This month we check in with Creatif's very own Founder and Managing Director, Dwight Bailey, to discuss the effects of the current pandemic and what the future of the workspace may look like.
Creatif: At the time of writing, the majority of us – yourself included – find ourselves working from home. What experience did you have with remote working prior to the current situation?
Dwight Bailey: I often used to work from our London office, at home every now and again and remotely when needed – but the difference then was that I chose to work remotely because the work I needed to get done was best done in a remote location – I chose the right location to increase my productivity.
This is the typical agile model – you work in the space best suited to the job at hand therefore increasing productivity. This "lockdown working-from-home" is very different to that because suddenly our choice of space to work in to support productivity has gone and we find ourselves forced to work from a space that isn’t designed properly.
Creatif: And how are you finding the transition to permanent remote working?
DB: I have been amazed at how much I have been able to get done in working from home. But that’s largely due to the fact I have the luxury of a very nice private study room, with a lockable door, good views, ventilation, lighting, desk space etc.
The type of work I do is easy to do remotely – general management and my working-from-home environment supports this kind of work very well.
The ability to focus has been amazing. I get far less distractions and interruptions being in my home office. Don’t get me wrong, I love the staff and team interaction, but often times I need to focus and my home office supports that incredibly well.
The time saved in travel – its great being able to get straight into work without that manic rush to the office. Working with a great view is also nice – I don’t have this luxury when in the workplace and I have to say there’s something special working whilst connected to nature.
The sound of the kids playing in the garden and the regular interruptions – hearing these kind of happy noises is a great stimulus and one that you never have when in the workplace. I think its something that has come from this lockdown and work-from-home concept – children are a massive part of our lives and their presence in Zoom meetings (be it an unexpected interruption or the sound of them in the background) is something everyone now accomodates – in actual fact, its something that’s quite special as it breaks down the corporate barrier that creates hard commercial robots out of humans! You can’t be too professional when in a home office with kids around, but interestingly your perception of someone you’ve always known to be professional and efficient isn’t lowered just because their kids are around! Quite the opposite.
Creatif: And what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while working remotely?
DB: So, for focus work, private work, general management duties etc., working from home is great. For anything else its somewhat challenging and a long period of working from home certainly isn’t something I’d choose to do willingly!
The silence is a big challenge! And the lack of buzz and energy that you get when around your colleagues. I miss (and what I don’t believe can be replicated in a work-from-home-situation) the dynamic team interaction, the laughter, the cross-talk, the engagement and connection with colleagues etc.
The ridiculous amount of time spent in front of a screen is a challenge – even staff conversations, meetings etc. all take place via a screen. It takes its toll.
There can also be a lack of clarity between work time and home time – it’s too easy for work time to merge into home time. I used to use my commute home to “unwind” – without that I find it very challenging. I find a jog through the countryside or a home-workout after I finish work helps to solve this problem.
Creatif: And as well as jogging, what else have you been doing away from work to stay healthy and entertained?
DB: I’m not able to get to the gym, so home workouts have become a regular thing. Less time in the office and less time spent travelling has meant a lot more time with the kids which has been nice.
I’ve actually also taken up buying and selling chickens… Yes really! In 2 months we have bought and sold over 700 chickens! So for anyone needing to make an extra buck or three, there's big demand for hens!
Creatif: The current situation will naturally have an impact on working environments and the people within them. What changes do you anticipate?
DB: More Zoom meetings – wow these are great. They generally start on time, and finish on time. And those meetings with customers without the time in travel – I'm sure this method of having meetings will be here to stay even when working in the office because they are so time efficient. I do think the workplace has to undergo adaptations to provide the areas where Zoom meetings can effectively take place - I don't believe people will just Zoom from their desk (like we do when working at home) - so a Zoom Room is going to be useful inside the workplace.
I think people will work at home once or twice a week. It’s something that we’ve seen increase in recent years and with a lot a businesses being forced into allowing staff to work remotely – many for the first time - for a short period because of lockdown, they are seeing it can work for people in certain roles. I think a lot of traditional type companies would not have previously allowed work-from-home models as those companies believe that working away from the office reduces accountability and productivity - however, this pandemic will change that. Companies have been forced to trust their people far more than perhaps they were comfortable doing so previously.
The workplace itself will no doubt change – greater IT infrastructures to support remote workers, safe-distancing measures implemented, less co-working spaces, more fixed neighbourhoods, less of the desk-sharing model, less breakout spaces that used to encourage mass collaboration at break-times, fixed flow of footfall through offices etc.
As for workplace hygiene - this is something that will become paramount. Temperature testing employees upon entering the building, sanitiser at each desk, sanitising points around the office and regular deep-cleaning and sanitation will become the norm. Covid-19 aside, there's plenty of evidence out there that suggest good workplace hygiene reduces absenteeism through sickness anyway. Companies will be concerned about the cost of these hygiene procedures but I firmly believe they will get it back in reduced sick leave. Good hygiene procedures must be seen as an investment (as well as protecting their people).
Creatif: In a recent blog we asked the Creatif team for their one tip for successful remote working – what’s yours?
DB: Set a cut-off time – and do something that enables you to make a clean transition from work to family time once cut-off time comes around. If you don’t do this, work and family time become murky and neither get your quality attention.
Creatif: Aside from the challenges presented by the current situation, what essential elements do you often see overlooked most often when it comes to workspace design?
DB: Acoustics – not so long ago we used to see a lot of our customers not considering acoustics in the workplace at all. This was mainly because there was a certain level of naivety surrounding what was considered a ‘dark art’. And because acoustic isn’t something that’s seen or physically felt, designers preferred to leave it well alone!
However, as workspace became open-plan and agile environments were needed, we found there was a greater appetite to understand acoustics and Creatif spent the past few years educating on good acoustic design. So, yes acoustic was once overlooked but now not so much.
One other aspect of this is that acoustics can be pricey - for good reasons. Fit-out companies tend to offer it as a "below the line" cost option and, if the client chooses, something that’s applied retrospectively once the client moves into the space. This is because the cost of acoustics can take a project over budget. The downside to this approach is that clients tend to move in, experience the acoustic problems and that leaves them feeling they haven’t had the best value from their fit-out provider. We have had before now clients coming to us because they simply cannot use their meeting rooms due to lack of acoustic absorption rendering the VC system unusable!
The other negative to this approach is that retro-applied acoustic can look exactly that – and sometimes even worse than that! There’s nothing better than an integrated design-led acoustic scheme that works and looks amazing too – for this to happen fit-out companies do have to stop treating acoustics as "below the line" nice-to-have and instead include as a non-negotiable.
Creatif: Having founded Creatif in 2002, you’re approaching two decades in the workspace industry. What drives you to stay passionate about workspace design?
DB: Precisely that – workspace performance and design!
I love it. I am intrigued by it. And I love the fact that we have the ability in our company and team to produce solutions that help improve workspaces for the users. This is the reason Creatif exists and, for me, its about getting up every day helping designers and workspace specialists create the very best workplaces that enhance the wellness and productivity of the users.
Now with this pandemic upon us, I also get tremendous motivation in coming up with solutions that ensure workspace users are safe - the workspace is not dead and it never will be, but for staff to return to the office, they must feel safe and they must be safe.
Long live the workspace!