It goes without saying that when we began planning for a major office move – one dreamed, detailed, and designed over 3 years, impacting over 100 employees and operations firm-wide – that a global pandemic was not part of the plan. But here we are. A year-and-a-half after announcing we’d be leaving our home of 17 years for fresh digs in Richmond’s James Center complex, we’re thrilled to now call the space at 1051 E. Cary Street ours. The heritage of our 123-year-old firm is full of stories of adaptation and evolution; a legacy we’ll continue here.
As you might imagine, it all looks and feels much different than we’d envisioned. Our team, spread across four offices in the US and Poland, has been predominantly working from home since mid-March like so many others worldwide. And despite our belongings – decades of documents and photographs, printers and plotters, books upon books upon books, and much more – making their way from Canal Crossing to the James Center a few weeks ago, the people – with the exception of our amazing essential staff – have yet to arrive. That all changes soon, when we’ll slowly begin welcoming staffers back to all our offices, beginning July 6 for our Phase 1 Re-Entry. In Richmond, that means not only a return to the office but a return to an entirely new space, way of working, interacting, and being together.
It’s rare to find yourself in a position to entirely rethink a design plan mid-stream but that’s exactly where we found ourselves in late March and early April, in the throes of learning about COVID-19 and its implications and trying to wrap our heads around what to do next. We knew to create a space that both supported our employees and kept them safe, we needed to put our original design on the shelf and think differently. So, we did. We engaged our staff, asking questions via anonymous surveys about their personal concerns and interest in continuing to work from home.
What we learned? Our team loves working in the office. The human connection, camaraderie, and creative energy simply can’t be recreated at home. We expect to welcome nearly 80% of staff on a full- or part-time basis come July, so how could we do so safely? In our Richmond office especially, home to over 120 employees, the survey data proved invaluable as we began retooling a purposefully dense workstation plan with robust huddle and collaboration spaces for social distancing.
Cross-referencing the individual return plans of employees with studio teams and the existing floorplan, our internal design team was able to craft a Phase 1 Re-Entry layout that puts virus prevention best practices to work. With the spines of our flexible benching system already installed, the team looked for creative ways to space employees without necessitating major overhaul. The result? A seating plan that provides a minimum of six feet between each individual workstation, realized by re-orienting the direction of alternating desks and creating an open seat between returning employees. Huddle and conference rooms – designed for close collaboration and team meetings – will have capacity limits and strict wellness protocols for now but can easily welcome remote teammates and clients with an incredibly savvy and user-friendly conferencing system. Flexible open huddle spaces provide an additional option for meet-ups.
Our design story – one of lines, dots, and dashes – remains intact. While still a work in progress (no one said finishing a massive project like this during a pandemic was efficient!), the narrative woven through the space tells a story of design at work. From the uniquely patterned tile in the restrooms, to the bold black line connecting one space to the next, and the tools of the trade conference room names like Pen, Marker, and Trace, this is clearly the home of designers. Our team can’t wait to share it with you.