On Friday, May 5, CNN reported that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 no longer a global health emergency and on May 11, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quietly brought our own country’s COVID-19 Public Health Emergency to an end.
And with that (it seems almost vulgar to say this) the nightmare that began back in January 2020 has come to a very anticlimactic close. We are all forever changed—some of us in ways much more devastating than others, which all of us here at i+s acknowledge whole heartedly. But if you are reading this, it means you are still standing; maybe in the throes of the crowds on floors 3 or 10 at the Mart, or in a somewhat quieter showroom at Fulton Market, cocktail in hand celebrating something, anything. Hopefully, with a smile.
What this, our NeoCon issue, celebrates is power—a power I believe the pandemic placed firmly in the hands of the employee and never asked for it back. This has forced the design industry to rethink the concept of “work” as a whole, not just for their clients but for themselves as well. ASID’s 2023 State of Interior Design report (page 48) shows there are more job openings in our field than professionals to fill them, giving both current employees and candidates a major bargaining chip when it comes to, well, you name it: salary, benefits and at the top of (most) people’s priority lists today—access to remote work.
Our fresh-faced new Editor Lauren Brant (she’s probably in those same throes currently on floor 10, trying to make her way back to our showroom at 10-109, so say hello and stop in for a coffee with her) sifts through the weeds a little further on this with her feature “The New Studio” on page 24. Smaller firms (whom, P.S., also according to the report are raking it in for the industry, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all annual sales) face some new challenges in this post-pandemic landscape, not the least of which being how to structure their own businesses to accommodate today’s employee mindset on the hybrid life.
Some, such as the Philadelphia-based team of FCA, are following suit right along with their clients and have shrunk their own office footprint down by half. They did the same for law firm Fox Rothschild’s Seattle office. See how they and other firms have managed to cut down on project space while simultaneously enriching a company’s culture in our feature on page 34. And Pickard Chilton in New Haven, Conn. has offered up an invaluable outline in their guest article on page 26 on how to supercharge that culture with amenities that will keep employees retained and happy to make that commute, no matter how many times a week it might be.
But how do we find the appropriate balance between feeding this demand for balance and control over one’s own life, while also protecting against what NYC’s INC Architecture & Design founding partner Adam Rolston identifies in “The New Studio” as “quiet quitting.” Remote work can rob employees of the invaluable connections in-person can provide, especially when there are not as many opportunities to find them elsewhere in a world where religious institutions, social and country club atmospheres are not as engrained in society anymore.
One answer is for certain as IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst writes in their column she penned for this issue: keep community at the center of everything you do and you can’t go wrong. “[O]ur sense of belonging grows stronger every day, both online and offline. Hence the workplace needs to become a safe place where people want to do more than work—where they’re willing and able to learn, socialize and connect.”
Our “cover girl” gives them a platform to do so. Summit, designed by Snøhetta for +Halle (a Hightower brand), is comprised of five basic shapes and can be configured by the user to create dozens of configurations. It’ll be on display at their showroom, #1110, 11th floor at the Mart and we can’t wait to meet it in person. But for now take a sneak peek at it on page 50, as it opens our NeoCon product preview.
Summit lets the employee make it their own—something the entire design industry must learn to do when it comes to the workplace. Keep that in mind as you scour the halls of NeoCon this year. It’s a tall order, but we’ll figure it out, just as we did the past three years. And while there might not be a big, great return to office on the horizon, there’s been a big, great return to life.
I’ll take that any day.