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collaborative office spaces, “is you can work from home, and you can work from home pretty effectively.” Virtual meeting places like Zoom have played a key role in that transition, allowing companies to simulate conference room settings from their employees’ living rooms. It’s not a perfect swap, but by and large, businesses are adjusting. Zoom said in April that it hosts more than 300 million daily meeting participants. So, what happens when employees are gradually allowed to return to their workspaces? Do they? The truth is, no one knows yet. There are still clear benefits, like ease of communication and the appeal of state-of-the-art facilities, but now there will be questions, too. Are shared physical spaces, especially those meant to bring people together, safe from a health standpoint? And are they worth the cost, both in terms of leases and upkeep? Those answers will vary from place to place, but the point remains: An “office” may never look the same again.

Alliance Architecture – a business designed to construct physical spaces – has found it actually doesn’t need one of its own. Over the past four months, its staff has been working remotely. And every month, when Principal Architect Vandana Dake sends out a survey asking if anyone would want to come back, or feel comfortable doing so, the answer is no. Safety and liability are two crucial parts of the equation, but Dake and her husband, Warasila, have found the home

office to be successful. But then that begs the question from a business perspective: “Why do you want to come back?” Dake said. “Why do you want to have an office space? It’s not just, ‘What is the new

people who are in Chicago, Los Angeles [and] Hong Kong who are a part of ‘the office,’ but they don’t really ever have to come to the office. It opens the door to having a much different structure for what a company is.”

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF NEU CONCEPTS

Neu Concepts makes protective barriers and signage for office reception and desk areas to help businesses reinforce social distancing. office space?’ We do not know right now. Everybody’s guessing. Everybody has some solutions, but I don’t think it’s permanent.” “To me, what that is a metaphor for is flexible workplaces and not just places, but strategies for how people are going to work,” Warasila added. “My office could have

And Dake is not only sending surveys to her team; she’s also sent out polls to clients as well, many of whom are corporate accounts. Of those who responded, 100% don’t see themselves returning to the office any time soon. However, they could see themselves working at a 20% capacity.

Their team hasn’t shut down the idea of a physical office completely. They’re just trying to weave a broader perspective. Warasila noted that employees’ health safety and clusters of people are now going to be important elements to consider when designing a space. And shortterm solutions, or “multiple prescriptions,” as he calls them, of desks spaced 6 feet apart with circles embedded into the carpet to remind employees to social distance, Plexiglas guards on workstations or wearing masks – are not longterm solutions. “Think about every time we see those prescriptions,” Warasila said. “Why would anybody want to come back to that?”

While Warasila, Dake and their team are thinking about permanent post-pandemic office solutions, Cathy Hofknecht and her staff at Neu Concepts, a design firm with experience in cabinet-making and furniture production, are jumping to build quick fixes. Among the low-cost, highimpact measures are “sneeze guards” – plastic glass barriers – as well as moveable walls and directional signage. Establishing firmer boundaries and improving the flow of human traffic, she hopes, will provide employees with a stronger sense of safety – and therefore ease their gradual transition back into the office. “If somebody comes in and they see those physical indicators, it’s that clue that says, ‘This company is really taking all of this very seriously,’” Hofknecht said. “Maybe I am being a little too

August 2020

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Profile for Shannon Media

Durham Magazine August 2020  

The Best of Durham

Durham Magazine August 2020  

The Best of Durham

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