THE HABITOOR ‘The Home of your Organization’
Author: Casper Schwarz, September 2020
In recent decades we have been trying hard making our offices anything but an office. Rightfully so, as the obvious image of an office is an inhumane place with reception desks, waiting areas, pantries, copiers, paper bins, filing cabinets, carpet tiles, and suspended ceilings. You don’t want any of that at home. So why would you like it at work? There have been many signs that something would change drastically. And now we can and should. Seen the fact that new working methods within offices were burned down just as quickly as they were introduced. The room structures evolved into various work zones with dynamic areas, regular areas, and quiet areas; the canteen became a restaurant and the coffee bar made its appearance. Planting became a permanent feature and informal meeting spaces were projected everywhere. Employees increasingly have been given the freedom to use the building to their own insights. But still, offices are based on our perception that it is a place based on the presence of people, not on their personalities, habits, preferences, and needs. Now that we have all learned how to work in freedom, this can be turned around. Welcome to the Habitoor.
Office buildings have endlessly been built as flexible rent-out spaces. With a 1.80m grid, repetitive facades, a suspended ceiling at 2.7m height, large open flat floors, and basically no atmosphere at all. Developers had only one thing in mind: to be flexible for any kind of tenant. Our task as interior architects is to make the best of it. And so we do. The basic reason for any company to rent an X amount of square meters was the presence of their employees. Well guess what, this year the employees are not there. They are at home, at least most of the days. The empty office floors with here and there a lost employee who can’t work focused at home give a sad impression. All these unnecessary cabinets, work desks, meeting rooms, waste bins, and awful light fixtures. What is this strange inhuman environment?
A playground to work
Now that we know we can deliver our output not being in the office, we suddenly realize there is a new (post-covid) freedom awaiting for us. If you can work remotely at home, you can work remotely from anywhere. In a café, in a library, at friends, at a client’s place, out in nature, practically anywhere with connectivity. So if everyone is free to work anywhere, how does any company unify and bind its people? You need a new and magnetic place. Because I don’t believe people would really add an office to the list of their favorite places. In the media we are all talking about this new working place: a clubhouse, a meeting spot, a Starbucks, and so on. Yes, sounds good, but that would mean that all other activities such as focused work, formal meetings, and dedicated teamwork would be done elsewhere. Personally, I don’t believe that would work for any company. So we developed a new concept: the Habitoor. The idea behind a Habitoor is that it is a place that facilitates you in any way you want to work. It is not just a clubhouse. It is the new home of your organization. A place where you feel connected to being as free as you are (or can be from now on). Now that we have experienced at home how to organize our days, works, private matters, and joyful moments in our own personal way, we can do this anywhere. If you take a close look, many startups, students, and young professionals are already working in this free manner. Using the world as their playground to work, meet, and enjoy to their own preferences. Their shared place is merely a cool hub somewhere in town, not even close to the appearance of an office. And the successes of ‘book a desk’ at coworking locations as Spaces, Fosbury&Sons, and WeWork clearly indicate a turnaround.
Connectedness and togetherness
The quarantine has not only shown us how self-reliant we are but also how much we miss the connections and solidarity with our friends, family, and colleagues. We all, even introverted people, feel the need to belong to groups. We enjoy togetherness and real-life interaction. This is an important part of the work processes. Sharing knowledge, develop creativity, brainstorming and strategic thinking are things you don’t just do on your own. Giving and receiving compliments, celebrating successes, or dealing with setbacks are matters you do together. So yes, there is definitely a need for a commonplace. A magnetic and vibrant place that becomes a natural part of your life and living environment. Picture ten places where you would love to go in your free time… an office tower on the outskirts of the city is certainly not one of them. So, if we want to create that magnetic effect, we have to look for a new place, a new shape, and a new name.
From all the possible venues that can be turned into a Habitoor, we selected a semi-monumental building in Amsterdam. We started to create from scratch for a 200+ employees company with an average corporate identity. During our study case project, we have discussed all types of people and what they would expect of a Habitoor as their new working environment. Yes, it’s about synergy, yes it is about meeting ánd working, yes it is about silence. We created different zones which are mixed up through the building. A central dynamic area called the Sharing Zone for sharing experiences, good times and knowledge. The Work/Buzz Zone for working in any dynamic or relaxed way you want, complemented with informal meeting facilities and silence booths. The Silence Zone to focus and find some peace, alone or together. The support areas and the available facilities in the surrounding area offer a comfortable work-life balance. As long as you take responsibility for your output, or management tasks, or creative developments, you can mix using the Habitoor, working at home of anywhere else to your own ideals. The decision on which days you want to see your colleagues is a logical consequence. And the other way around, if you want to drink a glass of wine with a friend at the Habitoor bar, that will be fine, too. This new and free life offers so much extra quality for everyone that the motivation to perform will remain, if not improve. In addition, people will be more free in their choices where to live. If you only go to the Habitoor two days a week, you can perfectly move a bit further away. This means fewer people living in the cities, lower prices on housing and more chances to enjoy nature. This new work-life balance has the potential to genuinely improve our quality of life.
In biology, a habitat is created within a biotope. It literally means: “the natural habitat of an organism”. If the organism is a collective of employees, the next question is: Where is their biotope? An organism settles in a place where the climate is optimal, where abundant food is available, where evolution can take place to its maximum. Translated into a working environment that would be: where people feel good, where you are being triggered and where you can integrate working with other matters in your life. Would you qualify an office tower as such? No, that is an artificial environment, efficient, sustainable, and traditional. It is certainly not a natural environment, not a place where people excel in personal freedom. It is time companies no longer derive their image from their corporate appearance but from their human face. The transformation from Habitat (your home) to Habitoor (the home of the organization) explains exactly what it is: A connecting home for all your colleagues. It doesn’t need to be large. Yet very pleasant, and equipped with spaces and places to offer everyone their own working process. An attractive building in a great area, including sufficient meeting spaces, dynamic and silent work areas, presentation and supporting facilities. With lounge areas, cooking islands, meditation areas, sports, and gaming corners. Multifunctional rooms that give space for training, lectures, music lessons, yoga classes, presentations, launches, test facilities, and anything your company would like to add to the working process. The Habitoor becomes a part of your life, according to your rhythm and needs. At this point in time, we can make that jump ahead. Consider that not only the young creative companies are heading in this direction. Traditional organizations were getting ready for it. The ever-increasing digitization, the implementation of living rooms, the boxing balls between the desks, the omission of lowered ceilings, not to mention the beloved Casual Friday. All modifications to ultimately say goodbye to the traditional workplace.
How do we jump ahead?
A few years ago we have designed an interior for a company that developed mobile phone apps. The employees said they wanted to be able to cook, exercise, game, and party at work. And when asked ‘why?’ they answered: “because we work at home as well”. They just wanted to be able to do anything anywhere. A logical result: Happy employees, less absenteeism, and more space for individuality. A great opportunity for unconstrained autonomous group processes. Of course, people and groups of people need management. This will find new ways as well. Companies differ, so an Habitoor will have to be developed for each company separately. Yet the common thought will be the same. To start with quitting traditional thinking and start searching for a place that will really work magnetically for your organization. Create new compositions from a blank sheet and consider what functionalities should be brought together to offer a new balance for everyone. Architects and interior architects face a new challenge, and some trial and error will be inevitable. New connections can be made, integrality arises, and efficiency will improve. Restaurants, grand cafés, monumental buildings, churches, industrial workshops, old bank buildings, theaters, bathhouses, and modern buildings. Everything can be mixed up into various Habitoors at your choice. A wonderful challenge, mainly based on where people feel good. Where people get energized and feel free. For introverted and extrovert people and everyone in between. In the city, next to a park or somewhere at the waterfront. An environment where you would just as well go in your free time.
Culture of freedom
You may wonder to what extent we can get rid of the endless norms that have emerged over the years to make people function in an inhuman environment. Furniture standardization, for example, which are meant for working in the same place for a long time. These are no longer necessary. Complaints about climate control? In the past. Flex factor? That’s no longer a factor. Huge cost savings can be achieved. The Habitoor will also become an educational facility. A place where young talent is trained and inspired and where seniors enjoy their new freedom in the final years of their career. A place where synergy emerges in a natural way and where you are invited to think differently, share ideas, and present plans. In an open, creative, and proactive environment. The Habitoor will be a place where the culture of a company can be redefined. Not by 5 keywords or the so-called DNA, but by an interpretation that radiates the true character of the organization. Originating from and underlining human behavior. As culture once originated. This will affect cities as a whole. Hospitality and working will merge even more and mobility will definitely go through a metamorphosis. Cities will be back to their origin: a place where trade and craftmanship were the basis of where people would live. Nowadays, knowledge is the new trade. And knowledge can be, grow and flower everywhere.
The Habitoor ‘Home of your Organization’ is a concept in development by Casper Schwarz Architects an ANN. Our creative team: Casper Schwarz, Amy Wanders, Marit Willems, Elaine Keet, coworking with Nick Roemer (UK), Anthony Grey(UK) and Nahshon Pinto (Australia)
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