Flexibility and co-workers will pull us back into the office


Near the end of the Oscar-winning film Nomad, Fern, played McDormond of France, wanders silently through the abandoned offices of US Gypsum, where he worked on human resources. The camera rips through the dust of an ideal workplace like a black body. When the USG stopped its operations in the Nevada Empire, it left behind a stapler, a whiteboard, a printer, a company branded mug and a hard hat.

Nomad At least, a film about work: why we work and where, but above all, with whom. Fern, who grew up and left the empire’s home, drove his car across Central America amidst temporary jobs at American depots, fast food restaurants and camp sites.

What these do Bad work At least tolerable is the presence of his comrades. The surroundings are less important.

As employers think about how to accommodate the flexible, post-epidemic needs of their privileged disadvantaged white collar workers, they increasingly discuss how they will “persuade” people to return. They switch between direct order and passive-attack signals such as Goldman Sachs Staff memo Last week, I reminded them that its “culture of collaboration, innovation and learning thrives when our people come together”. They flag the designed fixtures and fittings to make office life safe and attractive. Hulk’s desk-chairs, which have sunk into some old workplaces, seem to be stable in rearranging.

Without people, the office would not be more animated than the USG’s Derlikt plant.

Some basics are certainly necessary, such as guarantee of light, warm and covid cleaning. Offices in developing countries may be home to some workers, such as those in London or New York who do not have adequate domestic work. Physical infrastructure is only a necessary element for productive work, though.

The New York Times saw it once last week How Google is preparing for the future. The search agency is experimenting with outdoor tented workstations, where the weather allows, adaptive indoor ventilation systems, places to include screens for hybrid encounters, and a terribly inflatable perforation to spread open planning areas for privacy.

The pictures are reminiscent “Workplace”, A 2001 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that explored the future look and shape of the work.

Paula Antonelli of Momads, who created the show as the first dot com bubble burst, told me that “the show arose from exactly the same kind of excited confusion.” Laptops and mobile phones were developed to provide employees with “a personal metaphorical space much larger than your personal physical workplace,” recalls Antonelli.

Visitors were confronted with a customized Mercedes Maximog The complete SUV with secure global communication (including the fax machine – it was 2001, remember), a sleeping deck, and the “sniff” of the kitchen and bathroom, all made Fern’s nomadic existence more comfortable.

Antonelli also launched six projects envisioning a flexible work future. They are included A multimedia bedDesigned by Hela Jangarius with built-in keyboard and screen, Noato Fukasaba has a workspace that occupants can personalize. Various skyscrapers On the roof.

When I returned to the Financial Times headquarters for the first time in six months, I was amazed at how the lawsuit and the small work of the tie evoked some latent excitement about my work. (In my defense, I had to wear some clothes for the most recent presentation Global boardroom Virtual Conference from FT Television Studio). But my energy levels depend more on the colleagues I have personally met.

Persuade critical employees to bring their workplace into the office At the same timeThe hardest is the central paradox is that the best way to encourage people to come back is to give them the freedom not to give up. One of the reasons why HR departments are still wrestling with it, like the way Fern worked 20 years after MNMA presented its flexible future vision.

Antonelli believes in the power of design, and is optimistic about Midtown Manhattan and the future. Other cities Which depends on the combined “red and white blood cells” of passengers and residents. But how and with what enthusiasm office workers will return is not so much a matter of design; it is more a matter of labor relations.

andrew.hill@ft.com

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