Reflections from “The Office, Disrupted” exhibition

17 April 2021

Oftentimes we move through life so quickly that we forget to stop and think about what we’ve experienced, what we’re doing and where we’re headed. This could not be more true as the world has frantically reacted to nearly constant change over the past year in almost every aspect of our lives. The question now for many is, where do we go from here? “The Office, Disrupted” exhibition has provided me a unique opportunity to understand the past and find clarity in the present. Journey with me as I share my reflections below.

Have we been here before?

I kid you not when I say that the sight of the stacked and overturned chairs somehow knocked the wind out of me. I felt I had backtracked twelve months when staying indoors and many other restrictions were enforced.

Lockdown and the empty offices felt as though it had descended too quickly. But if you think about it, businesses, organizations and individuals have had plenty of time to prepare for it. What do I mean? For some time now, we’ve known that brick-and-mortar businesses that did not take themselves online were losing out on valuable market share. The pandemic made sure of that. It was either digitize or shut down. 

Similarly, offices that stuck to a one-dimension model of having employees physically present at work have been forced to rethink their way of engaging employees. The weapon of choice for virtual meetings was Zoom for most. Walking through the corridor of monitors with virtual conferences happening simultaneously made me recall how we have had to brush up on online meeting etiquette. For one, timekeeping, as well as an agenda necessary to ensure staying on track.

‘That meeting could have been an email.’

Well, yes, and no. WFH means flexibility. No need for commuting and removing all distractions caused by our well-meaning colleagues. However, soon we realized the missing link of human touch. E-mail and messaging platforms brought ambiguity when there were no accompanying facial and non-verbal cues to convey the message.

The ball maze brought to mind what a friend pointed out, “There is no such thing as bonding over Zoom.” Real brainstorming and discussion usually occurs after a presentation is over, after an ‘attention reset’ where there is informal banter and debate. That bonding and ‘A-ha!‘ moment happens face-to-face and not through a succession of virtual meetings where team members are often silent and may feel no obligation to contribute to the group because they have not had a chance to form a connection.  

This is what the office should look like

If an office could have its personality, the Hybridwork Lab would be described as a warm, inviting and tastefully thought out space that caters to each user who calls it ‘home’ for the day. Where teams can gather to use meeting facilities, informal areas for small group catch-ups, and stand-alone pods for individuals who need to work quietly or take a call. And as a lover of all things beautiful, the ergonomically-designed furniture appealed to me as it allowed the people milling around a moment to experience working from intelligent furniture, such as the height-adjustable table, that with a flourish, turns into a whiteboard when ideas had to be mapped out quickly. 

By the time I was introduced to the unique lighting that could be altered to set any tone I wanted, I was ready to call the Hybridwork Lab my office.  What struck me too, was how comfortable the acoustics in the office were, thanks to the elegant noise-reduction panels placed in different areas in different hues.

As molecules vibrate and cause their neighbours to gain energy themselves, so too will each person that comes into these hybrid workspaces. I believe that the pandemic has given offices a fresh start to rethink, redesign and reenergize their work culture—putting people first in a workplace equipped with seamlessly integrated technology to toggle between face-to-face and virtual meetings. Flexible and comfortable, drawing out the best from each workday.

Very soon, we will have offices slowly phasing in their employees to their designated workplaces again. My takeaway from walking through The Office, Disrupted, and the HybridWork lab is the recognition that office spaces can and must evolve to fit the new behaviours and habits that have developed in a very different future landscape. It would be a missed opportunity, should offices slip back to old norms. How will your hybrid office take shape?

The Office, Disrupted” exhibition continues to run at the National Design Centre till 13 May 2021, and the HybridWork lab experience is open for sign-ups. A series of panel discussions are also planned in conjunction with the exhibition, spanning across topics from workplace culture to the future of urban planning and the impact on office design. Sign up here

About the Writer

Eunice is happiest when she’s exploring new eateries in a comfy pair of Converse with her gang of 4 music-making, cartoon-creating offspring. Writing behind the scenes for Paperspace Asia aside, she is at present catching up on sampling acai bowls and endeavouring to complete all fifteen seasons of Criminal Minds.

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