While the world continues to evolve and the built environment responds to ever-shifting challenges, one thing remains relevant: we as humans and designers must create points of connection as we reinvent the spaces we inhabit. The workplace, whether in-person, remote or a hybrid of the two, impacts our perception of the world around us and helps us tap into deeper meaning behind team collaboration, togetherness and productivity. Both present and future workplaces must challenge us all to remain nimble, prioritize people and create a memorable experience for the end user.
Designing a workplace that meets those challenges is one way to begin a bigger project: designing collaboration itself. Design for collaboration means to design for diversity and inclusion, a recognition of a wide range of talents and abilities. This has been an integral component of IIDA’s mission since the organization’s inception. What the next level of collaboration looks like is something we can shape together as we hold ourselves accountable for ensuring employee satisfaction and retention. Following are four ways to celebrate collaboration in a post-pandemic world:
Practice thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is the epitome of inclusion. We must consider that the lives and experiences of others are not monolithic. It’s about empathy, seeing others where they are. It’s about removing fear and how we approach and change. The pandemic has impacted all of us and the culture we’re a part of, but design offers an innate thoughtfulness that is so well prepared to help us hold onto cultural touchstones and create new ones.
Rely on quality hyper-connection. Listening vs. hearing enables teams to be mindful of boundaries. With technology leaving workers glued to their computers, it’s important to take “real life” moments. Simple things like genuinely checking in on a coworker, remembering to wish their child a happy birthday or treating those in-office meetings and celebrations like a “homecoming” of sorts builds trust with employees.
Redefine the skill set. Rethinking onboarding, acclimation and becoming a part of a culture is necessary in today’s world. With many working remotely, people have become more invested in learning new skills and continuing education without the burden of commute times. Knitting individuals into the fabric of a work culture is becoming more about infusing an individual’s personal and professional skills into the team and how those unique abilities create added value to support camaraderie as well as ROI.
Relearn old rituals while creating new ones. Appreciating different employee work styles is now not just acceptable, it’s necessary — especially as workplace design is being used to encourage people to return to the office. From pods, to private screens, to “indoor/outdoor” spaces, employees are embarking on a new way of working in solitude or coming together for creative ideation and brainstorming. Companies are factoring in new ways to absorb information through sensory details and ambiances that also promote well-being and encourage rejuvenation.
We have more control and influence than ever before on our environment and how we define space—and using that influence to consider how we can empower greater inclusion and collaboration is the challenge of this moment.
Cheryl Durst is the EVP and CEO of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA). Via its network of 15,000-plus members across 58 countries, IIDA advocates for advancements in education, design excellence, legislation, leadership, accreditation and community outreach.