Reimagining the Office for ‘The New Normal’
Photo — Hampus Berndtson
Written by Alisa Larsen
We continuously adapt our space to the needs of our team, and to the ever-changing reality around us. With the ‘new normal’ and a new focus, we have set out to update our Copenhagen HQ to better reflect how we now work — guided by the wish to inspire, empower, and safeguard our team members’ well-being.
SPACE10 is not built to last, but to evolve — and our needs and priorities shifted during the pandemic. With our homes suddenly morphing into workplaces, shared with kids, partners and housemates, we felt the need to revise our ideas of what the office should be.
Adaptability is an important part of SPACE10 culture. In spring 2020, we embraced the sudden translation of our daily interactions and rituals to Google Meet, and used this opportunity to hone in on our WFH practices. Still, the physical and social distance made us more aware of the importance of community collisions, as Harvard Business School lecturer and researcher Christina Wallace calls them. Research shows these informal interactions are key to building trust in the workplace. They help us get to know each other better, which makes it easier to communicate and arrive at team decisions.
Aiming to always see constraints as opportunities, we set out to use this time when the office is not in use to rework our surroundings. As SPACE10 design producer Elsa Dagný Ásgeirsdóttir says:
‘It is very much the spirit of SPACE10 to do what simply makes sense, and turn obstacles into advantages.’
Work from home is here to stay, and full-time office presence may not return when the pandemic is over. During the 2020 global lockdown, more than 40% of the UK and half of all US employees switched to working from home — and research by Gallup shows that three out of five do not want to come back full-time.
However, working from the office sometimes offers important benefits: from creating a daily routine, to offering a focused space to work, meet and brainstorm — away from distractions of family. In their report on the rise of ‘work from anywhere’, strategic design consultancy Paper Giant discovered that one of the main predictors of how much you will enjoy working from home is your household complexity: for those of us responsible for caring for many members of a household, working from home may, instead of liberation, bring an overwhelming lack of separation between our work and family selves.
At SPACE10, working from home brought to our attention that we were a diverse group of people, with varied home conditions and needs. Some of us are homeschooling during the work day, some are caregivers, others are recent arrivals to Denmark, or living with housemates. During the lockdown we invited the team to send in photos of their set-up at home, revealing a motley of conditions. We wanted to celebrate that variety in the update to our office space.
‘We invited everyone’s requests for how they wanted their personal space to change. Then we implemented as many as possible,’ says SPACE10’s spatial design lead Kevin Curran.
Some team members wanted more privacy, solved by divisions and curtains, others daylight lamps to combat seasonal affective disorder, or a range of seats to vary the posture during the day. ‘It’s all about enablement,’ Curran says.
Adaptability to the individual and the team gives a sense of ownership and control in unstable times — and helps us more directly support our team’s mental and physical well-being.
The long-standing trend in office design has been to make workplaces more closely resemble the informal spaces of home. During the Covid-19 lockdown, we were struck by the wish for something quite different altogether — we started to appreciate the office space for the calm and privacy to focus on our work.
We want both privacy and collaboration in our workspace. So how did we respond to these dualistic needs? Flexibility, it turns out, is key. We approached the spatial update with a sense of spatial fluidity. By repurposing original fixtures into sound-proof enclosures, we created a variety of private places to unwind, make calls, knuckle down or even take a nap.
‘We learned from our last office redesign that it is not enough to simply create the perfect space for a person. There need to be spaces,’ says Ásgeirsdóttir. ‘Having more than just one dedicated space for yourself encourages ergonomic flexibility and a change of scenery.’
For a long time, our Makery served as a dedicated workshop for open-source digital fabrication research. We had furnished the Makery by adapting designs by Enzo Mari, Italian mid-century designer and open-source pioneer. With SPACE10 moving into new fields of research, we wanted to provide a base for the teams to work in their own space through a whole project — to be able to go ballistic without getting in anyone’s way.
Building on the existing design language, we reimagined the Makery to host a series of project pods. We worked with each team to create a space that reflected their needs. For some, this meant a modular test space with VR and AR equipment, while others needed a space to unfold their creative process and ideate as a team.
Our collaborator Theo Sachs helped us envision a series of collaborative spaces. Sachs introduced a bolder colour scheme and a softer material palette, and looked for inspiration in Enzo Mari’s DIY opus ‘Autoprogettazione’. The Italian designer’s approach was truly transparent, publishing the blueprints for many designs, but also exposing their construction to the naked eye. Customising some of Mari’s available-for-all designs, Sachs created a flexible shelving system that divides the space into pods designated for ideation, meetings and prototyping, without the addition of physical walls.
‘Mari has always been a presence in my life,’ says Sachs. ‘The shelving I created for the space strives to build on Mari’s principles — a transparent design that welcomes adaptability.’
Aiming to reduce our environmental footprint as much as possible, we have reworked materials and elements from our previous office design, and engaged local manufacturers and construction partners — Kvadrat, Von Holmbäck, Arne & Aksel, ChipChop. Utilitarian materials are ever-present in the space, such as milled plywood and the red rods that join the shelves. These allow for easy spontaneous rearrangement — adding, moving and retracting.
‘We strive to be as circular as possible in our approach to building physical spaces, upcycling, repurposing, and recycling as much as we can,’
says SPACE10 spatial design lead Kevin Curran.
Sachs also made use of new sustainable materials such as Kvadrat’s Really range, which transforms textile pulp from reprocessing of pre-owned blue jeans and discarded hospital scrubs into solid construction boards and acoustic textile felt. ‘These materials are innovative, sustainable, and beautiful, capabilities we value highly,’ says Curran.
Collaboration and culture
At SPACE10, change is the only constant. Adapting to ‘the new normal’, whatever that might be, is a big part of our DNA.
We are still in the fog of the pandemic, but we are already seeing changes to how we perceive our workplace. Many companies across Asia-Pacific now believe they do not need more than 25% of their workforce in the office. Normalising remote work has unlocked opportunities for those who were not able to reach them before, for reasons of access or disability. And recent research by Gensler shows that half of US workers, and two thirds of employees in Europe and Australia, express a wish for hybrid and flexible workplaces. In other words, even once restrictions are lifted, most of us want to continue working part-time in the office and part-time at home.
Elsa Dagný Ásgeirsdóttir agrees: ‘We realise that we will continue to work remotely.’
‘So, when people come into the office in the future, it will be for collaboration and the culture. We felt it was crucial to make space for exactly that.’