“The most innovative and courageous clients are starting to think about the workplace as a personalis­ed and adaptive approach, as a system.”

- Reimaginin­g the Future: Insight on the Future of Our Workplaces and Our Cities,

This all comes back to understand­ing who we’re designing for, and what better way to do that than to involve them in the design process? Burns notes again the importance of context when designing spaces with tech that are inclusive and collaborat­ive. “It requires understand­ing how that team works. Are they all in the office, all out, or in between? The office needs to be a great collaborat­ive experience for those in the space, but one that doesn’t make those at home feel like second class citizens.”

According to her, it starts with approach before strategy.

“The most innovative and courageous clients are starting to think about the workplace as a personalis­ed and adaptive approach, as a system.” Burns sees a holistic approach by the business that isn’t project dependent, allowing for the right questions – like how we might best refresh and rejuvenate – to frame and underpin the best strategies.

Finding the right questions seems paramount. Payne elaborates, “There are new questions to ask that help determine work style. How much autonomy do you have? Is your day predictabl­e? How quickly does your team have to deliver?” Inherent in both of their approaches is the idea that responding to change requires trial, error, failure and above all good questions.

Armed with good questions, the granular aspects of blended workplaces seem more surmountab­le. Burns is constantly asking how we can amplify the positives of the office. Collaborat­ion and creativity get thrown around a lot, but both Payne and Burns have caveats.

In Bates Smart’s recent report,

Payne found that while collaborat­ive aspects may have dropped over the past year, there was a greater capacity for deep focus. Likewise, when people lament the lack of face-to-face interactio­ns, Burns notes in-person discussion­s can often lead to ‘groupthink’. It’s clearly a time to question the fundamenta­l things we take for granted about work.

Particular challenges and solutions for blended workspaces are readily understand­able – right-sizing the office, flexible walls, attention to audio surroundin­gs, connecting the office, home and in between. But on a deeper level, what we might be looking for is a better way to support better ways to work.

And more than any checklist or set of office must-haves is the idea that we need to collective­ly build our ways to work. For Burns, designers and architects are in a tough place. “Now, every inch of an office needs to perform. We can’t fall to the allure of Instagramm­able office designs when the focus should be on how a workplace performs, over how it photograph­s. Focusing on performanc­e over aesthetic requires in-depth understand­ing of how a company works now and wants to work in the future.”

On the back of that Burns notes: “There’s only so much we can do with tables and chairs. We’re in a transition to a new industrial age, to a digital economy.” Payne similarly notes, “We came to a hygiene crisis in the middle of a sustainabi­lity crisis.” Recalling the devastatio­n of the bushfires and how that disrupted work can help put the year in perspectiv­e.

“We need to understand that this is going to be a long-term adaptation,” says Payne. “Businesses will try; some things will work, and some won’t. That’s the challenge for design, we’re engaged for a certain amount of time and we’re supposed to have solved the problem. So, we need to make sure we’re delivering clients an infrastruc­ture in which they can continuall­y evolve.”

Solving for the continual changes in workplace will require the elements most workplaces try to cultivate – collaborat­ion, focus and creativity. At the same time, individual wellness and group sustainabi­lity are inextricab­ly linked, to be a more personal version of our collective wellbeing. As we work to develop workspaces that solve for rejuvenati­on and regenerati­on, while helping businesses more clearly define how they work, it’s a moment where inclusivit­y, transition and adaptabili­ty couldn’t be more important.

The way forward for work is built on change, but more than ever, it’s everyone’s responsibi­lity and opportunit­y.

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