As with all trades, “novelties” abound in the world of commercial real estate. Excessive physical attractiveness, which we owe to British designer and artist Thomas Heatherwick, would thus resonate with this very contemporary need: to (re)live in real places, in contact with real people. You need quite a bit of ambivalence, when one notices the semi-leaving of desks in the generalized (or almost) hybrid work time. So one way to “get back in the office” could be excessive body investment. But does this concept shed new light? And other than heresy, what can we say today about this need to (re)do business together, on the same site?
From excessive physical activity to contact: for more open spaces
I keep one key word from what has been published on hyperfitness: communication. By relation, I mean this value of porosity that makes a company, today, nothing without its ecosystem. The latter consists of its teams, future and former employees, customers, suppliers, partners, players in its territory, startups, academics, etc.
So connection may (or may not) be fully facilitated by the spaces we create. We can make this positive value sensitive and tangible but also practical: the ability to welcome our stakeholders into a rewarding space, to show them constantly, to open our teams up to the world, to provide access to their spaces, to create shared events, and so on.
Communication is everything that connects us to others, to the world, and that makes the company a living, vital being. It’s all the voices, the voices of the teams, the customers, the partners, our ecosystem, that are heard out there, that are curated, and therefore, valued in business environments. When BNP Paribas Cardif sets up a customer room in its head office, the company gives customers a chance to be heard and seen. Through an audio shower and a large screen, their words and emotions are transmitted to the insurance company’s employees and partners.
Communication, then, is spaces, but it is also a state of mind, culture, and animation—because without life, space is not a place in the anthropological sense of the term. It does not bind us, it does not allow us to establish and maintain relationships and social contact.
Three essential qualities for our offices to be nothing but places
In a relatively popular work, Unreal. Introduction to the Anthropology of Ultra-Modern Anthropologist Mark Augie provides a definition of what he calls an “anthropological place,” as opposed to what he called a “nowhere.” Three adjectives are associated with it: “they want to be (we want them) to be identity, relational and historical”.
If we try to apply this reading grid to the design of tertiary spaces, we can clearly see that the connection dimension is fundamental: places help us connect to the past, to society, and to history. It thus carries a meaning: the identity of the company, the identity of its profession, communicated through the workspaces. All this can be organized, told and shared. Artists can help, as happened in Lyon for Nexity’s regional headquarters. It is then a question of defining who we are, where we come from, what our different occupations are, and what we have achieved in the area in which we are founded. Identity can of course be that of a team, an entity or a group created during a project: showing who we are and what unites us but also what makes each individual unique takes recognizable forms: images, collective works, sports event awards, etc. So much for the first property, but also for the third: identity identity and historicism.
Spaces also help us connect with others, as well as maintain enduring connections. Here we find the contemporary obsession with agoras, conviviality, “village squares”, business academies and universities. This means that everything that helps to establish relationships, communicate and communicate with others, whether they are colleagues, clients, partners, etc. This is also exemplified by the development of co-working/working spaces, which are more or less open to the outside, with a particular vocation to create this form of porosity. At Michelin’s head office, at the Carmes site in Clermont-Ferrand, spaces open to the public for many years made hospitable places: a shop, a café, a cultivated square created a new porosity between the company and his. province. So much for the second quality, the relationship.
At this point, let’s (re)read what the famous anthropologist still tells us: we can see in it the ethics of building and renovating workspaces. Thus, he writes, “Anthropological places create organic social, no places create contractual. [sic] Lonely”. He coined this in 1992, and we can read there, like a dropped shadow, the preconception of deserted triangular spaces, haunted on the coveted days by team members desperate not to meet anyone there, present on the site because of their work and the days of presence it imposes. It was Contract (re)create the social, as if the latter were to be decreed, to bind.Let us remember that there are two meanings for the verb to oblige: to submit legally, which is actually the invocation of the contract of labor, and “moral obligation to be grateful”, which is played in another register: to oblige, Which there is a lot of talk in the companies…
On the contrary, our homes, and we see them very symbolically in the world of social housing when buildings are demolished to make room for new ones, are entirely anthropological places. In “a world where we are born in a clinic and die in a hospital” (Mark Augie, always), our homes remain the domains of life, where our children take their first steps, where family celebrations take place, and where we share the great and small tragedies of everyday life. Where we sleep, where we dream, and where we withdraw. Working remotely is no small feat.
What if our offices become “playgrounds”?
Back in the office, this antiphon, perhaps, takes on a deeper meaning. To speak of an anthropological place does not mean that everything there has to be designed and desired by and in order to assert identity, history and relationship. This means that the animation of spaces is essential to recreating life there. It also means that not everything has to be written, prescribed, or directed… binding. Allocating, converting, and allocating has to happen there.
When a child takes pleasure in exercising the (apparent?) sense of disorder, in reconfiguring places according to his moods and activities, our desks must be able to live (a little) in the same way. Modularity, flexibility, and recyclability need to be a reality there, folding and unfolding our uses according to needs, moods, and desires.
It must be remembered that the game is nothing more than the first means by which we entered into a relationship with the other, the foster-friend, then the classmate. The game has always served us to “establish social contacts,” says the great English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott, who adds: “The game is the constant proof of creativity, which is what life means,” no less … it helps to create ” Connect with others”, to create and experience, therefore, connection.
The final word: The winning quartet return to office
Identity carrier, story conveyor and relational agent, The Office of Tomorrow? Play area too? This is perhaps the winning four back in the office, as much as it can serve our need for connection. It seems to me that at the end of the pandemic all of this may, perhaps more than ever, have all its significance. So, if necessary, let’s talk about hyperfitness. But I am still convinced that anthropology, and pediatrics with it, has already told us all this very accurately, and that my humble ‘connection’ expresses it very well.
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