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Designing for New Social Dynamics with Kay Sargent

It is always insightful to hear from two leading practitioners in workplace design and who are able to approach the subject from different perspectives. That was certainly the case in January’s Women in Office Design special event, and it was a great way to start the year. 

Under the theme of Designing for New Social Dynamics, a thought-provoking presentation from Kay Sargent, HOK Global lead in workplace, covered a range of considerations and learnings from the perspective of designing for diversity and inclusion, and challenged us to consider “one size misfits all” – what is average?” 

Kay looked at the importance of creating an inclusive workplace today, considering factors like wellbeing, equity, while reflecting on the new dynamics of the workplace and she drew on perspectives from some of HOK’s recent research findings.

With new workplace dynamics and placemaking in 2023, along with wellbeing and equity, are designers finding that corporate standards and guidelines are too narrow to allow them to think outside the box?

So where do you start? Giving people choices of where they can sit, a spatial allowance for people to move around, while being mindful that others like the routine of a certain place to sit is a beginning.

But Kay also focused on the deeper needs of today’s office occupiers, many of whom would have spent time a long period working from home during the Covid pandemic, and a proportion of whom returning to work means a more flexible routine.

Key today is embracing designing for new types of spaces – areas to contemplate and refresh. Where do you go “to breathe” and the importance of movement, access to quiet or busy spaces are now comfort factors in the same way as access to daylight has traditionally been.

Meanwhile clients are asking for spaces where they can encourage people to gather. Designing for the entire experience has become more important than ever in how we bring people together in today’s workplace. 

Wanting employees to come back into the office and bringing people together can mean engendering the feeling of “being part of something bigger than yourself,” commented Simone Fenton-Jones, in the discussion that followed.

Author of the Human-Centric Workplace and Group Director of Workplace Consultancy and Transformation at Vpod Solutions, Simone outlined the importance of listening to people to help inform design decisions. But while gathering data is important, it needs acting on, and this should be a continuous cycle she put forward.

Reflecting on the consequences of decisions was also dependent on the difference between knowing what was wanted, and what is needed.

A requirement to look at people, place, process and tools is important, and Kay put forward that this applies equally to the workplace as it does to consideration of classroom settings for example. Diverse settings, spatial sequencing and sensory zoning all support a more equitable, inclusive and considered space.

With lively audience participation from all those who attended, a great evening was had by all, and was hosted by sponsor Shaw Contract in their London showroom. And a big thank you to Simone for sharing copies of her book – a highly recommended read.

A huge thank you to Samantha Dawe and the rest of the team at Shaw Contract for not only allowing us the use of your wonderful Clerkenwell showroom, but also for you continued support in helping to make events like this a reality!