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As part of our ongoing focus on trends in commercial construction and design, we had the opportunity to speak with the team at Figure3 this month.  As one of Canada’s most distinguished interior design firms, Figure3 leverages design-based research and brand strategy to help its clients realize environments which achieve the best connection between people and place. With over 60 creative thought leaders in workplace, residential, hospitality and retail, Figure3 has established itself as a trusted partner for 25 years.  

Read on to find out what their leadership team has to say about the future of commercial design.

Q: We’ve seen a lot of dialogue in the design community about how the office of the future will look.  What do you think will change in commercial office design going forward?

A: Our goal at Figure3 has always been about the individual experience: aligning people to place in a way that fosters business goals and priorities. Now with an unprecedented acceptance of remote working we are focused on the nuances of a Hybrid Strategy: how we best unify the virtual and in-office experience. 

The solutions for each client are unique and require not just an in-depth understanding of their operations, but also individual employee perspectives. The success of the office will depend more than ever on aligned HR and IT policies, supportive technology, and enlightened workplace strategies. It’s an exciting time to be working in commercial interiors: we are helping build offices that can shift and flow to meet the needs of a diverse population.   

Q: What is the relationship between interior commercial designers and commercial construction companies?

A:  A partnership with a trusted commercial construction company at project commencement is recommended to meet the complexity of many of our projects. By bringing everyone to the table at the onset of a project, we can identify and mitigate risks, and open ourselves for more exploration and creativity. This early partnership usually delivers a more successful outcome for our client by adding more control over costs and schedule and making room for creative exploration.

We are noticing an uptake on less traditional approaches that protect the client from project risk. A Design Build framework relies on a trust and flexibility from an integrated project team. New partnerships are also evolving authored by the real estate community and contractors to manage project variables and deliver projects faster. In the next 12-15 months we anticipate speed to market will be critical to manage the demand.

Q: How does your team plan to approach the design of new office spaces?  

A:  We are investigating success metrics that go beyond conventional density measures and exploring how being together in the office is essential to mentoring and learning as well as promoting culture and loyalty. We have proven over the last 15 months that a lot of work can be accomplished at home, but there’s data now supporting that people are growing weary and want to be together again. We are optimistic that office design will continue to be foundational in establishing strong relationships and experiences, which in turn will support thriving virtual connections.

Q: What changes have you made to accommodate the new realities?

A:  Early into Covid we recognized the needs of our clients were shifting. We engaged with them on a give-and-take of perspective and helped some of them organize their return to work. This time away from the office provided space to reflect on its purpose and rethink how it is used. Because we are going through this experience at the same time as our clients, we are more empathetic to the complexity of the situation.

Although we were previously an office-centric organization, we pivoted quickly to master remote interactions for our teams and clients. We developed virtual discovery workshops that may be as effective and engaging enough to complement future in-person interactions. Our research goes beyond our own workshops to embrace internal HR initiatives, as well as Change Management programs.

Our tools and approaches are tailored and customized for each client. As our clients negotiate their mobility strategies and policies we help them explore the possibilities of space to reinforce their goals. Rapid iterations and explorations show not only Day One solutions, but how space can flex and evolve to meet an uncertain future state. 

Q: What are some things that procurement managers should be looking out for when they are deciding who to call for a new interior commercial design project?

A:  We pride ourselves on the longevity of our client relationships. We think our relationships endure not just because we provide excellent service and solutions, but because we also truly respect the bonds we build with our clients over time. Beyond the basics of being a reputable, established organization, you must harmonize with the larger design team and build a mutual trust. Interviews are very important to assessing the fit and knowing you can work together.

Beyond personality fit, Procurement Managers need to be sure their chosen firm has the experience, creativity, and tools to help them make the best decisions possible.

Q: Can you describe how the office dynamic is changing now that many companies have signaled they will go back to the office when it’s safe but in a different way. What are your clients telling you?

A:  Our clients are looking to us for advice. For the most part, they are conservatively making plans to reassess their current spaces and taking first steps toward new planning models. We have developed tools to help clients evaluate their space needs based on mobility opportunities, and for some this is resulting in reducing square footage; for others rebalancing how space is used.

The strong connection between design, operational policies and technology cannot be overstated. Strong leadership is needed to ensure that each of these elements supports the others. As each of these will need to flex and adjust over time to adapt to unknown future conditions, we can assume that many changes will be required during the course of a standard lease. Our objective is to provide a design that can pivot as needed. 

Q: What is your interpretation of a connected office? 

A:  A connected office is inclusive to the needs of both employees in the office and those working remotely. It relies on behaviors and technologies that support a consistent experience.

The physical office can support the connection with new planning and furniture typologies that reduce the barriers that can exist in a hybrid workforce. The virtual experience should be equal to the physical one; design and technology should align to give the employee a feeling of belonging. This perceived “membership” status is akin to belonging to a private club.  

Q: How are connected offices impacting your design? 

A:  Our design is evolving to ensure the physical office is connected to the virtual one. We know that Zoom calls will continue to be used to support engagements with clients, customers and colleagues. The omnipresence of technology to fuel our connections will result in thoughtful considerations about the selections and placement of collaborative spaces, associated technologies and acoustics. This will more than certainly result in repurposed space typologies: from reinvented team rooms that operate in both physical and virtual space, to technology equipped Zoom rooms, and individual spaces designed primarily for focus. 

Q: How is sustainable construction impacting your design process?  How are you helping customers embrace more green practices in their redesign projects?

A:  The built environment contributes significantly to climate change. To meet climate agreement targets, our industry must play its part to reduce emissions, and shift our clients’ attention back to sustainable design and building practices. 

In recent years, sustainability has been overshadowed by wellness which focused mainly on the impact of the environment on individual health. We hope to see the introduction of more smart buildings that embody wellness for both occupants and the planet.

It’s our responsibility to speak to our clients about sustainability at the commencement of each project. Working with a knowledgeable contractor like Jancon will definitely smooth the process, and save costs when LEED certification is a goal.

What we’ve learned for sure is that we don’t have all the answers, but we are enjoying the discovery! Our basic human need to be together with one another will draw us back to a workplace that is constantly evolving to support our best work.