With remote working practices increasingly being adopted around the world. Has the traditional office passed its peak and could there be a bleak future for the office industry? Find out more from what Elliot Barratt, CEO and Founder of award-winning interior design firm has to say,
With the global pandemic playing a key role in establishing remote working as part of the new normal, we as a flexible workspace provider truly believe that the office as we know it is already dead. Rigid working practices will become a turnoff, presenteeism culture will be frowned upon and office cubicles will cease to exist. But, do all these revolutionary changes mean that employees will never need to work outside of their homes again? Join Cleve Yap from Arcc Spaces and Elliot Barratt, CEO & Founder of award-winning luxury interior design studio, Elliot James Interiors on another controversial discussion about what led to the death of the office as we know it and more importantly, its aftermath.
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Cleve: Tonight we have Mr. Elliot Barratt over here, CEO and founder of Elliot James Interiors and today we are going to talk about a very interesting yet controversial topic revolving around the state of offices so, without myself falling too much about you, I believe you have also won a few awards right? Why not let’s kick off the show by introducing yourself and your company to the audience?
Elliot: Thank you thank you! Yes, as you said my name is Elliot Barratt and I’m the founder and CEO of Elliot James Interiors. We are a luxury boutique interior design studio based here in Singapore. We’ve got offices in the UK as well. We focus on high-end luxury residential hospitality and corporate office space projects. So, as you pushed out, yeah we were fortunate enough to recently win an award which is the International Design and Architectural Awards and also the IDAs in London and we won that for best interior design scheme Asia Pacific here for a project we did at South Beach residence. So, yeah I’m really really proud of that. That’s our latest news at the moment.
Cleve: Sounds prestigious! Hahaha!
Cleve: Alright. That’s nice to hear definitely. So, I just want to let you know that I’ve also personally seen your portfolio in your website actually. All of your work looked really impressive. Especially the executive offices that you did at Cecil Street and the Beach Road area. They are truly magnificent designs and the one at Cecil Street, to me it seems like it has really evoked quite a similar vibe to our center so when I look at your office design work in general, it seems rather obvious that the design serves a purpose that is broader than just providing the essentials, which is similar to this center at OMB where your HQ is based.
From the photos in the website I can see so much thought and detail into every nook and cranny of the space as compared to conventional office spaces as we know it. They tend to provide simply the basics. Maybe a little more at times but obviously they’re also a lot cheaper too, and I want to ask your opinion as a business owner on what the future of such essential workspaces is going to be when we know for certain that more people are going to work remotely right? So, the topic of the day: Is the office as we know it such as conventional office spaces, full of cubicles dead already?
Elliot: I think it’s a very loaded and controversial question. But, I think today we’ve given people the freedom to work in a completely different way than they ever had before and I don’t think you can ask those people to go back to what they had before. So I think it’s gonna be a very interesting time going forward on how the office space in your office environment changes.
I think we’ve asked our staff and everyone to work from home on a basis where they can manage their own time, they can manage where they’re working from, whether it’s next to the pool or whether it’s from a dining table or from their bedroom and then I think in terms of asking them to go back to a cubicle where they’re clocking in from 9-5, I don’t think you can do that anymore. So, in a short summary, I would say the idea of an office cubicle environment I has passed its peak. I think it’s dead yes.
Cleve: Alright, That’s good to know. We ourselves as a workspace solutions provider, know our reasons why there is still a need for a physical space and it’s definitely not something like a conventional office. But, perhaps professionals who might not be concerned about interiors might still be thinking about having a physical workspace outside of my home might still incur more costs than benefits, and actually the first group of people who would be most familiar about the importance of physical workspaces I believe would be professionals like you right?
Cleve: So, to me I think there’s like lighting, atmosphere, furniture? I don’t know. I think you might have so much more to tell me about the most important elements of a workspace that can make a huge difference compared to working virtually all the time. So, according to you as an interior architect and as an individual you might want to share with us on why do you think there is still a need for a physical workspace and what are the work activities a physical workspace can facilitate better than remote working?
Elliot: Absolutely. For a start, people are working from home out of necessity and not necessarily because they want to. I think they want something different and I think it’s showing that but I don’t necessarily think going forward that’s what people want long term. I think you end up working longer hours.
Whilst the environment may seem more comfortable but the actual workstation itself is probably less comfortable if it’s not set up correctly for your needs as a business. In terms of what is needed and why people might feel the need to come back to an office environment is in my opinion, a level of separation. I think it’s being able to separate business and professionalism from work, home life, family time, or leisure and I think at the moment people are working so hard to catch up on the effects of COVID that everyone is working at this work rate that is unsustainable. I think they continue to do it and there are lots of cases of burnout and things like that. So, I think to have that level of separation when people can come to a designated environment and increase their productivity whilst there and then separate themselves, I think there’s still a huge huge need for that on a sort of personal level.
Talking about my business, we’re a creative industry so we work better on a collaborative basis so when we’re all in one room sharing ideas and we’re talking about experiences or things we’ve seen, it creates a much more productive and creative environment and if we’re trying to do that over a computer screen from our homes. I think we all need to be inspired by our environment as well and whether that’s like the landscapes we’re overlooking (at OMB) or that’s the immediate environment, those things need to inspire us and I think you get that from an office space.
Cleve: Yeah, I think spaces with a creative atmosphere in terms of the interiors will help other employers and employees to perform better in a sense as well right?
Elliot: Absolutely. I think there is also that idea of feeling more professional as well. I think when you wake up in the morning, you get dressed for work and you leave the home, you have that travel time to be able to sort of mentally prepare yourself for the work you’re going to do for the day ahead and then you get into a designated professional environment. You’re meeting like-minded people when you’re talking about business, you’re focusing on your business or whatever that is and I think there’s a need for that. I think trying to do that from you know whether or not you like to work in your pajamas or whether you still put on a shirt and tie you know, that’s for the individual to decide but I think it’s much easier to mentally prepare yourself to be professional by leaving the home and coming to a work-inspired environment.
Cleve: Yup, that makes sense. OK, so do you also see that people who were working in conventional offices before are also dreading coming back to the office even though that they feel that there is a need to? I mean.. personally, I have my siblings and friends complaining about it. Although their offices although are located at a prime location but it is more or less still a conventional cube farm, to be honest. So, it seems like to me there are still a group of people thinking that the office has always been a rather dreadful place.
I can only think of reasons after comparing this center to a typical one. Maybe some of the reasons could be the space is just too uninspiring or probably that contributes to a mundane work routine which is quite dreadful. With that being said, I believe that the new physical workspace of the new normal maybe have something that has to provide value to not just the employers but the employees as well. So, regardless of it being like a coworking space or a bespoke office suite, one of the most important areas to start from I believe personally is still the design and the layout because I think this is a prerequisite for more important factors that can affect productivity, morale, so on and so forth. I’m pretty sure you as an interior architect, you’re very clear on what the trends of the space design will be so could you share us what are some of the key design factors of the new physical space that can bring value to the company as well their employees?
Elliot: Absolutely. I think we as designers always look at the office as a physical representation of a brand or of a business. It says a lot about the business, its core values, and its aspirations as well. I think for those offices where people are dreading going back to work in a very depressing, dated environment, I think it is kind of a representation of where that business is in its current state.
Those businesses that are are waking up and realizing that actually if I want to get the most out of my employees, it’s about their well-being and looking after my staff means that they will be happy, they will be motivated and in return would be more productive and our business would be more successful, I think that’s a very clear pathway to to the success of a business. So, for those people that are dreading going back to the office, maybe it’s also that they’ve seen a glimpse of freedom in a working capacity. I think they’re able to manage their own time or their own environment and all of a sudden there’s this dread of being pushed back into these “boxes”, back into this rat race and this robotic kind of scenario. I think going forward we need to give more options for the working environment.
This (OMB) is always great to reference because we’re sitting right here. You can have your productive area and you can have your kind of “engine room” which is the way we think about it. We have our computer screens and when we’re working on certain designs we need to be very serious and focused about that, Then, when we need to be more creative and collaborative, we come out to these spaces where we can get different perspectives. We can work from a high table, we can work from a low table, we can sit on the sofa with our laptops on our lap or we can plug into a larger monitor. All of these just allows you to have a different perspective on a subject.
Sometimes, you see people getting very stressed, they got locked into this screen and they can’t get out of this mood. Sometimes, just physically removing yourself to go and sit somewhere far more pleasant that has greenery, planting, and softer lighting, or maybe ambient music could just allow you to chill out and I think that’s very important.
Big companies like Google and Facebook have been doing it for years. People saw that the table tennis table as a gimmick but when you’re playing table tennis you have to be so in the moment. It doesn’t allow you to think about anything else so actually, for a split second it allows you to release your mental state from being stuck in this very stressful environment and that’s what it’s for. I think now we have the whole idea that you can work in a very relaxed environment, be in your home, there should be more of a transition back to the workplace. If you want people to spend large amounts of time in the office environment, you need to allow them spaces to relax, to kick back and to maybe watch TV or anything but also give them the control over their own productivity and their own time rather than feeling like they’re just a cog in a wheel.
Cleve: I think you are spot on especially on one of the points that you mentioned earlier about the design of the space, the layout and how much the employer should invest into all these. Plus, I was from one of the cube farms before and I can totally relate in terms of comparing the design and whatever else they actually invested into that space, I can really sense by comparing that to how they treat their employees as well. It’s definitely not an inspiring place to work in. I can’t really be creative in that place. Yeah, it really makes more sense for me to work in someplace like this to be more productive and creative as well.
Elliot: I think what I love about this space and this environment as well especially as a business, In design, especially luxury interior design, we’re selling a dream. We’re selling a lifestyle. Therefore, the place that we interact with clients has to reflect that as well. So when they go to our website, we have a very polished website. When they speak to us on the phone or they get an email reply from us, it’s all done in a particular way that’s extremely polished and professional. Then, when they come to the physical meeting, the expectations have already been built up. So when they meet us, it then needs to reflect and continue that whole brand experience, that luxury lifestyle and aspirational experience, and you come here, you’re greeted by a fantastic, happy front of house staff that can take you and bring you a coffee. You sit in this nicely designed environment with ambient music overlooking the most impressive vistas in the world, it continues that whole dream.
I know that not every office environment is fortunate enough to have a backdrop like this but at the same time, it is the subtleties. It can be just taking care of lighting, soft lighting, and creating a different ambiance. Maybe it is in certain areas there’s just the subtle sound of some ambient music or something that just allows somebody to mentally escape from their sterile sort of depressing environment that they might have, and I don’t think it requires large sums of money. I don’t think it needs complete overhauls but it’s more of a mental shift. I think it’s a case of saying: “OK, we appreciate that our staff no longer wants to sit here from morning till night and I’m gonna accept that. It’s not possible anymore and the working environment needs to change.”
Cleve: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense definitely. I’m pretty sure a huge part of interior design especially to you is like what you mentioned earlier, it’s about personalization and uniqueness as well, so I’m also pretty sure your clients would like to personalize their workspaces as much as they can afford to right? I’ve also seen beautiful workspaces that look good but it’s a tad too fun. Some are a tad too productive in a sense as well, so how do you sort of strategically conceptualize your design when there is such a requirement to balance out work and fun?
Elliot: We tend to look at the overall space and environment. We look at the tasks that need to be performed and then zone those. So if there’s a particular area needs to be designed for heightened productivity, we’ll make sure that it’s a little bit simpler than everywhere else. There’s not too many distractions and then if there’s an area where we want people to kind of relax and unwind, then we make that space a little bit more fun and a little bit more creative so that so you have this divide.
I had an interesting conversation with a business owner and we were discussing where his meeting room would go, and he said he had a room with an amazing view like this and he wants to make sure that when they were employing or when they’re interviewing, the candidates will always sit window facing in. According to his years of experience, whenever he sits them on the other side of the table, he loses them after two minutes because they’re too busy looking out the window.
So it’s always interesting to see how the effects and environment can have on somebody without you realizing. So, where you position things in terms of what you want to get out of your staff is very very important. If you want productivity, maybe you don’t stick a work desk in front of an amazing view or don’t put them where there’s a moving screen or TV. So, I think it just requires a little bit of thought in terms of what you want to get from the staff or what you wanna get from that space and making sure they’re both aligned.
Cleve: Right. I’m sure when you are in The Drawing Room, you’re at the right time for the right things to do right? Hahaha!
Elliot: Absolutely, yeah sure! Haha!
Cleve: That iconic building (Marina Bay Sands) out there, it could be quite distracting yeah?
Elliot: Absolutely. It is right now. Haha!
Cleve: But, it’s so good for relaxation right? Haha!
Elliot: Yes, yeah.. I think this view and again without always referring to Arcc Spaces, this is when you’re having a very stressful day and you need to just escape. Obviously where you’ve got the coastline and you’ve got all the ships that are moving. You can sit here for a while and just lose yourself, and it’s not a case of people running away from their duties or from their work. It’s just that little bit of time that allows them to mentally escape from the stresses that they’re under at that point to refocus, recharge and then go back at it with a stronger attitude.
Cleve: That’s the power of sceneries. Haha!
Elliot: Absolutely. Hahaha!
Cleve: OK. Last question over here. Do you see any trends in home office design as well?
Elliot: Yes I think so. We get asked a lot about trends for home offices and I think a lot of people are including a lot more greenery in their home planting and things like that because obviously, it’s very good for you. Height adjustable desks as well, people want to work from different levels and I think that’s very important. I think if you’re going to work from home, you need to be able to, at various times of the day change up your ergonomic position as well. I think if you’re sitting down and you’re hunched over, obviously it’s going to lead to back problems and things like that. So, I think we need to change a desk height and that’s very important.
And colour. I think you made a point earlier on about environments being too fun, but I think what we’re trying to encourage is, in terms of home offices, change up the colors of your walls. They don’t have to be the same. You can change different tones on different walls just so it gives you a slightly different perspective, a slightly different feeling when you’re facing one wall versus the other. We also try to encourage people to place desks away from the walls. I think anyone that’s sitting on a desk that’s up against the wall, you can get very tired and very depressing as well, whereas if you’re sitting in the middle of the room, you’re surrounded by space. You’ve got window views, you’ve got a larger room and that all helps your mental state when working from home.
Cleve: Right. So, are you like a natural light person?
Elliot: I actually like artificial light. I try to have as many lamps as possible just because I like soft lighting. So, I’ll have a desk lamp. I’ll have… Maybe a coolant lamp for ambiance and I think that’s important.
But, I think you also need to have, throughout the day good or always when working during the day, you got to have good natural light and also ventilation as well to make sure you got plenty of fresh air.
Cleve: Interesting to hear about the artificial lights though. Hahaha!
Elliot: Hahaha! Yeah, I don’t know why. I think I’ve always been taken aback by ambient lighting. I think it creates a mood and a sort of mental state which I find far more relaxing. My pet hate is halogen light bulbs and big corporate lighting. Haha!
Cleve: Oh.. Yeah, Haha! I’m so tired of all these. I definitely understand that.
Cleve: OK, so there you have it from Elliot Barratt over here about the future of conventional offices and also physical workspaces like this (OMB). So, I hope you enjoyed this episode and for now stay safe stay, positive. hope to see you on the next episode as well. Take care and goodbye!
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