Safe and sociable: a blueprint for the future financial workplace

This WORKTECH briefing looks at an innovative Italian office design concept for financial companies which combines safety measures in the pandemic with the need to foster creativity

As the global financial service industry weighs up its real-estate options amid the second coming of Covid-19, one leading international design and innovation practice has unveiled a blueprint for the post-pandemic workplace in the sector.

Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA), which is headquarted in Turin, Italy, teamed up with financial company Sella Group to create an experimental pilot project in Turin’s Open Innovation Center. This combines measures to make offices more resilient amid the pandemic while fostering creativity and new idea. While the project is focused on financial firms, it is likely to broadly applicable across a number of sectors.

‘The concept aims to make offices more pandemic-resilient while fostering creativity…’

The CRA-Sella concept proposes a hot-desking regime while fostering interaction in physical space through collaborative digital platforms. It also looks at new ways to sanitise desks with UV-C light and manage clean air, with a ‘smart window’ to support health, safety and sociability. It is based on the premise that most companies are likely to keep promoting hybrid and remote working arrangements – but that human interaction in the office will remain vital.

Lower occupancy during the week requires switching to a hot-desking paradigm, while preserving safety for everyone during a pandemic. Space saved through hot-desking is in turn used to establish facilities dedicated to informal meetings and the exchange of ideas.

Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, explains: ‘Even if a dose of remote working is desirable, physical offices hold firm as a beacon for innovation. It’s only in shared workplaces that we can establish those “weak ties” among casual acquaintances that are crucial to producing new ideas and strengthening company culture.’

Ratti adds: ‘These “weak tie” relationships are at risk when we work alone, since we tend to get in contact remotely with those people we always collaborate with. With the project for Sella’s Open Innovation Center, we strive to put forward a resilient design alternative for the future of our office, which will have to be safe and sociable.’

The Open Innovation Center in Turin will host a Sella Lab dedicated to start-ups and fintech initiatives, among others. Central to the project is its core of shared activities and a key connecting area. An ascending sequence of terraced pods serves as meeting areas around the main stairwell. Workstations are optimised within the framework of a hot desking system.

Analysis of occupancy data helps with managing seat allocations, with the aim of fostering team member interactions. The same desk is used by different individuals at different times of the day and week – with sanitisation between every user using UV-C disinfecting lighting.

At a time when conventional heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are seen as facilitators in the spread of viruses and bacteria, the project experiments with new heat recovery ventilation (HRV). A ‘smart window’ handles air changes directly into each individual window. By reducing air changes between different spaces and providing a continuous circulation between indoor and outdoor spaces, it limits the diffusion of micro-organisms while improving the building’s energy efficiency.

Andrea Cassi, partner and project manager at CRA, adds: ‘The project draws inspiration from the Open Innovation paradigm, as theorised by Harvard economist Henry W Chesbrough. With this design, we go beyond the traditional image of the open plan filled with individual desks… we replace it with a more complex layout that fosters creativity and promotes safer ways of sharing space.’

Getting on with the hybrid job

With the coronavirus crisis showing no signs of abating, companies can’t afford to wait around for things to settle before they decide who is working where and how in the new hybrid world of work. That’s the conclusion of a Management Today survey of 280 UK business leaders carried out with management consultant Hays in September 2020.

The results present a vivid picture of the dramatic pivot in work styles since the pandemic. Three-quarters of companies surveyed said that, before Covid-19 struck in March 2020, their employers worked from the office more than 80 per cent of the time. By September, at a time when restrictions were being eased, half of all firms were operating at less than 20 per cent of capacity. Once the pandemic is over, business leaders expect their offices to be only 20 to 60 per cent full. The loud and clear message is that hybrid and remote working is here to stay – and companies better get on with organising it properly.

WORKTECH UK and EMEA goes live

The latest stop in WORKTECH’s Virtual Conference Series tour is UK and EMEA. Following from the success of WORKTECH Tokyo, APAC and US, the UK and EMEA event will showcase the latest thought-leadership from global organisations, innovations from exhibitors and opportunities to virtually network with the WORKTECH community over two days.

The event will blend academic thinking with practical insights to drive innovation through the next steps of the pandemic. Speakers from Twitter, London Business School and UniCredit will share their perspectives as we continue to future-gaze into the possibilities of new ways of working. The live event is running from Tuesday 27 October from 09:00-13:00 BST and Wednesday 28 October from 09:00-13:00 BST. Find more details here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional live conference series paused due to the coronavirus pandemic. This edition is posted 21 October 2020.
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