Cindy Allen Hosts Roundtable Discussion on the Future of the Workplace at NeoCon
More than 20 designers and manufactures joined Interior Design editor in chief Cindy Allen in a scintillating roundtable discussion about what’s next for the workplace at NeoCon. The event, which took place June 13 in SANDOW Design Group’s DesignScene space at theMART, touched on the challenges—and solutions—of designing workplaces that offer elements remote locales do not.
While the group agreed there remains no one-size-fits-all solution, designers noted that helping clients navigate uncertainty now is a vital element of their job. “We’re helping clients overcome the hesitation to make decisions,” offered one designer, who noted that in that process, relationships are deepening along with the levels of trust needed to complete projects. This is especially true given that “design is under a microscope”—seemingly endless choices demand more calculated decisions.
When it comes it comes to luring employees back to the office, health and wellness perks are top of mind. “What can we provide that’s better than we did in the past?” posited one designer, noting that the wellness umbrella extends beyond the usual coffee station. “There’s a lot we can say about company culture with the spaces we create.” Workout rooms, how to incorporate healthy food choices, and flexibility to bring children and aging parents into the space are some of the ways designers are thinking differently about the new workplace. As more C-suite executives recognize the impact design has on talent retention and bringing teams back to the office, more are driving design decisions—rather than real estate contacts—ensuring spaces embody brand values.
But are design firms staffed to meet these changing needs? While the group agreed that recruiting talent remains a challenge, many also are seeing new career opportunities emerge. “Our industry is about solving problems and now the problems are more complex,” said another designer, noting that policy shifts call for expertise in science and psychology. “We need project management; I need people who understand the community [we’re designing for] in a way I don’t understand it.”
The group also touched on designing for the Metaverse, and the potential the virtual realm holds as a pilot program of sorts for what may work in a physical space, and the importance of sustainability. “Healthy products are becoming more important,” said another attendee. “Some brands are greenwashing and brainwashing at the same time and we need to make sure designers understand that.” For this reason, third party certifications remain vital.
As the discussion came to a close, Allen emphasized that working together as an industry is the way forward. “We need to keep having these conversations,” she said, offering a heartfelt thank you to those in the room. As for the future workplace, what’s clear is that choice matters. Employers and employees want flexibility to work in more ways than one, and designers already are rising to the challenge.
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