Designing the Welcome Back

Workplace design takes lessons from hospitality and vice-versa as interior designers prepare for the great return to work.

After two years of remote work we’ve all learned a few things: Remote work is a good thing, it’s productive, economical and employee-centric. But now that it’s safe to return to work in person, many will want to, and are our offices themselves being adapted to this imminent great return? On February 10, a Metropolis Think Tank panel took on this idea, hosted by B+H Architects and moderated by Metropolis executive editor Sam Lubell.

Representatives from the hospitality, research and architecture worlds were present. Moderator Lubell opened with a reference to the concept of first, second, and third spaces, that is work, home and somewhere in between: During the pandemic, he said these categories have become jumbled. “Everything needs to be rethought,” he suggested.

The consensus that emerged from the conversation was the melding of the office and hospitality worlds. “Hospitality in its truest sense meaning is the friendly and generous entertainment of guests, visitors and strangers; it’s now the new everything,” said Kathryn Clark, senior hospitality and workplace designer, B+H Architects. “There is a convergence between workplaces and social spaces fueling demand for new spaces and experiences with people at the heart.”

Stephanie Deshaies, BrandED chair, NEWH, The Hospitality Industry Network, brought up the specific example of a client who scrapped the idea for a traditional cafeteria for a large tech campus, opting instead for something more like a hotel lobby. “Now it is a lobby, and the employees are the guests,” she shared.

The exchange goes both ways, says Kate Buska, vice president of brand development and communications at Practice Hospitality, a hotel management company. “Hotels and hospitality have seen private work and social spaces bleeding into them for years,” she said.

Hospitality interior designed by B+H Architects

Clark spoke to the imperative to use design to draw workers back to the physical office, “When people leave their houses, where are they going? We need people to reemerge back into a collective world around them and be comfortable there.” Misia Tramp, vice president of strategy & insights, A Seattle based marketing consulting firm, Metia, suggested that this reflects a pent-up demand to move beyond COVID, “From the data I’m seeing there’s a ‘let’s move forward’ attitude.”

The Think Tank discussions were held on February 3, 10, and 17. The conversations were presented in partnership with Versteel and GROHE.

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