Stop Jumping to Concrete Solutions: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Now Regarding Your Workplace

by Anh Tran
Jul. 2, 2020 | Back To Explore

You’re probably reading this because even before the pandemic hit, you were looking for answers. You wanted to know what will be next, what will be best, what will really solve the things you’ve been thinking about in your workplace for all these years? Is open plan going to be amaaaaazing, or is it the worst thing ever? Can we fit 50 more people into this space, or do we need to find a new one?

And then…COVID-19.

Now, you most likely have a different filter – can I send people who depend on me back into the spaces we already have? Can I serve clients, students, collaborators, patients? Can I please say hi to someone in person? What can I do? What will I do?

It feels daunting – when we need solutions, dammit! – to spend the time needed to feel our way around the edges of the vastness of the issue. The place where our workplaces intersect with our humanity, and our health, and our economy, and our neighbors, and our communities…and all the worries we have for ourselves and those we love. We’re faced with looking at what we’ve designed previously, and what we were going to design, and cross-checking whether we’re doing enough to safeguard and future-proof space against pandemics and other threats.

I can’t give you a pat answer; I don’t have one. As designers, we’ve spent years training and obsessing to solve problems, and many of us are trying to predict, control, and affect what’s become an even more unknowable future. Therapy for the therapist, as it were.

That uncertainty is probably where we need to live right now in order to move forward. If we sit with our discomfort and with the things we’re worried and anxious about, what we learn can tell us about the outcomes we’re looking for, and the choices we’ll need to make. We’ve always used visioning to start the design process, but with the unintentional expansion of time we’re experiencing right now, it seems less a luxury than a necessity. We will all have to decide what we want to accomplish once things normalize and adjust our strategies accordingly.

With that in mind, we’d like to share 7 questions we’re always asking our clients, and are asking ourselves as designers now:

  1. How do you want to feel in the office? How do you want to work?
  2. How do you want your colleagues to feel? How do you want to work with them?
  3. What can be done that would be helpful to the kind of culture and practices you want to have?
  4. What things would help you feel safe and healthy inside your space?
  5. What makes you uncomfortable right now? What worries you?
  6. What makes “us” who we are together? Does your space encourage you to hold onto the good things?
  7. Where do you see yourself and your organization in (whatever time period you’re comfortable imagining)?

These questions are an invitation to avoid jumping to concrete solutions too early, and hopefully, they begin some of the deeper conversations and dialogue that will help all of us determine what our next moves will be. And if you need one, there’s a design team somewhere ready to keep you company on physically distant sofas, stress-eating chips, furiously drawing and thinking about how we’ll approach all of the environments we usually move through. But there won’t be any answers until we’ve had the conversations.