CEC WEEKLY TIES – Returning to the office

Dear colleagues, 

This Harvard Business Review article on “The Implications of Working Without an Office” reveals the opportunities that lie ahead as we rethink what work and workplaces can mean in our lives. After surveying over 600 U.S.-based white-collar employees, the study concluded that “most white-collar employees we studied made the transition to virtual work well; in fact, many are beginning to enjoy it.” The negative impacts of remote work to well-being have long been documented (see Fingerprint for Success for an overview) but, “This time, everyone in an organization had to do it, and they collectively strived to figure out how to overcome the challenges.” Why not stay virtual? Because long-term organizational health is dependent on:

  • Unplanned interactions and the creation of “weak ties,” where people who don’t normally work with each other connect accidentally and that interaction sparks new ideas.
  • On-boarding, where new employees are exposed to how things are done so they can see how to apply their own strengths.
  • Fostering relationships, where small talk and other forms of schmoozing engender trust and communication, innovation and collaboration.

If “work” is about relationship-building, perplexing to me is the disconnect between the language we use and these meaning-making processes. Here are some definitions according to Merriam-Webster:

  • Work (noun) – activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something
  • Work (verb) – to perform work or fulfill duties regularly for wages or salary
  • Office – a place where a particular kind of business is transacted or a service is supplied
  • Workplace – a place (such as a shop or factory) where work is done.

None of these definitions hints or captures the relationship-building aspects of our work

Framing “work” as a meaning-making and relationship-building activity and “workplaces” as spaces of meaning-making and relationship-building, we can reimagine both work and the office. 

Look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas for an expanded vocabulary.

Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Editor
[email protected]


Learning Areas In The Office

While giving me a tour of Copenhagen’s BloxhubBo Christiansen of Scaledenmark, talked about remembering what is important in life: “Once you have the core, you don’t want to clutter it.” Kitchenettes such as this act as core spaces for creating “weak ties” by opening up opportunities to foster connections and spark conversations. 
 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Circulation Spaces - Cec Design
Learning Areas In The Office
Circulation Spaces To Learn Or Pause Time
A Wall Art Paint At The Office

Much of our time in buildings is spent moving in-between spaces. Circulation spaces can be transformed into moments where people can pause, reflect, and learn. Diverse ways of meaning-making can be employed in this process to engage and spark serendipitous dialogues among people with different backgrounds, be those due to race, religion, ethnicity, age, ability, traditions, etc. 

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


St Paul International Airports Award-Winning Bathroom Design

Envision restrooms as destination spaces that go beyond meeting basic needs through stalls and wash areas. Include art as a medium for engagement, such as the award-winning bathrooms at the MSP International Airport, or sitting areas where one can lean-on during a conversation.
Push the boundaries for what bathrooms can be beyond “Men,” “Women,” “Gender neutral.” Reevaluate privacy and togetherness, asking where one needs aloneness versus where
“weak ties” can be crafted. 

What would a restroom where people can choose to linger and where impromptu conversations and informal connections can begin to form look like?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Conference Rooms Or Spaces For Dialogue

The unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates declared. As the master of dialogues, he used this genre to expand his own awareness of other points of view. And yet, work life is often the setting where narratives explored are limited instead of expanded and where employees refrain from sharing their own thoughts and ideas in fear of judgement and repercussions, real or perceived.

What role can design play in providing the settings where discourses can be broadened for
women and employees of color?

Why women don’t always support other women? See also Peggy Drexler’s thoughts on why Cameron Diaz and Ellen Pompeo should not have to explain what work means to them and how that changed due to other circumstances in their lives?

How can employees of color be supported and empowered, particularly at a time when Black, Hispanic, and indigenous communities have been greatly impacted by the pandemic and the call for racial justice? 

 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Work Spaces Or Best Enough Spaces

As the pandemic blurred the work/home boundaries, employees found themselves devoting more hours to work–approximately 3 hrs per day–in spite of other increased demands, such as caring for children and housework. Even before the pandemic, dual-earner couples and single parents were already feeling heightened time pressures and increased conflicts between work and their private lives.

Anna Holand, a former student of our colleague Deni Ruggeri at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, founded the God nok festival, “good enough” festival, to raise awareness about “unhealthy performance pressure that makes young people feel unsuccessful and useless.” Music, art, along with voices from psychologists, researchers, priests, and authors address topics such as self-confidence, self-worth and mastery on both a professional and personal level.

How can the design of workplaces communicate and reinforce a “good enough” mentality?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni 

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