“The World Looks Brand New. Let’s Go Exploring”

Jul 26, 2021
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Our Managing Director of the Bay Area - Bill Newcomb shares his story and the changes his location has endured.

Launching a new furniture dealership in the Bay Area in January of 2020 was not exactly ideal timing. The client events, the meet, and greets, and the lunch and learns that connect our community and build new relationships…all of it took a back seat to the health and safety of our employees, clients, and partners. This wasn't unique to us, but in the highly competitive Bay Area furniture market, the Covid- 19 shutdowns limited our marketing opportunities and brought many of our aggressive launch plans to a halt.

While the year was challenging for all of us in the Bay design and construction community (with many projects being pushed out or canceled), 2020 and 2021 in many ways brought us closer to our clients and partners. Together we were all looking for answers and a clear path to navigate the changing office landscape as well as the evolving pandemic shutdowns.

Our client's strategies ranged broadly from exploring the risk mitigation of acrylic screens (this had its limits as we know) to de-densifying offices, moving to all remote work (forever?), and to what we are all calling the "Hybrid" workplace model. However, one consistent theme emerged from all of the various strategies we explored with our clients….Listening. Everyone was stopping to listen and survey and understand how their employees were feeling and working. Things were being measured…productivity for sure, but so was collaboration, innovation, and perhaps more fundamental: What did physical office actual provide their employees, and what were we all missing by working at home? The question truly became, "If we were to re-design the office entirely, what should build and, for that matter, do we build?

With commercial real estate in the Bay Area so expensive, design and construction budgets have constantly been challenged. Building offices that provided everything that employees wanted was next to impossible from a cost perspective. Contrast this with long commutes and lack of actual "Work From Home" flexibility, Bay Area employees were left with less than ideal work and life balance. Bay Area workers had few options to manage their work and home lives, strained child care, no time for dog walks or exercise, and add to that long commutes to super-densified and uninspired offices. Enter Covid 19 and a previously unimaginable global paradigm shift in how we work and live.

Covid-19 has provided an incredibly unique opportunity to truly listen and design for what's best for their employees. As corporate real estate teams around the globe grapple with what to do next, Bay Area companies, for the first time, we're looking at a previously inconceivable Win-Win scenario. What if organizations could build offices that provide precisely what employees want and need for the most productive, innovative, and culturally nourishing experience possible? This would be budgetarily impossible for a 1:1 employee to desk ratio for a whole five-day office week. But what if employees came in only 2-3 days a week and the employee to desk ratio evolved to 4:1? With these approaches, an entirely new workplace concept IS imaginable! Organizations can reduce their real estate footprint, consequently being able to spend on interiors and amenities that make a difference to their employees' experience at the office.

Close to a year and a half later, we as employees, workers, and family members are all coming to grips with both the positives and negatives of working 100% remote or 100% in the office, and the "Hybrid" workplace model appears to be something that most organizations are attempting to define. As workplace furniture and services providers, this is something that hits very close to home and work. And while our dealership launch plans were poorly timed, our planning, designing, and building of our new San Jose showroom beginning in May of 2021 appear to be very well timed! We feel very blessed to be taking this journey with the HGA San Jose team, who have partnered with us brought all of their insight and learning to inform our entire design process.

We begin this journey with an entirely new definition of what a "Showroom" and an "Office" mean to our clients and employees. Had we built our new office per our original plans, we might as well have built a time machine to the past. As a Bay Area furniture and service firm, we are grateful to be working among the most innovative clients and talented design partners globally. The things we've learned and the listening we've done will inform every square foot of our space. We've learned for sure that workplace furniture isn't just something you can sell on Zoom. It's a tactile and spatial element of space, and nothing replaces our clients being able to "kick the tires" and get a sense of scale and comfort from a showroom or, as we prefer to call it, our Client Experience Center.

We've all learned so much this past year plus together. We can't wait to be able to share our vision with our community and industry partners. In building our Client Experience Center, our goal is to help our clients more clearly understand the tools they have available to provide their employees the kind of workplace experience that will drive their productivity, innovation, and cultural connection. Contrary to some post-Covid-19 beliefs, the office isn't dead… it's never been more alive and vital to organizational success.

We're reminded of the final comic in the Calvin and Hobbs series when we look to the future of workplace interiors.

Take a look at some of the changes coming to our office, stay tuned as we share more images along the journey. In the meantime, feel free to connect with us if you have changes that need to be made as well!

Bill Newcomb

Managing Director - Bay Area

Calvin and Hobbs
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