The way we work is going through an upheaval. While that can seem scary, Wolf Studio’s Micah Valenzuela argues it’s an exciting opportunity.
9 July, 2021
For the last nine months, Micah Valenzuela and her team have been working on a workplace experiment – one that has shifted her thinking about the future of work.
One of the ‘Leaders of the Pack’ at Singapore-based design firm Wolf Studio, which focuses on workplace design, Valenzuela admits that the outcomes of this ‘experiment’ – which has run throughout the pandemic – have shown that no one size fits all.
“Initially, we thought everyone would come back to the office to collaborate,” says Valenzuela. “For us as designers, that ability to exchange ideas face-to-face is so important.”
For other industries, however, collaboration is not what’s drawing them back to the office. For the leading Singapore bank this experiment was conducted for, what’s bringing them in is a desire for space in which to focus.
“They come to work because they want to get away from their home environment, because it’s easier to concentrate in the office,” says Valenzuela. “We borrowed furniture from various suppliers [for this experiment] and the focus furniture has been more popular than the collaboration furniture.”
Supporting focus work are products like Prospect Solo Space from Herman Miller. This freestanding work booth features acoustic panels, minimising outside interruption for optimal deep work conditions. Perfect for leading banks whose staff need alone time!
That same bank is also trying to reduce its footprint (but not its headcount) after shifting from a traditional office model to activity-based working. And, while people may need different things from their offices depending on which industry they’re in, this drive to reduce their square footage is shared by many.
Wolf Studio’s clients are “all taking a hybrid approach to work, and they’re trying to be more efficient with their space,” says Valenzuela.
“We all know that Singapore and Hong Kong don’t have the luxury of lots of real estate,” she says. “It’s even more efficient now. Before, you’d have 300 people across two floors – now it’s one floor. Before, the sharing ratio was 70:30 or 80:20; now it’s more like 50:50.”
Flexible desking arrangements support this. “Nowadays, it’s important not to have individual desks. Communal tables give you the option to use 10 chairs if you want to, or six. Portable phone booths and meeting pods have also been very popular recently, with all these space contractions and expansions.”
To facilitate these contractions and expansions, clients are saying no to built-in furniture, says Valenzuela. “Clients tell me they want to be able to reuse as much furniture as possible if they have to move to a lower-rent space. They want things to be as modular as possible, with more loose furniture and more systems furniture, so they’ll be able to dismantle it quickly and go anywhere.”
Herman Miller’s office equipment supports this level of flexibility. It’s an approach that aligns with the leading furniture brand’s view that workspaces need to be agile and ready for change, and that they must support the needs of the people working in them by enabling user choice wherever possible.
This comes through in products like Ratio Desking System. Relaunching in August 2021, this height-adjustable table can be customised in a host of ways to meet user and organisational needs.
Ratio is one that Valenzuela and her team used on a recent project for an online remittance and telecoms company. “We know the R&D has really been done so well, so if a client asks me if Herman Miller products are OK, I’ll say yes, of course. You can never go wrong.”
A rare pandemic success story, this tech company shares common threads with other organisations out there. It’s focused on wellness for its people, says Valenzuela – and right now, that means health and safety are top priority.
“We’ve done a lot of explorations into how we keep the office as safe as possible,” says Valenzuela. “We’ve looked at installing sneeze guards and acrylic panels. But first, it’s expensive, and second, it takes us back to that traditional call-centre and cubicle set-up. And it’s not that hygienic, because you have to clean it every hour or so.”
She sees ventilation systems as a more meaningful, sustainable solution to wellness in the office, and she hopes social distancing measures – such as spacing out desk chairs – are a temporary measure. “We all still believe it’s going to go back to normal.”
When that will be and what it looks like remains to be seen. “We don’t know what will happen in the long run. It’s all about trial and error and testing.”
This time of experimentation and testing has its upside, though. As Valenzuela points out, it’s an opportunity for businesses, designers and furniture manufacturers to come up with new solutions that support collaboration, focus work, flexibility and so much more.
“Now, you can literally work everywhere. You can do Zoom calls on your phone in the cab. There’s no downtime,” she muses. “I hope furniture makers like Herman Miller think of ways to create diversions and time for everything, including shut-down time. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.”
Explore Prospect Solo Space here.
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