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Operation Office Makeover

OPERATION

OFFICE MAKEOVER

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EXPERTS PREDICT AESTHETICS TO PLAY A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN RETURN TO THE OFFICE POST-COVID

BY JAMIE ZACHARY

The road back to the office post-pandemic will be paved with good intentions. Yet local interior design experts urge employers to avoid the fast lane back, and instead use this opportunity to reset the traditional workspace aesthetic.

The incentive? An opportunity to promote creativity, productivity and collaboration when its arguably needed the most.

“We’re finally returning to the office from home where we’ve been for what seems like forever. And there’s a newfound level of excitement that comes with that … as well as a bit of apprehension,” says Lucy McMurray, a Calgary-based architecture and design market manager with Conexxion, a contract furniture agency.

“This is a great time for employers to capture that energy and freshen things up a bit – break away from the norm and try some new things, specifically as it relates to design.”

A poll conducted earlier this year by market researcher Leger found four out of five respondents in Canada don’t want to go back to their pre-pandemic schedule. Dig into that a bit more and the poll also found 82 per cent of respondents gave their working-at-home experience a positive review.

“People who have been working from home during the pandemic and are now coming back have become used to certain creature comforts. We’ve become used to having the kitchen a few steps away or being able to lounge on the couch or sinking into a comfy chair while trying to pound out some documents,” says Julie Okamura, principal with Calgary-based interior design firm Pop Design Group.

ABOVE: LUCY MCMURRAY, A CALGARY-BASED ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN MARKET MANAGER WITH CONEXXION, A CONTRACT FURNITURE AGENCY.

&Strong Roots New Growth

Greenery Office Interiors Promoting Workplace Wellness with Nature

For Greenery Office Interiors, strong roots and new growth means more than just the health of the plants they care for. It speaks to their appreciation of servicing Calgary for over 44 years and their excitement for the changes occurring in workspaces throughout Calgary.

President and founder Joanne Young recalls a time “[when] plants were discouraged in interior design plans. Now people are realizing how important they are and what they can add to their surroundings. Plants are essential in providing workspaces with fresh air and an uplifting and energizing effect.”

Just like a seedling, Greenery started small and continued to grow. Today the team of 20 cares for tens-of-thousands of plants throughout Calgary offices and workspaces. Their approach is to focus on two key components: wellbeing and design. The design consultation process includes detailed images and specifics and professional and timely installation, followed by ongoing plant maintenance by their team of horticultural technicians.

“It’s a unique business in the sense that we’re fortunate enough to see our clients on a weekly/bi-weekly basis. During our maintenance visits, we provide professional plant care for the betterment of people’s environments. We are committed to our vision and values, and our business model upholds that,” says operations manager Erica Steven.

Companies incorporating plants into workplaces emphasize the importance of employee health and productivity. Greenery applies the concepts founded in biophilia (the desire to be in nature) and biomimicry (the imitation of nature’s designs in everyday life) to create a work environment that people feel comfortable and grounded in.

Camille Anderson, Joanne Young and Kelsie Anderson. Photo by Courtney Lovgren.

Every good growth story has its challenges and the pandemic has certainly shifted the nature of workplaces, but Greenery is looking forward to the future. Their team agrees.

“Vacancy rates in Calgary can be daunting. However, it’s exciting to see companies investing in employee-centric and tenant-centric spaces. These companies are recognizing what people want – to feel good in their workspaces. And incorporating plants in the design adds so much more than just aesthetic value,” says Young.

Sisters and sales and design associates, Kelsie and Camille Anderson, combine their passions to gain the upper hand over their competitors. Kelsie, the professional horticulturalist, and Camille, the design enthusiast, utilize their knowledge and talents to bring their client’s vision to life.

“Whether we are working directly with a client, designers or architects, we establish the vision and tackle every detail from consultation through installation. The best feeling is watching the space come to life when we arrive and knowing people will continue to enjoy those benefits,” says Camille.

Greenery’s recent award-winning design in Absorb Software in Calgary’s new TELUS Sky building is a testament to that.

“We were flexible with the client’s needs during the lockdown, and while the office was closed, we incorporated living walls and custom plant fixtures in phases. Now that employees are back in the office, they’re experiencing the commitment that their employer places on their wellbeing,” says Kelsie.

Whether corporations opt for a selection of live plants, a moss or living wall, or an extensive atrium, the results are the same. Studies suggest that having plants in the workplace decreases tension and anxiety levels and reduces feelings of fatigue while at the same time increasing creativity and productivity. As Calgary learns to pivot and trends continue to change, people returning to work post-pandemic are asking for human-centric environments. Greenery believes that plants are an essential element in those environments.

@greenerycalgary

“It’s understandable that people would come back and have a bit of anxiety. They are not able to relax and be themselves like they were in their own home.”

Some of those creature comforts will include everything from lounge areas and games rooms to restaurant-style lunchrooms and multi-functional outdoor spaces.

“Part of it is about creating that social experience,” says Okamura. “But it’s also about creating a lifestyle within the office workspace, which never used to be the case.”

Adds McMurray: “We call it ‘resimercial design’ – the combination of residential and commercial interior design. It’s about having these flexible and comfortable spaces that resemble home – more lounge furniture and casual collaboration spaces.”

Okamura also points to the importance of natural light – “people will crave it after being holed up their homes for so long” – as well as well-placed artificial light. She recommends something in the range of 2,500 to 3,000 Kelvin.

Meanwhile, colours, textures and even scents offer the opportunity to bring Mother Nature inside, whether through aromatherapy or vibrant greens, yellows, oranges and pinks.

“These scents and colours give us more energy, which can lead to improve creativity and collaboration,” says Okamura.

Speaking of Mother Nature, biophilic design is also expected to play an important role in defining the office aesthetic post COVID-19.

Joanne Young, president of Greenery Office Interiors, says plants were already making their way into many Calgary offices pre-COVID. Now with workers returning to the office, that little touch of green will go a long way in making them feel right at home.

“Offices are going to change. They have to,” says Young, whose company offers interior plant service and office plant leasing services. The company’s more recognizable projects include the Winter Garden in Jamieson Place and the awardwinning “The Staghorn” Living Wall project for ATB built in partnership with Green Over Grey. “They have to look great if you want people to come back, especially if that employer is also allowing them to split time working from home. They are going to want to feel comfortable. They are going to want to be impressed once they walk back through the doors.”

A study titled “The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace” commissioned by flooring company Interface and led by psychologist Cary Cooper found employees who worked in environments with biophilic design elements were 15 per cent more productive in comparison to groups with no greenery or natural environments.

The study also found nearly 90 per cent of workers in offices with biophilic design reported improved wellbeing following the change.

“In addition to providing increased oxygen, there are obvious mental health benefits to incorporating plants into the office. And healthier environments equal more productive employees,” says Young, noting that in addition to traditional planters, some of the more popular trends recently include living or moss walls.

ABOVE: JOANNE YOUNG OF GREENERY OFFICE INTERIORS SAYS A WELLDESIGNED PLANTER WITH A SINGLE PLANT INSIDE CAN CREATE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL IN THE OFFICE.

“When you also consider things such as worker productivity, creativity and improved concentration, the cost of purchasing and maintaining plants provides a great return on investment for companies. The benefits far outweigh the costs.”

Strategically placed planters can even be multi-functional in also providing physical distancing in the office – something McMurray anticipates will be in place for some time still. In fact, she expects to see larger workstations, more open space and even higher cubicle panels making their way into offices moving forward.

On the way out? Benching – where workers sit side-by-side in a long row of desks – along with hot desking or desk sharing and even large corporate boardrooms.

“I just don’t see 20 people being crowded in a boardroom being the norm moving forward,’ says McMurray. “In their place, I see more things like smaller breakout spaces for up to four to five people. We will still crave connection. We will still crave collaboration. We just need to be respectful and conscious of what people may or may not be comfortable with in an office environment moving forward.

She also points to a new product by Artopex called the Mute Box. The free-standing phone booth is encased by double glass walls and three-inch air chamber and high-density soundproofing.

“One of reasons it’s fantastic during these times is it has a robust ventilation system – almost 10 times better than you would see in an office model in terms of air circulation,” says McMurray, noting air in the Mute Box circulates once per minute.

For small businesses on a budget, Okamura says a fresh coat of paint and the right choice of lights will go a long way. “If you could only do one thing, I would say play with some really fun, vibrant colours that will allow you to update your space. It’s the easiest and least-expensive way to spruce up a place,” she says.

McMurray agrees, saying even the smallest things that an employer can do to elevate the look of their office offers an opportunity to inspire their employees and make them excited about coming back.

“People don’t necessarily want to work from an office full time anymore. They want to have more flexibility and adaptability in their working styles,” she says. “This means to have people back in the office full time, there are going to be certain things employers are going to want to implement into the office space to have people feel more comfortable post-COVID.

“We’ve all been so disconnected for so long. Going back into the office doesn’t have to be a mundane transition. We can be excited about it, and the first way to do that is making the office a really inviting and inspiring atmosphere.”

ABOVE: THE MUTE BOX BY ARTOPEX IS A PHONE BOOTH-STYLE BREAKOUT ROOM FOR UP FOR FOUR OR FIVE PEOPLE.

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