First Few Days of Normal 2.0
Like many of our clients, O+A returned to the office on March 1st.
Well… sort of. After two years of work-from-home, our leadership recognized that a full switch back to daily commutes, in-person meetings, lunch on the clock, and wearing pants might be as disruptive to personal equilibriums as the shutdown had been back in March 2020. So, we came back in the hybrid way that many companies are exploring—for us, that’s two days in the office (pants mandatory), and the others determined by individual choice.
In some ways, these first weeks back at Tehama Street have been a test of the reimagined workplace our designers spent much of the last two years developing—nice to have more elbow room at our socially distanced workstations; nice to see the kitchen no longer be a dirty dish magnet. A test also of the assumptions underlying our new typologies. For example, even though we know COVID isn’t passed through shoes, the heightened attention to what each of us unwittingly brings into a shared environment made a donning and doffing space more than logical. We call ours ‘The Perch.’ It’s a bank of handsome cabinetry where staff changes out of street shoes and into office slippers. Kind of a mudroom, but more than that. A psychological as well as physical transition space at a time when psychological transitioning is still a work in progress.
Many of O+A’s new typologies integrate lessons learned from months of telecommuting and are predicated on seamless technology. But is technology ever seamless? Isn’t that one of the lessons learned? So, our new spaces build digital/analog flexibility into their design.
“In the end, it became an example of how adaptable we are now, how unflappable. And of how the hybrid office will really work.”
We had a good demonstration with our first big in-house client meeting during Week 2. Some participants were on hand in San Francisco; others remoted in from distant cities. We had pinned our presentation pages on the wall and spread out tile and fabric samples on the floor. It felt good to be working with real stuff again, but the camera mounted to capture it all for the remote attendees wasn’t hooked up yet, and some of the audio didn’t work. That turned the meeting into a tech improvisation with Grace and Chelsea presenting while Kokeith as cameraman panned with his iPhone across the samples. A little glitchy at first, but the ultimate result was to draw everyone together and pull the remote folks into the moment, leaning in for a closer look at those fabrics as if they were standing over them. Primo called the meeting an “orchestration.” In the end, it became an example of how adaptable we are now, how unflappable. And of how the hybrid office will really work.
“This issue of making sure remote staff feels the ‘back to the office’ reset with the same immediacy as in-office folks is important at O+A.”
This issue of making sure remote staff feels the “back to the office” reset with the same immediacy as in-office folks is important at O+A. Since work from home started, we have acquired new people in LA, Minneapolis, New York, and New England, not to mention the Bay Area staffers who occasionally still need to Zoom from their kitchens. These folks won’t be around for the office dog races or the pause on the stairs to share important project news. So, it will be up to all of us to keep our digital colleagues in the loop (newsflash: Ruby won the races).
“Are we just going back to the way things were?” Verda asked the other day. In the coming months, we’ll be running stories on our website about this back-to-work period, the hybrid office, telecommuting, and how we’re all coping. These weeks will determine whether opportunities afforded by the pandemic’s disruptions to reset priorities and rechoreograph our lives will endure beyond the work-from-home period or get swept away by the eager rush to “normal.” Should that happen, it’s a pretty good bet we’ll get another crack at it. The times we live in will see to that.