2020: The year of change

Naomi Kenny

2020: The year of change

There’s no doubt about it, COVID 19 has changed and affected all of our lives in one way or another. It’s changed our way of thinking, behaving and our environments. Since this interview took place 2 weeks ago the world has changed! We’ve all had to adapt to this new way of life, some have found it easier than others. And as we are now easing out of lockdown and trying to find a new normal, businesses have had to dramatically change how they operate in order to keep their colleagues safe. Modular flooring is a great way to indicate the 1 meter plus rule but will it be something businesses invest in? Interface’s account manager Rachel Wylde and designer Donna Dent discuss with me about designing for distance and chat about how the pandemic has affected people’s mental health.

Do you think flooring will play a huge part in keeping colleagues safe?

Rachel: “Yeah I think at this stage it’s really hard to know what the full impact will be, and it’s hard to know whether flooring will be a key thing, or whether it will be a part of something much bigger. So, inevitably I think no matter what happens now post COVID, people going back into the workplace, design is going to be a huge element of how workplaces are put together for colleagues to keep people safe. 

Historically we’ve always used the floor for wayfinding, it’s also used for aesthetics purposes for branding, but I think now, more than ever, it will be used in a more important way because it will be used to keep people safe and keep people at a safe social distance from each other. So yeah, I do think that it will be something that is critical to the design of a space, along with other design elements.”

What kind of design elements would you use to indicate the 2 metre space?

Donna: “One of the really important things from a design point of view on the social distancing thing is that Interface have been working on 3 guides that we’ve got on our website, so on the opening page on our website we’ve got a whole piece on social distancing, and there’s 2 parts to our approach on it. 

The first part is using floor designs to demarcate different areas, and creating zones. And the second part is to do with wayfinding. You can layer directional signage into the floor using the symbols we’ve created, we’ve got a whole section where you can slot in specific symbols into your floor by just doing 1 or 2 tiles into your existing design so it’s quite an inexpensive way to give people proper directional signage. 

Another way of doing it is through the design itself, although because Interface already do those designs anyway, I think it may be a bit confusing for the customer. You need to make them aware that this is not just a design, it’s actually indicating to you that you need to be 2 metres apart.” 


Do you think we’ll go back to a world with dividers and cubicles?

Rachel: “When me and Donna both read this question we were both like ‘oh I really hope not!’

I think that world and that design of office is so antiquite now and so far away from where we’ve got to in terms of office design, health and wellbeing of employees, designing of community spaces, and I think if we have to go back to that it just wouldn’t be ideal. But I think what we will see is other companies that manufacture other interior products like screening, like furniture, like dividers, coming up with their solutions, and coming up with solutions that are more innovative. And I think this big thing of COVID 19 has forced manufacturers to innovate and make their products and/or designs suitable for what will be the new workplace.”

Naomi: “Yeah I’ve seen some offices in Czech Republic on Linkedin where they have clear glass cubicles, the room looked really open and light and people didn’t look too distant from each other.”

Donna: “That’s kind of what I was going to say, if we do have a need for that kind of design, I think it’s going to have to be done really subtly, be very functional but make it very different from how it was in the past. We’ve worked so hard to bring people together, it’s been such a big focus with design in the community, and I think now, to start building bridges to keep people apart is just the opposite of what we want to do. We just need to do it in a way that looks and feels like we’re not apart.”



What Interface collections would you use to create a social distance floor plan?

Donna: “Well, omg there’s so many! You can keep it very simple like we’ve done with the arrows, we  just used colour with Heuga carpet tiles for them. But there’s so many we can use, we’d offer something with Urban Retreat, Composure Edge, and both Human Nature and Human Connections are both great products for zoning. But I think the key here is that you almost need to combine the 2 if you are going to provide direction for people because inevitably people will completely miss the fact that, okay this is a beautiful design but is it telling me to social distance or not? So i’m swaying towards dropping in the arrows here and there just to give people that message because otherwise they might not get it.


Do you think there will be an impact on people’s mental health being so far apart from their colleagues now?

Rachel: “When I read this question, I was really torn about it. It’s a great question, it’s something that’s quite close to my heart because I just think, one of the biggest crisis to come out of this pandemic and something that will run and run is people’s mental health, and businesses are going to have to consider the mental health and wellbeing of their employees as we return to work. We’re very lucky at Interface, we work for a company that fully understands the need for community, for working closely with teams and colleagues and genuinely has a passion for health and wellbeing in the workplace and that starts with us, we practice what we preach. For me, my hope is that workplaces will adapt to offering a more balanced way of working for people. So hopefully by the end of this the days of 9-5 at the office are going to be a thing of the past because I think in order to adapt to the circumstances and situations as we move forward businesses are going to have to adapt, they’re not necessarily going to be able to have all employees in at one time. I think they’re are ways around that and ways to protect people’s mental health and that’s by using design and all of the strategies we know about that are good for people’s health and well being and for their motivation in the workplace. You know, human beings are designed to live and work with each other, we’re not meant to be isolated and on our own, that’s not how we function and we don’t function well like that. I think there’s a huge piece that needs to be looked into around the need for nature, the need for outdoor spaces, the need for people to be able to see outdoors while they're in the workplace, and the need for them to be able to communicate with colleagues and be with colleagues but at a safe distance and in a safe way. 

Obviously we talk a lot about biophilic design, we understand and it’s scientifically proven that people work and feel better in an environment where it’s designed around and features elements of nature. So to answer your question, yes it will have an impact on people’s mental health, but I think there are many ways that both manufacturers like ourselves and designers can overcome that and find solutions within the workplace.”


Donna: “It’s such an interesting question, it’s probably the question me and rachel talked about the longest when we went through the questions, it’s a funny one because I agree with what everything that Rachel said but i actually think that it may have the opposite effect that we think it’s going to have, having people socially distance. Because we’ve been isolating for so long, that actually when we do come together, and when we do all start to come back to the office and socially distance, there will be a real longing and desire to connect. So people may be sat 2 metres apart but I think mentally they’re going to be talking to each other. I recently went into an office just before lockdown and people were sat in banks of 6 or 8 desks and none of them where talking to each other, they were all emailing each other, so that was before COVID 19, and I think that actually now we’ve had this long time of isolation there’s a real need to actually get back and see people and talk to each other and people are much more aware of it now as well, they're more aware of the need to be together, talk and come together as a community, even though they will be 2 metres apart, that distance doesn't stop people from mentally connecting. It’s just such an interesting question Naomi and I think it’s a discussion that could just go on and on for quite some time, I’m interested to see what the outcome will be.”

Naomi: “I never thought of it that way but I think it will be like that, just because we’ve been stuck in our houses for so long, being in a room full of people again no matter the distance between us we’ll be excited to be there. I thought i’d be fine being by myself in lockdown, like I love going to see my friends but I like to recharge and be myself too so when lockdown commenced I was like “oh I’ll be fine!” But the loneliness really got to me. I just needed to be in my house with someone else because the quietness was driving me crazy! I didn’t realise how much I needed to be around people.”

Rachel: “You’ve hit the nail on the head with it there, none of us realised it because we had it all the time and it’s something we took for granted. Until it was forced upon us and taken away from us and we were made to be on our own and we couldn’t go to the office and we can’t see our customers face to face, I don’t think we fully understood the value of that, and the psychological impact of not having that. Like Donna said I 100% agree we all can’t wait to see each other, we’re so excited! And that’s because we have a human connection, when we see each other face to face we understand each other."

So what happens now?

An office is a place where employees can communicate, collaborate and create, so we need businesses to be innovative and find a way to retain the sense of community in a workplace whilst feeling safe. We've all been apart for what seems like forever, we don't want to be divided even further.

2020 is constantly changing, wer're already seeing topics we've discussed in this interview coming into play now which is great. Everyone has been affected by this pandemic differently but i've found comfort in the fact we're all in this together. My guess is that screen dividers, sanitising stations and face masks are here to stay for awhile but us humans are incredible at adapting to different situations. And with businesses adapting too, 2020 might not be 'cancelled' after all.