companies looking for today?
First solutions to manage the emergency of the deconfinement and the return to the office under drastic sanitary conditions. This situation will last for a while – at least until the end of the year. Once the quota of people that can be accommodated has been defined, taking into account the new rules of social distancing, they must redesign the space. And adapt the furniture: there is a high demand, for example, to change the backs of textile armchairs for materials that are easier to disinfect. We offer interchangeable backrests, which will then allow us to return to textiles. There is also a lot of demand for vertical partitions that insulate without harming the acoustics. Because having too many plexiglass walls in the same space, for example, ends up making a sounding board and creating cacophony. We offer wooden and metal partitions – the Dancing walls – into which screens, shelves or plants can be inserted. They are also easy to clean materials. And wood also brings naturalness and warmth to the environment.
Finally, as they have had to take care of IT, our customers are starting to look for solutions that make telework more comfortable and efficient. Tool boxes, for example, for storing things after the work day is over. Or armchairs adapted to spaces at home, sufficiently small and aesthetic, while ensuring good back support. Some customers order them for their teleworkers.
And in business, what is the office of tomorrow?
These are offices with fewer closed rooms, fewer small individual or privacy cells, more open, modular or mobile spaces… The meeting rooms will not disappear but they will undoubtedly be smaller and configured differently – in a an increasingly digital world, with a great deal of distance communication, meetings are de facto shorter and more efficient. No need to mobilize space unnecessarily.
The demand for quality, above all, will be much higher. The office, we will come there less often, but it will remain an inevitable and essential meeting place. It is good that it is attractive. This quality will go through a particular treatment of colors, common spaces, materials or even furniture. Like office chairs in washable materials, which provide flexibility to allocate or delimit space. In some companies too – such as at Société Générale – which create relocated work points – the new office is an office closer to home, flex office antennas to reduce transport. These new spaces also favor quality in their design.
Are all companies ready to invest in these offices of tomorrow?
Yes, as long as they understand that it is an efficiency and development tool for the company. Furniture represents on average only 3% of investments per employee in work premises – versus 15% for real estate and 8% for IT. Increasing this average by only 1 or 2% provides a significant gain in quality for the working environment. It is all the more accessible as in the future it is a safe bet, with telework and flex-office, that companies invest in smaller office areas and spend the money saved on quality. of the layout.
What do you say to companies and managers who believe that, even if everything changes, it is urgent … not to change anything?
I tell them we can't go back to the model before. For societal, human, economic reasons … They have to accept the idea that we can work differently by being just as efficient for the company. The crisis offers us the chance to review the models and working methods. Let's get there.