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KI at NeoConnect: Designing for Purpose

June 15, 2020
  • A&D

This month, we gathered with the rest of the design community for NeoConnect, a series of virtual resources, programs and events sponsored by the team behind NeoCon.

On June 1, KI’s very own workplace design expert Jonathan Webb spoke on a panel with Paul Makovsky, the editor-in-chief of Contract magazine, and Primo Orpilla, FIIDA, ASID, co-founder and principal of Studio O+A. The trio explored designing for purpose. How can we create workplaces where individuals can be truly happy, work purposefully and remain productive? And in the post-pandemic world, how do we ensure that our workspaces are safe and flexible?

One design purpose that’s been top of mind for our team at KI is how to bring joy back to the workplace. “Some people are scared to come back to work, even if they want to come back to work,” Webb said. “What are we going to do to make us have normalcy and to make us feel safe?”

Here are three strategies he shared with the audience at NeoConnect.

Focus on Wellness

The first challenge facing many employers is how to keep the workplace clean in a post-coronavirus world. They can start by considering two strategies: adding shelving units so sanitation supplies are easily accessible and rethinking café layouts to ensure food is prepared and presented in safe way.

“I hate to say it, but I don’t think we’re going to be seeing the salad bar anytime soon,” Webb quipped.

Move Toward Less Dense Spaces

Pre-coronavirus, most workplaces were high-density environments, with a workstation for every employee. Now, employers will likely experiment with different layouts to maximize distance between employees. Movable and flexible furniture solutions can enable organizations to create distance in dense spaces with one kit of parts.

Employers may consider de-densifying collaborative spaces as well. Rooms that used to hold 15 people might accommodate seven in the future, with an empty space between each one.

Say Yes to Space Separation

In our brave new world of social distancing, expect more organizations to seek out flexible screens and dividers that give employees freedom over their level of privacy and personal space.

At NeoConnect, Webb shared the story of one KI client that had spent five years in an open, benching layout but was looking to add screens for the return to the office. Under our Infinity from KI program, we were able to modify existing screens into something custom that worked well for our customer’s existing space.

Storage solutions with high back panels are another creative option for dividing space between workstations. Banks of employee lockers can also delineate space and direct foot traffic in ways that support social distancing.

The Many Meanings of Purpose

Designing for purpose can focus on concrete goals, like allowing for six feet of distance between employees. But it can also tackle big ideas, like how design can support an organization’s culture and community.

Primo Orpilla offered Slack’s 10-floor headquarters in San Francisco as an example of this aspect of designing for purpose. The workspace was inspired by different environments along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Orpilla discussed how trail etiquette and customs, from assisting other travelers to acknowledging that the straight path ahead is not always the right path, informed purpose at Slack. “These are metaphors for company culture,” Orpilla said. “Help people along. Look for alternative solutions.”

Designing for purpose may mean something different for each person or organization. “There’s so much information out there,” Webb said. “Our job is to be supportive, to listen to clients and to provide sound guidance.”

Whether informed by company culture or cleaning protocols, designing for purpose creates a joyful, safe workplace for all.

Click below to view the NeoConnect webinar.

by KI Furniture 

KI manufactures innovative furniture and wall system solutions for education, workplace, healthcare and government markets.


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