A prominent architect and veteran of fit-out and new-build projects for more than 30 years said the pandemic has caused this to be “the most extraordinary time since I started in business in the 1980s”.
Jack Pringle, managing director of Studio Pringle and a past president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), was talking as part of a panel session at the Workspace Design Show, held at Islington’s Business Design Centre in London.
Recognising that the situation required “a reboot of all our thinking," Pringle said that "the most fundamental purpose of the office is being redefined at the moment." Its role as "fundamentally a document factory" had been shaken, now that working on documents from anywhere “has been proved in spades”.
Pringle now sees the office as principally a place for maintaining company culture and allowing creativity, although perhaps not as popularly imagined.
“People are obsessed with the idea of creativity happening when you meet someone on the staircase,” said Pringle. “Well it’s not; it’s someone having a kernel of an idea and then taking it to a wider group and testing it.
“And that’s where an office comes in very strongly. The power of presence comes in developing that idea, not necessarily having that initial light-bulb moment.”
The office as a recruitment tool
Looking to the future, Pringle still believes that the office will offer a form of competitive advantage, particularly in the escalating war for talent.
“For decades we've worked for some amazingly successful firms. And the brief to us has been ‘how do we get the best graduates?’. The whole design of the office [has been about] about ‘how do we get the best graduates, because we know in 10 years’ time they’re going to be propelling this firm?’.”
Pringle considered a dual between two organisations for a graduate, one offering the best technology to work from the home and the other offering an office in which “you’ll meet the most fabulous people”, suggesting the latter would win.
“A business is more than creative work,” he added. “It's more than the process work. It's an organism, it's a culture, it’s people and it’s being part of a team and understanding the values of the business. And I think that's easier to generate in the right way when you meet and share time together.”
Finally, Pringle offered up a more fundamental, time-honoured defence of office working.
“It used to be said that the best-informed people in the business were the smokers, because they’d go every couple of hours to have a cigarette backstage and talk about what's going on; so if you wanted to find out what was going on in business, you'd find a couple of smokers.”
Teams meetings were a poor substitute for affording this kind of ‘inside track’, Pringle suggested.
“Being part of an office gives you that broader understanding of what the business is about and where it's really going. Are we really performing? Is it going in the right direction? And you don't get that on a Teams meeting.”
(Jack Pringle was talking in a session entitled 'Commercial Interior Designs to Inspire Creativity & Innovation', chaired by Mark Eltringham of Workplace Insight with Angela Bardino, design principal, Jacobs and Collin Burry, design principal at Gensler.)