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Industry is shifting and adapting, and we must be open to changing along with it.  As part of that process Jancon is actively bringing together thought leaders across our industry for their insights and expertise.  This month we had the opportunity to speak to Greg Quinn, Principal & CEO of X-Design.  As an industry-leading designer, Greg has the unique ability to transform clients’ needs and requirements into dynamic environments with a complete respect for the project constraints of budget and schedule. He has helped some of Canada’s leading companies through major times of change and construction.

Read on for his observations, and takeaways on where design and commercial construction might be headed in the near future.

Designing for Change: A Conversation with Greg Quinn, Principal & CEO of X-Design

Q:   What is the current landscape for designers in the Toronto market during the pandemic? 

A:  I would describe the landscape for designers in Toronto as “demanding”. Some sectors like residential are super busy while other sectors like commercial are facing existential challenges as clients come to terms with the impacts of the pandemic.  This is creating a dynamic marketplace for designers to ensure they are providing value and insight to their clients.

While working from home permanently will not be an across-the-board solution for everyone, in the future it will be about finding the place on a spectrum of how much space a company needs and what they need that space for.  Some companies may find they need very little space going forward compared to what they had, but that new smaller footprint needs to be highly optimized for the new demands of the in-house team and what they are going to need to come into the office for.  And that will be different depending on the company and its operations.  These are spaces that still need to be designed and updated to perform at the highest level in a minimal amount of square footage.

Another thing to look out for in the near future is an office model that is more physically distributed and doesn’t necessarily need to all be in one place the way that traditional office used to be.  Satellite offices that act as hubs and allow employees in different parts of the province to access space to do the work that requires an office while reducing commuting times, restoring a work-life balance, and overall contributing to a happier and more productive workforce.

Q: What upcoming trends do you see coming in office redesign? 

A: Flexibility, flexibility, and a little more flexibility. Moving office and knowledge workers to their homes to work during the pandemic has enabled almost every company to become familiar with the impacts of remote work on their teams and businesses.

The genie is out of the bottle and companies will have to explore how to physically support distributed work while finding purpose for office space.

We are already seeing that the solutions need to be tailored for each company to support their respective and unique working cultures. Spaces will need to be dynamic hubs that support activities and collaboration that can only happen in a physical space.  

Leaders are now understanding that any space solutions will need to be flexible to be applicable to multiple future scenarios, and that their office space will likely require a redesign to achieve that flexibility.

Q: In your opinion when should project managers and procurement professionals be looking to implement covid office updates for an expected fall return to the workspace? 

It is our opinion that any return to the office will be predicated on the vaccination of the workforce. Since the current vaccine roll-out is slated to be completed by September, it is safe to assume a return would be around that time frame.

In terms of lead time, depending on the size of a project plan for a minimum 6 month window for construction if you’re doing a small intervention and a minimum of 12 months out for larger projects.

With proper lead time on a project, it allows the design consulting team to conduct a study of the company’s work culture & processes in order to build a plan, and figure out how much the organization needs to change.  It also allows the team to consult with their construction partner to find savings and bridge the gap between financial considerations and making sure the employees are also getting what they need to be happy.  In this way everyone involved is set up for success.

Q: Do you have any tips or best practices to share with those who might be considering an office redesign in the future?

Find out what your workforce is thinking and feeling. We are seeing a huge discrepancy between some business leaders and their workers about how they feel about distributed work and return to the office. Survey your staff and find out what they’re really thinking and feeling about the current situation and what they want to use the office for in the future.

Use scenario planning to understand the resiliency and change coefficients that a workplace will need to respond to. A business really needs to understand, at minimum on a high level, of the kinds of issues it may face in order to develop responsive workspaces that can adapt and change as required.

Consider the most effective uses of technology. Organizations need to recalibrate how they are using technology and consider the human impacts of any technology decisions. How technology informs communication and collaboration will be key.

And finally, when undertaking an office redesign consider that in the office of the future talent retention will also be informed by having a great office space to succeed in – so design accordingly to keep the best people on your team.

Q: What are some takeaways you’ve discovered during this time?

Even though our firm has been growing in a geographically distributed way for the past few years, we realized early that we needed to embrace whole new operating and communication principles. We have actually had better project outcomes because our team had to really think about how we communicated and led clients through the design and construction process and figure out how to be more effective.  

In conclusion, while this has been a tumultuous time, there have been some positive changes that have come out of it.  Each company’s future office plan will be unique, and we approach these changes with a positive lens to make future operations better based on the learnings of this time.  Smarter, stronger, more resilient is what we should all strive for.