In Conversation with Castledex: The New Normal

Since our latest blog post ‘The Modern Office Post Covid19’, we have been doing a lot of thinking about what this means for Workplace design forever. Although the pandemic has seemed to calm down from the initial craziness, the reality is that the global COVID 19 pandemic will change the workplace forever. Commercial Office designers were collectively moving towards a culture of more open offices, team-based workspaces, self-employment and co-working, mobility, flexibility, and digital communications tools like artificial intelligence. Now the new ’normal’ will emerge, and there are lots of questions floating around, like, how companies will safely space out their old workforce, with the same amount of square footage? Or, how will offices run with contactless technology?

In Conversation with Castledex

Hi Ben, thank you for taking the time to discuss some questions with us. As a Commercial Design Firm we are having to re-think what it means to design the Modern Office and particularly our furniture selections. Could you talk to us about how you think Office furniture will change with the ’new’ normal going forward?

Thanks Taylor – It’s been an interesting year to say the least. I have been having this same conversation with businesses and design firms such as yourselves a lot and i think the consensus is that some things will definitely change but more importantly COVID 19 has added another layer of thinking to design in general. What we have seen in the last couple of years is a real shift from traditional fixed work areas into more hybrid models with the understanding that people work in different ways and fostering different type of work interactions is critical for creativity and culture. As furniture suppliers we have focused on our supply chain to bring products to the market that facilitate that whilst being flexible. That has held us in good stead for the new normal. As a lot of furniture can be repurposed or reconfigured to support a different working arrangement.

For instance a lot of fit outs have collaborative booths; where two or more people can touch down and have a 2 hour meeting or work on something in a more comfortable intimate setting. Workplaces may want to discourage that due to social distancing – so very easily we can say integrate power into that booth and add a laptop table and make it a quiet focus work zone. This way there is minimal capital investment but the furniture is still being used in a productive way and compliant with new standards. (See: https://www.castledex.com.au/product/four-us-solo/_ )

The other part of the discussion with regards to Office Furniture is materials. Having an understanding of fabrics, surfaces and barriers is now ever more important to be able to assist our clients with making a workplace more hygiene friendly. Where we used to use a lot of PET material as small screen dividers as a low cost acoustic divider that is now shifting towards at a minimum larger and in some instance full wraps around a worktop. The material itself is antimicrobacterial and with this function it creates a barrier for the transmission of germs. 

I think in summary that the trend of Office Furniture being flexible will be more important and suppliers will need to be closely connected in finding ways to support their clients in their ability to support new standards.

Proximity between employees is going to be a big issue, how will companies safely space out their old workforce, with the same amount of square footage?

As furniture suppliers we take advice from smarter people such as yourselves when it comes to this! However, we have been doing a lot of refit work in spaces that were traditionally dense. Ie. Computer labs or Hotdesking areas. We have been changing from say a 1500mm wide desktop to a 1800mm desktop. This supports the social distancing guidelines from WHO.

Overall density in workplaces has trended up for a number of years but I think in more recent times the added flexibility of working from home and agile workspaces has meant its probably come down as an average. What COVID 19 taught us as a business when we sent staff home is that although there was a shift in how we worked, we were still capable of producing the outcomes required to be successful. We definitely missed the incidental interactions and events but since then we have a number of staff working from home on a more permanent basis.

This experience from our discussions was shared among many workplaces. So although some offices may have to decrease density it won’t be as dramatic as first thought due to changes in working locations. However, as mentioned we really just try and support our clients with thoughtful products – we leave the space planning up to experts such as yourself and Christian!

What furniture materials will be best suited in maintaining hygiene and cleanliness standards?

We have been supplying a range of furniture specific for Aged Care environments and the material standards for that environment have taught us a lot about the interaction between materials, germs and the ability to easily clean. Fabrics and Leather are generally areas in which germs can get trapped within the seams, cracks and creases. However, fabric such as Crpyton or Vinyl are not less likely for this to occur but also much easier to clean.

Despite what you see at shopping centres we personally haven’t seen much acrylic or Perspex being introduced into the workplace. However, we have the ability to add those materials as barriers for in between desks as well as space barriers for open areas.

What are your thoughts on Open Plan Office Spaces, and do they have a place in workplaces moving forward?

Personally, I think Open Plan Office Spaces in themselves are great. My experience working in one has allowed the creation of a much more collaborative and inclusive culture. We are firm believers that culture beats talent and that ours is a key to our success. Saying that its paramount that for myself as a business manager create an office that is safe, healthy and supports government guidelines. So we personally have increased our cleaning schedule, provided disinfect, removed pick-ups from our shipping options and added work areas upstairs to lessen density. 

I believe that Open Plan Offices will stay albeit with conformance to guidelines and more thoughtful looks at how people move and work in between those areas.

While we have you, are there any new furniture pieces we can look out for coming soon, that you think we would like?

Oh yes! We have some great new pieces from our Australian furniture brands. We are launching a new pedestal base that can support a variety of tables. We also have a brand new bollard based sit stand solution in our King St Showroom as well as some fantastic new seating options.

To find out more on CastleDex visit their website https://www.castledex.com.au