The office is going to look quite different when everyone returns to work, and wellness has become a top priority when redesigning the spaces in which employees will spend their days.
That was the main topic of discussion during Wellness: An American Builders Quarterly Roundtable on March 25. American Builders Quarterly Managing Editor Melaina K. de la Cruz led an interview with James Miner, CEO of interdisciplinary design firm Sasaki, best known for projects such as the Boston City Hall Plaza and the Chicago Riverwalk. Sasaki was also responsible for the Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District project in Shanghai, China, which is featured on the cover of American Builders Quarterly’s Wellness Issue.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the interview.
A New Understanding of Wellness
A new understanding of wellness—beyond just physically—will play a major role in how office spaces are designed moving forward. This is a timely topic for Sasaki. Miner noted that his company is in the early phases of designing a new office space it will move into in early 2022. The company is keeping overall wellness top of mind.
“In terms of how wellness plays into it, physical aspects of wellness have been really the dominant part of that conversation, mostly due to COVID of course,” the CEO said. “And I think at the same time we’re focused on limiting the spread of disease through quarantine, social distancing, work from home—[everything] we’re used to now at this point have come at the cost of a lot of the other aspects of wellness that we need to be aware of.”
Miner cited social wellness, emotional wellness, and spiritual wellness as factors to consider when redesigning office spaces.
“I think we really need to pay attention to those going forward in the workplace, because those are the things that we’ve lost,” he said. “The isolation of remote work has created deficits in all of those areas. And so even if we haven’t ourselves been physically impacted by the pandemic, I think we’re all kind of feeling somewhat unwell if we’re being honest. So those aspects of wellness will definitely be part of the consideration now that we figured out how to deal with the physical aspects of the pandemic.”
Different Spots for Different Tasks
When it comes to the office’s physical design, movement will be a driving thematic element moving forward, Miner said. As people adopt flexible hybrid schedules, should their companies allow it, assigned desks will become less common, he noted.
“We’ll have different kinds of spaces that allow for people to have different places to do different tasks at different times of the day,” he said. “And it will encourage people to move around more throughout a typical workday and interact with more people. That’s what we’re all really hungry for. And so that’ll hit both the physical and social aspects of wellness. I think we’ll also need to have more dedicated quiet spaces. So one of the things we haven’t had in the open office is having places to go and reflect and recharge, and I think that’s an important part of maintaining good health throughout the day as well.”
The way Miner sees it, companies will begin to adopt policies that go beyond promoting better work/life balance and instead offer work/life integration. Gone are the days when people kept their personal lives, their home lives, and their work lives separate.
“I think at least for now the stigma that has traditionally gone with remote work has been dramatically reduced, so that’s going to affect how we design spaces that integrate people who are in-person and people who are remote, which is something we’re not dealing with just yet,” he said.
More Time with the Boss
The pandemic has prompted some positive changes. Miner has seen some things that are beneficial from an engagement standpoint, such as travel. Since people are not traveling as much, team leaders actually have more time to engage with their work and with their teams, he said. He noted that yes, Zoom fatigue and having so much screen time can be exhausting and many conversations now require scheduling, but the screen time does allow teams to bypass some of the common limits companies used to face.
“On the positive side though, I’ll say, relative to client engagement, in the past we would be limited to a smaller group of people that travel to the site and meet with clients just based on the cost of travel associated with that,” he said. “But now, I mean, there’s literally no cost to add another box in the Zoom screen. And so we’ve actually been able to have entire teams always in every meeting with clients. And that kind of exposure has actually been very positive. So hopefully we can hang on to some of that going forward.”
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