It’s Time to Think Differently

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Chair of the Month

Bob Fox
Bob Fox
Bob is an industry leader and the founding partner at Fox Architects in Washington DC, celebrating 20 years of design professionals working together to reshape the office and work environment. Bob also publishes Work Design Magazine, which, with its thousands of global subscribers, is the premier online publication dedicated to workplace strategy, information, and resources. Bob earned his B.A. in Architecture from Temple University in Philadelphia. When he’s not innovating new concepts for the workplace, Bob leads a competitive sailing team on his 44-foot race boat, “Sly.” He’s been racing offshore for almost 20 years, sailing more than 30 thousand nautical miles of open ocean. Bob lives in the Washington DC area with his wife, son, and three daughters. He remains focused on our changing work environments, and the state of workplace design today, and looking ahead to dynamic shifts that are forthcoming.

Work Design Publisher, Bob Fox shares his thoughts on how the COVID-19 pandemic will forever change the traditional ways of working.

Participate in the conversation on the new ways of working and doing business. Head over to Bob’s LinkedIn page and share your thoughts in the comments.

Working from home covid-19
Photo by Devin Edwards on Unsplash

Just like you, I’m sitting here dazed and confused – never having experienced anything like this. Things are just weird. We are getting a lot of conflicting information about COVID-19, our government is not prepared, and nobody knows what to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to make of all this. As social beings, our norms are upended. Social distancing is the new behavior – almost. Still when I meet someone, I reach out to shake hands as a natural and instinctive reaction, only to think after the fact “Oh shit! – I shouldn’t do that!”

Talk about Black Swans, our world as we know it has just changed. Back in 2008 when the economy last ‘collapsed’, we experienced a banking crisis on the east coast and an explosion of tech start-ups on the west coast. The economy was dragged down, and the recession extended by a conflict of new and emerging technology that did not align with the old traditional ways of working. Traditionalists couldn’t fathom what was happening, let alone integrate it into their business. It was two completely different cultures and languages trying to speak to each other; it took time for business to adapt.

And what does that have to do with COVID-19? We have experienced another ‘Black Swan’ and our traditional patterns of life have been up ended and and have entered a new era. So, what do we do now? Reset 2.0.

For businesses, once again the traditional ways of working are outdated. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink everything we do and how we do it. It’s not business as usual anymore. The workplace has changed, and new models will emerge.

Things that do not represent a meaningful contribution to the strategic goal of a company and contribute to our society will evolve and change. Innovative strategies will take advantage of new practices and technology and evolve into creating something that better serves our community and society. The things that are normal now will change. The open office as we know it will probably not survive. Remote is not remote anymore, it’s a new normal. Collaboration will take on a new meaning and produce new tools. Mobile work, activity-based work and agile work will be further refined. Change management will emerge as a critical process to keep employees aligned.

FOX employees are working remotely.

What does this mean for architects and designers? It will be naive to continue to think and work in traditional terms. As designers we must open our minds, learn as much as we can, look for friction, and test new ideas. If anyone says, “This is the way we have always done it,” we should immediately stop them and ask, “But could there be a better way?” We will need to use more of our minds to think creatively. Our clients need us more than ever. Our roles as visionaries and change makers will rise in importance.

We are in new uncharted territory and need to think differently. Technology is going to play a much bigger role in how we interact and share ideas, and traditional standards will hinder our ability to work effectively. We are human and our desire for physical connection and social interaction will not go away, and we need it in order to survive. But will things be different in this new world?

I know that we will conquer this virus, but it will leave a mark. The big impact from all of this will be that we will think about how we protect ourselves and our communities in the long term, we can predict that there will be a “coming together”.

The COVID-19 pandemic will force our governments and our corporations to invest in the wellbeing of all of the stakeholders. If we can not interact in a healthy world, we will not grow, we will not create, and we will not be able to be human. Wellbeing and our health will increase in priority for everyone.

I expect that the conversation on health care will also change as our government realizes that the responsibility of caring for the sick will become extreme and irresponsible. It costs less to take care of people and prevent illness and stress from causing more damage. I hope they will realize that good nutrition, stress, reduction, staying fit, and getting enough sleep are all easy and low-cost ways to improve human performance, build long-term value, generate and maintain a growing economy, and reduce costs.

Thinking more about the bigger picture, it would not be surprising at all, if at some point in the future, science correlates this virus to climate change and forces us to realize that we need to be more proactive about doing the right things. We are in a new era and there is lots of rapid and disruptive change. We cannot stay the same. It will take big visions, inspiration, energy, and guts to lead us successfully into this new chapter.

Participate in the conversation on the new ways of working and doing business. Head over to Bob’s LinkedIn page and share your thoughts in the comments.

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