How to deal with the summer heat without an A/C.

Summer season is officially here. However, this does not only mean getaway holidays and long beach days, but also dealing with the unavoidable heat. Due to phenomena such as climate change and global warming, Europe has been suffering from extreme heatwaves for the last decade, and it seems to be getting more acute every year. At the same time, the increasing costs of electricity makes the choice of Air Conditioner, not always possible for many households.

Here are smart interior design solutions to deal with the summer heat without an Air Conditioner (A/C).

Α term named Natural Ventillation

Natural ventilation is the use of wind and thermal buoyancy to create air movement in and out of the building without the use of mechanical systems, with the goal of bringing fresh air into your home.

What to do

OK, the obvious ones first!

 1. Leave the windows open.

By leaving your windows open – specially during the night in the summer months, natural ventilation can provide free cooling and reduce your home energy use.

2. Leave your room doors open.

By leaving your room doors open – specially the ones that are facing each other, the stale air is pushed out of the space whenever fresh air is drawn inwards.

 

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3. An interesting combination.

In two storey houses, by leaving both skylights or top floor windows and ground floor  doors and windows open, the hot air finds its way to the top openings and finally leaves the entire building. 

Air-movement-in-stack-ventilation-41-42

More Ideas

1. Close the lights and turn off unneeded electronic equipment.

This sustainable solution saves money and avoids any heat that comes from the energy of electrical appliances such asPCs and TVs.

2. Close blinds and curtains.

Easy one. Just avoid direct sunlight in the midday hours before sunset, when the light is particularly strong and causes strong heat.

Fun Fact

Choose woolen sheets for your bedding.

Natural wool is a common alternative insulation product. Wool insulation offers many benefits to consumers, such as strong moisture absorption and desorption capabilities.

Final Solution… with a tiny cost

Invest in ceiling fans, or even self-standing fans.

With the use of the fan you achieve controlled room temperature and constant air circulation. The cost, of course, does not compare with that of the air conditioner.  

If you have any questions about dealing with summer heat in natural ways or you are constructing or renovating your home and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

Renovation Series
Invest in Quality | How to reduce future costs.

When building or renovating your home, it makes sense to try to save anywhere and everywhere you can. However, in this effort, like in many other things in life, make sure you avoid being penny wise and pound foolish! While cost cutting efforts are important and useful, make sure that by saving a small amount at the start of the renovation, you do not end up paying back with ongoing maintenance and subsequent renovations in the future. Before rejecting what may seem like high costs, consider the long term benefits of investing in quality. In this article, we share with you some thoughts to consider when choosing to invest in quality.

1. Quality Materials

High-Quality materials can sustain the passage of time much better than their cheap counterpart. That is not just due to regular use and normal tear and wear, natural Conditions (such as humidity that can cause mold) and unexpected incidents (such as flooding that can swell up the floor) will cause much more severe destruction to cheaper materials and cheaper domestic objects.   

2. Trendy vs Timeless

When it comes to furniture and home accessories, selecting from commercial retail storesand based on the latest instagram trends, leads to an interior design that may seem trendy in the moment but quickly ends up being old fashioned and needing replacement. It is best to commit to a personal design that reflects your personality, your lifestyle and remains timeless.  This is where an architect or an interior designer can help you translate who you are and what you need into a full interior design for your home.

3. Just Contractors (?)

Many people decide to work with contractors exclusively without consulting architects and interior designers. You may think that this saves you money but in reality, this increases the risk of a messy outcome and more costs down the line. Most people in this situation end up with long days of doing things by themselves and finally spending more money on the contractor going over budget, on fixing mistakes, and on suppliers and brands that are more expensive than needed, without necessarily a better quality. If you are considering this route of working with contractors directly, without an architect, be sure to read this article first

To sum up, choosing quality is not a luxurious option but a safe-proofing decision that reduces future maintence and extra renovation costs. In other words, an early and smart investment. You can also check out our piece about renovation costs, to find out more about your options when it comes to economic decisions.

If you are planning on constructing or renovating your home and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

 

The top 5 Interior Design Mistakes that affect your Mental Health.

The environment that surrounds us plays an important role in our daily mood and mental health. Therefore, the interior design of a space where we spend a significant part of the day, such as our home or our workplace, contributes significantly to the quality of our lives. This is why we have gathered here the interior fouls that should be avoided.

1.Dark Rooms

Light is everything and its positive effects – on our physical and mental health – are numerous. The lack of natural lighting in rooms creates melancholy and decreases the ability to focus. Natural light is the best type of light, but if your place lacks natural lighting because of small windows for example, and this is not something you can easily change, there are other ways to fix the issue. A ceiling lamp alone is not enough. Efficient lighting solutions such as floor and desk lamps can be a great help. Also, remember to stick to white led lights and try to avoid brightly coloured ones that dazzle and disorientate.

Image Source: Archdaily.com


2.Heavy Textiles and Fabrics

As we mentioned, windows are extremely important for natural light but also a sense of connection to the exterior. Avoid covering them with dark or heavy curtains that block out the light. If some covering is needed for privacy reasons, try to keep the fabric light. In addition, avoid heavy fabric in general. Throws and furniture covers made of heavy and dark fabrics or even dark wallpapers or heavy tapestries, are not only old fashioned but can contribute to a suffocating and claustrophobic feeling. If you really like throws on your furniture, try choosing ones with light fabric and colors.

Image Source: Thehomedepot.com


3. Too many Dark Walls

In addition to tapestries and wallpapers, another mistake that causes depressive feelings is painting too many walls with dark colours, such as grey or dark blues and dark greens. Pastel shades are usually an efficient choice. For example, beige guarantees calming and focusing vibes, while mints and lilacs create a joyful atmosphere.

Image Source: Decordesigncade.com

Image Source: Treehouse.com


4.The Lack of Indoor Greenery

Plants and flowers are vibrant elements that not only add style and colour to a space, but they also clear the air and produce oxygen and of course refreshing scents that spread around the space.

Image Source: Thespruce.com

Image Sorce: Damansgardenco.com


5. Cluttered Shelves

Although small decorative items such as souvenirs – might be of a sentimental value, most of the times they give a feeling of clutter, which undermines the sentimental value. Usually, people end up collecting random objects and placing them on shelves without organizing them. Just the image of stuffed shelves looks suffocating and might cause anxiety. Bedroom and Living room shelves should be wide and clear with a few styled marched decorates. If you have some valuable keepsakes, make sure they are displayed without clutter so their value can shine even more.

Just keep in mind that shelves are definitely not storage spaces!

Image Source: Glaminati.com

 

If you feel like renovating your space and you are looking for some positive vibes, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

An Oasis in the City: Redesigning your Garden or Terrace.

Interior Design often contains greenery, as it provides clarity and refreshment.  A garden, a terrace or a balcony, are not the only places you can transform. You can always optimize your space and create green corners that could be used as a private sanctuary or even a place for  gatherings with loved ones. Here is how to optimize your green space in order for it to be a magical expansion of your home, close to nature, a hidden oasis. 

 

The Water Element

Water is a vital and therapeutic element that grants life to its surrounding environment. A sink bath, a small fountain, a barrel with hydrophilic plants or your own personal small spa made of natural stone, smothered in aromatic plants, are some of the ideas that offer the constant presence of water.

 

water element

The Resting Space

While the interior of a house usually has plenty of chairs and sofas, a green area could provide more unconventional methods of relaxation, following a natural and carefree philosophy. A fabric tent is perfect for warm sunny days and it also can be used as a movable gazebo. However, if your space is not large enough for a tent, consider swings and pillows as a beautiful solution that can be adjusted to any kind of outdoor space.


The Lighting

Strong lighting could easily deter from the oasis aesthetic and it usually reminds people of upbeat city rhythms, which people usually like to leave behind when returning home. In the evenings, except for the light of the moon and stars, one can turn to candles, lanterns and curtain lights on trees. Those do not only provide soft lighting but they also serve as perfect decorative items that mix perfectly with plants and flowers.


Hanging Greenery

One of the alleged seven world wonders are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Though a house garden cannot be exactly compared to them, flower baskets and plants that are hanging from the ceiling or the walls can provide an exotic aesthetic.


Edible Gardening

Many people find peace gardening,  specially when growing their own fruits and vegetables in their backyard, or even their balcony. Wooden boxes that can be used as small kitchen gardens give a homey and rustic feeling and can also provide the opportunity of a new, healthier lifestyle.

If you are considering redesigning your garden, balcony or terrace, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

Future-Proof your House | 4 life-cases  to anticipate.

As one’s needs and family situation change over the years, many people resort to costly and time-consuming renovations. Of course, going through this process every couple of years is not ideal. It is best to future-proof your residence by trying to predict possible life changes and creating an efficient and flexible environment that secures comfort in any major life change that may come your way.

 

1. Selling and Renting.

These days, a relocation to another region or even another country because of a job prospect or a change in personal life, is always a possibility. All the more if you are already an expat in the country you are now living in. When they relocate, many people choose to sell their home, or even put it up for rent in order to have an extra income while keeping the possibility to return to it. So when you are buying and renovating your next house, it is helpful to keep in mind that you may need to sell or rent this very house. So make sure the renovation you decide on will on one hand, make this your dream home and on the other hand, also be perfect for selling or renting to others. If you build a house with oddly special features that cannot be altered, it may be difficult for another person to rent or buy it. Your architect should be able to help you “future-proof” by finding that perfect balance and making sure you maximize your return on investment.  

2. Having Kids.

Another life-changing moment is having children. If this is in your plans, even if it is 5 years into the future, do take that into account if you are in the midst of a renovation project now. Doing another renovation in a few years is costly,wasteful, and unnecessary. There are ways to plan for children already, without feeling like you live in a kids’ house without kids. The idea is to lay the groundwork for the future plans, so when the change happens, the house can be made ready with minimal construction, cost and hassle.

Here’s our piece on how to work from home when you live with a family. 

Image Source: Expatspace.com

3. Parents visiting or moving in.

In many cultures, many households include elders, parents and grandparents, as they move in at some point in their life cycle. This s another case that calls for “future-proofing” your residence. Even if your parents/ grandparents do not live with you, it is possible they come and stay with you for a few days or a few weeks. If you are renovating now, make sure your house already take that into account by ensuring a private bathroom for your visitors, or even a ground floor bedroom and bathroom, considering potential mobility difficulties that may develop. 

Image Source: Theglampad.com

4. Future-Proof because of Style Evolving.

Finally, a case that calls for future-proofing is the simplest and most comon one. as the years go by and trends come and go, your personal taste of interior design could also change. A person’s aesthetic in their 40s is usually different from the one in their 30s. Having that in mind, it is usually not the best to invest a lot of money in furniture you may need to replace later. Your architect or interior designer will be able to help you discern what is a trend may change and what is timeless and will always work. One way to err on the side of caution is to avoid following extremely trendy and popular styles and just stick with timeless options so you can easily evolve the house’s style in the future.

 Bonus Advice? Do not ask social media, ask your architect! 

 If you are renovating or building your house, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

 

Working with Architects: Why we do not suggest last minute changes.

When designing your dream space, it is possible to feel uncertain about many of the decisions you will have to take, from the set up of the space, to the type of kitchen, to even the selection of materials. It is even possible for you to have a complete change of heart in the middle of the process. Last minute changes may be often but not always beneficial. 

While understandable, you can imagine that restarting from scratch in the middle of the process, or – to a less dramatic extent -, many changes during the process, can cause problems, and a considerable waste of time, money and energy.

Keeping that in mind, it becomes clear that the best course of action would be to take your time in the design phase and think your options over before making decisions and proceeding.

Here is how to avoid a messy process full of potentially costly changes

1. Choose an architect that can challenge and elevate your ideas, and show you what else is possible before deciding. Let your architect widen your horizon, so when you do make a decision, it is an informed decision after enough ‘window shopping’, and not the first thing that came to your mind.

Image Source: Planradar.com 

2. Give the architect enough time to not only develop the design, but also sleep on it. Good design takes time to mature. Architects need time to think, design and draw. Equally important is the time during which the architect may not be working on the design directly but actually, thinking about it in the back of their mind. The cooking time, the marinating time.
3. Use samples, mock-ups and visualisations before deciding.

If you are interested in samples check out our piece on their major importance to get some great ideas!

4. Keep the communication open with your architect. Feel free to stop them and ask whenever you feel lost in the process, or need a different type of visuals to help you understand the design they are proposing.
5. A home is a living ecosystem. Consider building into the design the flexibility for future changes. Ask your architect to help you future proof your house.

6. If you find yourself wanting to change things in the middle of the process, remember to check if any interdependent item of the design will also be affected. Will this change affect another part of the design? Will it have cost consequences? Have any interdependent items already been ordered? Paid for? Once you are aware of the consequences of a change, you can decide better if the change is worth it.

If you are renovating or building your house or just refreshing your interiors, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

The Importance of Samples.

Many people tend to get excited when decorating their home and may often rush to select and then purchase paint colours and materials without having them tested at first. This is where samples are needed. Whether  wooden floors, tiles for the bathrooms, or paint colours for the walls, samples – i.e. portable pieces of the real material – can be very efficient in providing a real-life perspective, and can save you a lot of time and money, when used to test before making a final purchasing decision.

 

True Colour

Not every digital or even printed image reflects the real product. So when you are working of images (on screen or even printed), you can easily be mislead, and you will find yourself changing your mind once you see the real material. There are tons of different shades and almost always digital images alter the colour of the material in question. Εach screen may be tuned differently and resolutions differ. In addition, one specific colour never looks the same when applied on a different surface or texture. For example, a Sky Blue paint, coded RAL5015, will look different if painted on a smooth plastered wall or a cement surface. That is why material samples are of major importance.

Image Source: Forbes.com

Image Source: Milleniumpaints.com

Interaction with Light

Colour and light are two factors that absolutely determine the success of an interior design. These two elements must be combined in the right way, so that they complement each other harmoniously. Any choice should take into account the fact that colour can look different depending on the angle of incidence of natural or artificial light. This is why, being able to test real samples of the materials you are considering in your actual interior is very important. Remember to check them during various times of the day in order to be sure of the lighting compatibility.

Image Source: Mychroma.gr

Feeling and Texture

Even in the best cases when the image (digital or printed) represents a very accurate version of the real material, it still cannot convey the texture nor feel of the surface. No matter how clear or accurate the image is, nothing but a real sample can convey the unique feeling of wood, tile, marble or even fabric. In addition to texture, the material – whether smooth or rough – has a certain temperature that can only be experienced first hand, literally, or even feet, in case of floors. No image can ever replace the actual feeling of a surface. 

 

Samples that simulate the combination between colour, textures and lighting can help visualise and test, in order to create a successful interior design. That is why having a preview is very important. Living in a structured and coherent interior can help you focus on your daily life while feeling calm and grounded. Architects and interior designers should be able to help you create the lifestyle vibe you need to support the very unique character every person wishes for their residence.

If you are renovating or building your house or just refreshing your interiors, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

Working from home, with a family | How to optimize your space when you are working from home in a space shared with your family.

Nowadays, more and more people work from home and since Covid-19, remote work has become pretty standard for most. However, the living situation is far from standard. While some of us live alone, some share their house with housemates, with a partner or even with kids.

When you live with your family, it can be hard to focus on your tasks, separate the space, maintain two different roles and juggle between professional and personal life, especially when you do not have a big house, with many rooms.

Here are 5 + 1 ideas on how to optimize your space in order to meet both yours and your family’s needs.

1. Find a personal corner and turn it into a home-office.

A home office is a great interior idea as it gives style and perspective to a space, while at the same time it is of course highly functional. You don’t have to spare an entire room. All you need is a corner with clever and functional furniture to create the perfect office space. This could be under the stairs, in an empty living-room corner, or even in an empty closet. Yes believe it or not, this is a new trend that has been named “cloffice” and it is currently trending in small apartments. All these spaces provide a cozy feeling in order to work from home.

Image Source: Philenews.com

Image Source: Elle.gr

2. Use Decorative Partitions.

Even if you find the perfect corner to create your home-office, you will probably also need a separator in order to be more focused and also to avoid interrupting others and their daily activities. Movable partitions are also used as a great background for video calls and meetings. Furthermore, they are easy to move, can help with acoustic insulation and give perspective and depth to your entire space.

Image Source: Dailydreamdecor.com

3. Keep your work safe.

When you don’t live alone, there is a constant risk that your papers, folders or files can be moved or lost. To remedy that, go with furniture that offer enough storage capacity (such as drawers) so that every important document has its place. You can also install tall shelves to keep anything of importance out of reach, especially if you have little ones in the house.

Image Source: Furniteratwork.co.uk

4. Storage is everything.

Spending time at home is for many of us a chance for more clutter, especially when we are working and living and relaxing, all in the same space. Consider having more storage than normal, but make sure it is intuitive storage, meaning, where and when you need it, and not far away storage, that most end up not using. This way, everything can be in order and you can avoid scattered objects which can cause you to feel overwhelmed and unfocused. This applies both for your work items, as well as children toys, clothing items, pet accessories…etc.

Image Source: Forbes.com

5. Colour is major.

Colour is one of the easiest and most effective tools we have to elevate an interior. If you are unsure how to use color, you can choose for safe but at the same time interesting colours. Avoid both the cold look – like a yuppie office aesthetic – and the cluttered look which can be distracting. Remember to always maintain a balance between your office and your personal life and colours can be very helpful with creating distinctions. You can always ask a professional about colour palettes that suit your lifestyle.  

If you are interested in colours you can always check out our post about 2022 Colour Trends

Bonus Idea!

If you have children, consider keeping them occupied by creating their own study space, their own mini-me office. It can be hard to be a parent and a working professional simultaneously, so create a learning or playing space in your house to keep children busy in a safe and creative way while you are in a totally different life-role.

 

Image Source: Extraspace.com

 

If you often work from home and wish to optimize your space in order to feel more balanced and more focused, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

2022 colour trend predictions to inspire you

As 2021 begins to wind down, you may be considering potential ways to revitalise your home environment to welcome in the new year. In our previous article on choosing a festive colour scheme, we explored how specific colours in our surroundings have been proven to directly impact our emotional state. There is no doubt we have all experienced turbulence in the past two years as a result of the pandemic, and unfortunately we cannot yet say it is behind us. For many of us, a significant struggle throughout the pandemic has been the loss of control over what happens in our lives. As difficult as that is, it is important to maintain focus on what we can control… Ensuring your home environment is as well-suited to your needs as possible is an important aspect that you can control.

Transitioning into a new year presents a moment to re-evaluate what these unique needs are for each of us. As mentioned, colour can be used to curate the atmosphere you desire for your space. However finding the perfect colours to fulfil this can be difficult, therefore it is useful to explore the colour trends for the coming year. Trends are not something we recommend to follow simply because they are popular, but it’s true they do tend to reflect the mood of the times. Perhaps some of these selected colours may personally speak to your situation or at least give you some inspiration.

Top 5 2022 Colour Trends

Note: This top five list is a collation based on the predictions from the world’s leading colour and paint specialists. AKKA Architect has no affiliation with these brands.

Pantone 17-3938 Very Peri – Pantone’s Colour of the Year 2022
pantone color of the year

“Displaying a carefree confidence and a daring curiosity that animates our creative spirit, inquisitive and intriguing PANTONE 17-3938 Very Peri helps us to embrace this altered landscape of possibilities, opening us up to a new vision as we rewrite our lives.” 1– Pantone

The pandemic has given us a lot of time to be introspective. This Pantone colour represents a sense of optimism about entering a new chapter. Remembering everything we have learned from this period and being courageous and bold enough to do things completely differently than we did in the past.

Image source: Pantone

Babouche No.223 - Farrow & Ball
Farrow & Ball Colour of the year

“Babouche takes its name from the distinctive colour of the leather slippers worn by men in Morocco. It has a cheerful brightness that will intensify when used in large areas, but it is always dignified and never garish. Babouche can be paired with Railings for a very modern but sumptuous effect.” 2 -F&B

Nothing says optimism like a cheerful yellow. Babouche has a depth to it that prevents it from being overpowering in the way that tends to discourage people from this hue. If you are looking to bring a sunshiny feeling into your home no matter the weather outside, you might wish to look into the potential of this 2022 colour.

Image source: House Beautiful

Bright Skies - Dulux’s Colour of the Year 2022
Dulux colour of the year

“The shade for 2022 is Bright Skies™. It’s an airy and fresh tone that opens up and breathes new life into any space. Discover how you can use this transformative shade, plus its four complementary colour palettes, to reinvent your home.” 3 -Dulux

Take a look at Dulux’s product images of this room before and after ‘Bright Skies’, you will be astonished at how it seems to bring the sky directly into the room. This colour seems to expand the space, it would be an ideal colour candidate if you are looking to counteract any cramped feelings caused by limited square footage in your home.

Image source: Dulux

October Mist 1495 - Benjamin Moore’s Colour of the Year 2022
Benjamin Moore Colour of the year

“Green is a foundational colour; a grounded canvas from which endless combinations can be achieved… Evoking the silver-green stem of a flower, this gently shaded sage quietly anchors a space, while encouraging individual expression through colour.” 4 -BM

Many of us grew a reliance upon the natural world during the lockdowns, which has an ability to help us clear our mind and see things from a new perspective. ‘October Mist’ introduces the feeling of flora and fauna into your space, allowing you to begin and end your day with this clear disposition, even if you did not have the opportunity to take a walk in the park that day. Green’s foundational elements usually makes for easy pairing with the colours you might already have in your home interior.

Image Source: Benjamin Moore

Incarnadine No.248 - Farrow & Ball
Farrow & Ball Colour of the year

 

“Incarnadine is unashamedly classic and glamorous. It can be used to sumptuous effect in halls when offset with Tanner’s Brown on woodwork, or feel more edgy and graphic when paired with a bright white.” 5-F&B

 

There is no getting around the boldness of this ‘Incarnadine’ colour. Perhaps you see 2022 as the year to be bold and make a statement. If so, why not revitalise a room in your home to embody this boldness? It is an incredibly powerful shade with the potential to create a breath-takingly glamourous atmosphere if that is what you wished to achieve.

Image source: House Beautiful

Uncertainty about how the pandemic will evolve in 2022 is difficult, but one thing we can be sure of is that we remain optimistic about the future. Entering a new year offers the opportunity to have a fresh start and welcome new things into our lives. Introducing a new colour scheme into your home could be a fantastic way of establishing the kind of atmosphere you would like in your life.

Finding colours that you love and you would like to incorporate into your space is only half of the battle. The way in which you practically introduce the colour – as in what do you apply it to and in what size – is important, as well as that of ensuring it does not clash with the existing colour scheme of your home interior. Having a professional on board to advise you on such matters can be very beneficial, whether you are fully renovating or simply making slight adjustments. However, with or without a professional, take a look at our upcoming blog piece which will provide some insights into the effective ways to implement colour in your interior.

If you are interested a new colour scheme for your interior or are planning on constructing or renovating your home or workplace and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

The world of the workplace is increasingly fascinating and complex as we continue to learn more about how people perform at their best. Through our many years designing and building workplaces for organisations globally, we have gained a tremendous amount of insights, all thanks to our clients.

Whether we work closely with the head of Human Resources (HR), the head of Facilities Management (FM), or the head of Corporate Real Estate (CRE), one thing is clear: these roles are becoming increasingly intertwined. In recent years we’ve started to see the emergence of an entirely new, dedicated role that blurs the boundaries between HR, FM, CRE, and even IT and Corporate Communication. We call this role the ‘Workplace Professional’.

Over the last few months, we have been interviewing leading Workplace Professionals in the best companies from around the world. In this series, we engage in conversations with those at the forefront of the world of the workplace, to understand and communicate their specialist insights, best practices, and most successful case studies. Welcome to the Workplace Experts’ Interviews series!

This week, we share the extremely insightful conversation our CEO Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes had with Bertie van Wyk, Workplace Specialist at Herman Miller.

Herman Miller is a worldwide known design company that designs and produces office furniture, equipment, and home furnishings with their innovative and problem-solving designs. Herman Miller is a globally recognised provider of furnishings and related technologies and services. Headquartered in West Michigan, they have focused on innovative design for over 100 years to solve problems for people wherever they work, live, learn, and heal.

Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes: Bertie van Wyk, welcome. Welcome to this conversation. It’s a pleasure to have you here.

Bertie van Wyk: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

Stephanie: Thank you for joining this series of the Workplace Experts’ Interviews. Let’s dive right in. Would you be able to describe your role in one or two sentences?

Bertie: Absolutely. I’m a workplace specialist for Herman Miller. As an organization, we are very much a research-based company that looks at what things work and don’t work in the workplace ‐ whether that’s in the office or at home ‐ and how we can improve that through innovative design. My main role is communicating that research with the aim to make organisations and their employees more productive, healthier, and connected.

Stephanie: I love the emphasis that Herman Miller is putting on well‐being. Going from a piece of furniture to the impact of furniture, which is well‐being, is so much more elevated than talking about the physicalities of furniture only. So that’s fantastic. So obviously COVID has happened and is still happening. What can you tell us about the impact that COVID‐19 has and might continue to have on our ways of working and the workplace, which is now any place we work in!

Bertie: That’s, that’s the first thing, isn’t it? It’s the fact that we now have hybrid working. And if your company didn’t have it beforehand, it does now. Because a lot of us are forced to work from home almost on a permanent basis, this kind of working is here to stay.
The hybrid work strategy is going to be right at the forefront of most organisations going forward. For instance, we predict that two to three days a week you will work from somewhere outside of the office, whether at home, a co‐working space, or a cafe. At the same time, we have to evolve office design, because the big change we are facing is the decreased utilisation of those spaces. Even though open offices are increasing, utilisation is decreasing. This is a really big issue for us because you don’t want a big, open, empty office. So redesigning workplaces for this new normal should be the top priority.
I think the other thing that we have to understand is the fact that we’ve now proven that home workers are just as effective and productive as when in the office. We have discovered that we can trust people. There is no need for managers to look over shoulders or employees to be constantly checked on. People have been given trust and it would be counterproductive to remove that. Why should employees have to be in the office if they can work just as effectively elsewhere?

Stephanie: That’s true, and we’ve all now seen the pros and cons of each extreme – the working from the office full time to working from home full time. We all have found different reasons why something works or doesn’t work for us. What I wonder is, if everybody’s making their own individual choices about what suits them, how can we ensure there is still a coherent, and cohesive team dynamic?

Bertie: I think this starts right at the senior level of any organization. Your hybrid work strategy needs to be clear and concise. If you build a workplace and tell everyone they can work from home whenever they want, you could potentially end up with a dead office on some or most days. You need a concise strategy that gives you effective use of the space and reinforces team dynamics ‐ and communicates this well and often. This will give you a good understanding of how teams are working together and within the office.

Stephanie: If you look at the big picture, and draw from all the research I know you have access to, what would you say is the main challenge or threat that this pandemic is creating for the workplace?

Bertie: That’s a very good question. I think the biggest one is people saying that “the office is dead. We don’t need an office”. That’s probably the biggest threat, the biggest risk. I’ve even seen some organisations get rid of the office completely. The challenge here is, how do you build a community while everyone is working from home? How do you build a culture? What makes your organization, your organization? If you never meet, how do you connect with others? What about that five minutes before the meeting and that ten minutes after the meeting? You miss out on all that potential connection with others.
I think we’re currently seeing a lot of people having knee‐jerk reactions to what they think is going to happen in the future, without looking at the data. And one of the main threads coming from that is people talking now about creating offices for collaboration only. For instance, questioning whether there are going to be any desks. And that’s one of the biggest mistakes organisations can make. The Leesman Index states, with over 800,000 reviews of different spaces around the world, that spaces designed solely for collaboration significantly underperform. This makes sense when you think about it ‐ work isn’t only collaborative, we need time and space to be able to do individual, focused work.

Stephanie: Absolutely! An easy conclusion of this entire pandemic is that we don’t need an office anymore. Since we seem to have survived a year without it, the office now finds itself in a position to prove itself. So what would be your argument for the office?

Bertie: Well, I think the office can and should prove itself. One significant data point from the Leesman Index showed that the majority of people who enjoy working from home were previously working from low-performing offices. So if employees had a really bad office, the majority of them won’t ever want to go back. But if they had a high-performing office, the majority can’t wait to go back. So your office has a direct effect on whether people actually want to go back in. That is how important the office is. You need great amenities, a wonderful experience, and a space that works better for people.

Stephanie: Absolutely. The flip side of the challenge is always an opportunity. So what do you see as an opportunity for the workplace these days?

Bertie: For me, the main thing is to understand that the quality of your office directly impacts the productivity and output of your staff. It directly impacts whether people want to go back or whether they are going to want to work from home full time. So you have an opportunity to create a better, more inviting space, a wonderful connecting, productive space that becomes a destination. One of the biggest things that people might have been missing at this point is the connection, just connecting with someone else, just having a simple conversation.
The other thing to remember is there’s also a major opportunity in creating much better individual-focused spaces. There are a lot of offices where noise level distraction is a massive issue. So the quick conclusion has been that working from home is good for focused work. But think about it. A lot of people working from home have additional distractions. Whereas if you create a great office environment that allows people to focus without interruption, that’s where you’re going to gain some real advantage.

Stephanie: Absolutely. There are many things we can learn from the working from the home period we have been having. What would you say is the most important thing to focus on right now to ensure a successful recovery?

Bertie: In the healthcare world, they talk about a safety bundle. That’s a bundle of different activities that you combine to improve patient outcomes. Well, we want to create the same thing. We want to create a bundle of activities to make people feel happy to come back into the office and deliver a greater space and environment. We see this falling under the umbrella of three key areas: your organisational culture, your rules and regulations, and your actual physical environment. And these three have to work together.

Stephanie: When everything settles, what do you think the new normal will look like? Or what would you hope it will look like?

Bertie: I hope it will look like the way it does for a lot of companies that trust their employees. The future will be two to three days working from the office and 2 to 3 days working elsewhere. The main thing is I expect that people are going to want to have a choice.

Stephanie: Yes, I would tend to agree! Bertie, maybe one last question for you. What do you see that that could be a promising trend? What are you excited about in this space?

Bertie: Well, if you look at physical space, I think we are now all realising that we need a work culture and a community that cohabits a shared space together. We see that it is important that you can sit and do your work on your own and just hear people with a buzz in the background. I think the main point that we will also understand more and more now, is that we need to shift from privacy as a luxury to privacy on demand. And that makes me particularly excited about creating great spaces in the future. And so anyone who goes back into the office now should find a space to be able to do their uninterrupted focused work whenever they want. These are the things that I can get quite excited and positive about.

Stephanie: Brilliant Bertie. Any last thoughts you would like to share with us?

Bertie: I think there’s one more thing that people do have to take into account, and that is travel. Some people have got big reservations about getting onto public transport. So as an organization we have to be able to take that into account and understand that for some people this is going to be a big issue. So it is important that we remember to stay human ‐ understand that people are dealing with different environments and experiences. We need to remember to be more empathetic and allow people to make choices that will work for their own individual situations.

Stephanie: Empathy and choice are indeed going to become more and more important in organisations and relationships. Bertie, this has been an amazing conversation. Thank you very much!

Bertie: Thank you for having me Stephanie.

To find out how optimising your workplace can help you retain your employees by fostering better social interactions, download here AKKA’s Innovative Workplace Expert guide, which contains the full version of one of our case studies and more practical examples of other projects that show you how AKKA has increased team engagement and boost productivity over and over again for small, medium and large organisations, in a variety of industries and countries from around the world.

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