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Adaptation in the Virtual Office Environment

By Bryan Croeni. Published on March 19, 2020.

Adaptation is “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.”

Our current circumstances have all of us thinking about what might be different when we emerge from the first major pandemic in living memory. I’ve long held the view that learning can happen anywhere - but understanding can only be achieved in context.

One of my partners just told me about a completely virtual design meeting with one of our major technology clients; the kind that, two weeks ago, would have happened face to face between a team of people sharing a room. If we had been asked to have the meeting virtually, there would have been objections on the basis that it couldn’t possibly be as effective as an in person gathering.

However, this virtual meeting was a great success. Lots got decided and agreement on a clear path forward emerged.

There’s good news in this for all of us. As a species we have an uncanny ability to adapt to change – and this capacity seems to grow in response to the severity of the challenge that we face. 

The growth we are experiencing will likely be enduring. If there is a silver lining to this global crisis, it is that we will emerge from COVID-19 with new capacities and new possibilities.

What it also means is that we will need to rethink the purpose of space, and the types of space we design and occupy.

Here is the classic workplace paradox; as work detaches from space, one would assume that space becomes less important. However when work can happen anywhere, the quality and fit of the space that people return to for the high value interactions, the renewal of relationships and the enactment of the culture that are the defining characteristics of successful organizations, has never been more important.

With our traditional physical gathering spaces off limits for the time being, our immediate challenge is to recreate the essential “bonding space” in a virtual environment. The second challenge will be to understand how we will desire to use our physical space when we return from successful adventures in the virtual world.

We’re working with our design team to deconstruct exactly what happened in the meeting and what conditions were present. Without question it supported high-value interactions yet was entirely virtual. We’ll share what we learn. Stay tuned.