The company as a place of convergence
The sudden emergence and widespread adoption of remote working throughout 2020 represents a deep, structural change for companies. As an essential component of this revolution, architecture must reinvent itself to support and make possible new uses. Once a unique and centralized location for activities, companies are now a place of convergence, flexible and collaborative.
New everyday practices
Tom got to the office halfway through the morning. For the past year, he has been spending half of his time working remotely. This is when he gets his administrative tasks done. Office time is mainly devoted to team meetings. Tom believes it is essential to retain direct contact with his colleagues. As soon as he arrives, he stops by his floor’s café to get a coffee and check his meetings for the day on a touch screen. His colleague, who works in communications, spots him and asks if they can find a moment during the day to discuss an upcoming promotional campaign.
Tom is now with his team in a brainstorming room with a large window overlooking the garden. From time to time, he gets up and goes into a small, closed office to take calls undisturbed.
It’s midday. Lunch time. Tom heads to the cafeteria on the ground floor. He chooses a seat in an alcove to have a chat with the communications manager without being disturbed.
It’s almost the end of the afternoon. Before heading to the gym to work out, Tom relocates to the library. He puts the finishing touches to his end-of-year report, an important job which requires his full focus. The library is almost empty, and the elegant surroundings are perfectly suited to this task which marks the end of a busy but productive week.
A place of convergence
Digitization and the emergence of working from home are changing the nature of office spaces. They are losing their status as an exclusive and static place of work to the benefit of more mobile and polymorphous arrangements. Activities can very easily be spread throughout the day between the home, the car and the company headquarters. With this explosion of the work place, what is the future for traditional spaces?
The company’s identity remains rooted in the office space. It must remain its bedrock, while becoming a place for convergence. Employees will no longer necessarily visit the office for the purposes of production, but mainly to exchange ideas, discuss and communicate. The office will become a place for teamwork and collaboration.
To be properly implemented, ideas around collaborative work require a profound change in the way the work place is organized. Traditional rows of offices must make way to a large range of spaces for exchanging ideas and working together; corridors must become indoor avenues which encourage serendipitous encounters; spaces devoted to wellbeing and activities will appear: break rooms, gyms, libraries, etc. Alongside these collaborative spaces, private spaces must remain accessible for more confidential tasks.
Mobility and flexibility within spaces will be prioritized to encourage interactions and distinguish office work from the bubble of working from home.
These new spatial arrangements will only fully come into their own if they are accompanied by changes in behaviour involving greater autonomy, a shift towards a more collaborative model of organizing work, maximum digitization of information and a much greater emphasis on communication within teams and also with the outside world.
Architecture as a catalyst for change
The new company headquarters for ORES, the leading operator of electricity and natural gas distribution systems in Wallonia, provides a perfect illustration of this structural shift in the way companies operate. A vast information and training campaign involving all the staff was carried out ahead of the project by Out Of Office to define new practices within teams.
In parallel, networks and IT tools were redesigned to support mobility and digitization. All the company departments were involved in the planning process, uniting employees around the current project.
In collaboration with our engineering partners and Out Of Office, for the interiors, we proposed a luminous design based around large, open, modular spaces which are easy to transform, opening onto interior gardens and extending into terraces.
Natural light is omnipresent and everyone can work wherever suits them best. The Rambla, a walkway which runs lengthways through building, unifying it, embodies the spirit of collaboration central to the project.
This idea has been explored by archipelago in other projects.
The Strépy-Bracquegnies Training Centre at ORES brings together collaborative office spaces, classrooms and workshops around a courtyard garden.
The Administrative Centre for the municipality of Uccle responds to similar objectives as ORES: optimizing civic services by housing activities in a single, open and fluid space.
The headquarters of Rawbank in Kinshasa (DRC) illustrate an approach which prioritizes maximum flexibility of floor space thanks to three-dimensional modularity of the layout and utilities.
On the site of the CHC hospital in Liège, a new multi-purpose building now houses all of the institution’s administrative services in a collaborative environment. A childcare centre, available to staff, has been integrated in the project.
Case study - PROJET U