Saraiva+Associados

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27.04.2020

How to build a company’s culture in a virtual world

Bruno Pereira • Associate Director and Architect

 

Early 2020, cities are alive with their own dynamics and Portugal, and Lisbon in particular, is increasingly becoming the destination of choice of hundreds of self-employed professionals from all four corners of the world, to whom teleworking has become a reality for many years now. This demand is the perfect opportunity for offices to continue to thrive and diversify their service offer.

The workplace has been evolving to a casual and presumably more comfortable space, whereupon a significant percentage of the company areas is being occupied by social spaces, such as pantries, cafeterias, and lounges. Some workplaces even give access to gyms, art spaces, hair salons and healthy food restaurants. Companies’ employees prefer workplaces with which they may identify with on their daily professional routine whereas the employers, by wanting to lure and keep young talents, choose to provide the best working conditions to their employees.

And suddenly, our lifestyle has changed in three, four weeks!

COVID-19 has raised a number of questions regarding these spaces, forcing professionals all over the world to rethink their usual workspace. It has also proved to be an emotional and philosophical attack to the culture of the companies. The workplace – key element to the ‘construction’ of the company’s culture – a place to connect, build trust and teams, create and share knowledge, has suddenly turned to a virtual space, maybe on a cloud, to a telepandemic. In a world where almost everyone is now working from home and meeting each other virtually, the company’s culture is in need, in my opinion, of a different set of skills. In these fast-changing times, the little things may be the most useful to build and sustain a connection to the mission, the purpose.

Many concerns have arisen, and will continue to arise, and the answers for these may be something as a vaccine – which may take time, and therefore we must take precautions until then…

How do companies that work in offices, may virtually engage with their employees, and make a significant impact on the teleworking experience? One of the answers may be to resort to teleworking – it may pose a challenge to the companies, but also an opportunity to discover new ways of working!

The Pandemic has cleared thousands of offices all over the world – what will the return be like? One thing we do know is that returning to normal will be everything but normal and that the companies will face great challenges in the long run. Regarding the workplace there will be new approaches that will make us rethink the existing spaces, in terms of design and use, from my point of view.

A new trend currently under discussion is called ‘Six Feet Office’ and aims – with the help of concepts and tools – to ensure the social distance within the workplace, promoting a safer environment for the employees by repositioning desks and implementing signs: around each table should be a circle which clearly indicates when the two-meter barrier has been overpassed. There may be also arrows on the floor to encourage the employees to circulate in a certain way, e.g. clockwise. By creating a single traffic direction, the germ spread may be avoided.

Overall, the changes in the design shall lead to changes in the behaviour, therefore being one of the ways to adapt the current spaces to the new realities, without need for major investments. It will be a challenge to think of concepts such as skills development centres, interaction and new and more flexible work models for spaces that promote social distancing.

It is up to the architect to deal with all the social and spatial constraints while looking for creative and technical solutions, so that this moment may become a collective learning.

The truth is, although I somewhat admire these latest space trends, such as the ‘Office’, I have never strongly advocated for them.

What really matters is that the challenge which stands todays will still defy us because it will imply abrupt changes and alterations to the existing paradigm because it is so fast and it will be enforced – in an indirect or direct manner – by those who use the spaces.

Let us see what will happen on this year’s second half! It will surely be another challenge for the class and its ideas….

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