Getting Back to Work

Rethinking Business and the Office


Over the past 8 months, we have all experienced a series of major upheavals as a global pandemic has been rolling through our communities.

Each family, each business and every institution has been affected.  Our lives have been turned upside down.  And yet, this virus persists. 

The good news is that despite numbers of positive results creeping upward in this “second wave”, hospitalization rates remain low and death rates even lower, unlike when we were first hit with this virus.


Market Response |

In my interactions with different business owners and other professionals in the Calgary marketplace, I have noticed that people seem to be gravitating to one of two camps.


Camp 1 |

This isn’t over. Take cover. Wait and see what happens.

The thinking in this camp is that we need to continue to pull back and wait and see what happens.  Only when this threat is gone can we return to the “new normal.”

People are avoiding any major decisions, like new leases, product innovations, and unique marketing approaches; choosing instead to stay put and make the most of what they already have, even while their existing clientele seem to be slipping away.

This approach, while the intention is to keep people safe and protect the business, seems to be leaving some unintended and unwanted consequences in the business, and the lives of their people.


1A| Employee uncertainty is high.

The Wait-and-See strategy is eroding the confidence of staff, as well as the businesses who are adopting this approach.  Some businesses are shrinking, and others closing down.  They seem to be affected by the market conditions that have been left as the residue of the turbulence we have been experiencing.


1B | Staff are developing unproductive habits associated with remote work.

People left at home to do remote work, are getting into habits that aren’t helping the company to move forward.  We are learning through others that if we wait on the sidelines for everything to come back, we may have lost so much ground that there may not be much to come back to.


1C | As a result of sitting and waiting, people aren’t creating the opportunities that have made their business successful.

Most businesses have grown by taking an opportunity and stepping boldly into it.  The opposite mindset seems to be at play in Camp 1.  The owners seem to be hesitant, reacting to what happens, rather than choosing their path forward.

In this reactive state, we see businesses operating from desperation and chasing missed opportunities, too late to uncover what might be available, which further magnifies a self-fulfilling approach.


Impact of Camp 1

What we have noticed is that employee morale is low in these companies, and they seem to be slowly shrinking, or disappearing all together.  It is one thing to have a reduced market; it is something completely different to lose market share in a contracting environment.  This double-whammy can be devastating to business.

Fortunately, we have also noticed a second camp out there.


Camp 2 |

Let’s learn to live with this.

The thinking we have noticed here is that death rates are low.  Now it’s time to learn to live with this pandemic.

These forward thinking companies can be found most notably in the technology sector, but this dynamic is present in businesses within other sectors as well.

Some businesses are moving forward with growing their companies, while changing their space requirements to do so.

The approach is quite different from Camp 1.  When I asked a few Senior Executives privately about their perspective, what emerged were three elements that each shared in common.


2A| Take the long view.

The thinking here is that there will be a time when this pandemic will be behind us.  Absolutely we need to keep people safe, however we don’t need to sacrifice our business to do that. One Executive pointed out to me that even the Spanish Flu, which occurred 100 years ago, was done in about two years. 

“We are already 8 months into this thing,” he said.  “What we have been building in our business is bigger than a temporary set-back.  We have to look past this down-time and prepare for the upturn that will follow.”


One comment I heard consistently was that every downturn is followed by an upturn. The flat-footed will invariably hit the upturn unprepared, and lose further ground.


That doesn’t mean that companies need to be irresponsible in their plans.  Which leads to the second point I found.


2B| Design for the future, but with flexibility in mind.

When it came to looking at office environments, I found that people in Camp 2 were not deterred.  However, they approached the design of the office a bit differently than they normally would.

Rather than wait to move to new space, they addressed a plan to move in new, innovative ways.

I hear from many proactive Business Executives that one of the tools to be at their best is the design and set-up of the office. They know that people are highly responsive to their environment – it can promote fear and anxiety, or satisfaction and positivity.

With the onset of covid, everyone knew that things in the office needed to change. But people in Camp 2 are clear about the consequences of a passive approach.

The key when approaching new space is to accommodate safety measures for peace of mind, while tailoring the environment to help keep their staff energized and productive. The idea is to evolve the workplace to be even better than before.


The Hybrid-Planning Model

Enter the Hybrid-Planning Model. This is a two-stage, phased approach to office design which ensures companies do not need to continue working in systems that don’t fit…and are still set-up for the future.  The Hybrid-Planning Model addresses levels of flexibility in office design and innovation for judicious spending.

This phased approach was originally designed for companies anticipating future growth and with a legacy successor within an organization. This is common in a marketplace when older Executives retire and pass the torch to the younger generation of CEO. But it completely fits this new era, allowing businesses to progress through a pandemic.


Planning for this just takes a shift to a phased perspective:

Stage 1| Starts with the current situation in order to meet the needs of the organization right now. It adapts the office in the short-term to handle and address the anxieties and safety issues around the pandemic.

Stage 2| This second stage emerges after the pandemic is behind us. Business Executives intentionally look at what is pertinent to stay and what needs to morph over time to address different workplace goals and needs in the long-term.


Flexibility of Space

Businesses may not know exactly what they need in the future. However, this dynamic is not new.  In the design world, we have had to deal with this for years.  The key becomes looking at reconfigurability of the office to move forward over time.  Business Executives in Camp 2 realize that this can be designed and built-in, right from the start.

Adaptation of areas maintains the advantage that one space can still serve many functions safely. Project-based companies such as tech firms are already far ahead in this approach. They make and re-make their spaces constantly. It is intentionally planned and designed so it can handle these levels of flexibility.


Look at Communal Spaces

There is no greater powerhouse than people who are working together towards a common cause.  Communal spaces support and tap into this power, so in particular we want to pay attention to these areas.

It initially seems intuitive during covid to have more private space, but six feet of physical distancing will not always be a requirement. Semi-open areas of unassigned space are easy to clean after use and simple to shift, divide, or further open space up over time. 


Maintaining collaboration and shared ideas in the workplace ensures that the business propels forward with innovative solutions to ideas and that people stay connected. Flexibility in these locations allows for the short-term needs, while still facilitating tighter connections and staff collaboration in the future.


Based upon these factors, we have seen Camp 2 proponents bring a third element to their businesses:


2C| Move forward with confidence and a plan.

Talking with different Executives and Senior staff, I found that they are not just waiting for the market to come back. In different ways, they are taking initiative to move their businesses forward.  Invariably, their efforts included a plan for future success.

This level of planning will vary for each company and the best solution will differ business to business, but they expressed three key elements to making solid progress and building momentum.


Look for creative ways and systems to do business.

With the evolving local and global marketplace, the systems and processes of companies may have changed – no matter the industry. So we must adapt.

A prime example of this ability to adapt to a changing environment occurred in March of this year.  Within days to a couple of weeks, much of the global workforce went from business as usual to working from home. While this was by no means a long-term strategy, we found a way to cope.

This same creativity, at a whole different level applies to our return to the workplace. By looking at types of projects, how business can pivot, and new parameters for how to work with clients, Camp 2 businesses and their teams are tapping into new creative solutions and a confident game plan that propels business forward.

Camp 2 Business Executives are clear that the job here is to create opportunities within our City.


Ensure staff are aware of wins and progress.

We are seeing that businesses who promote their wins and progress to staff, especially in tough times, are building more momentum within their companies. As momentum builds, their people are feeling the confidence and energy associated with what are, or appear to be bold initiatives.

C-Suite sense that people who feel secure in their role are more likely to re-visit and think about things to help find unique ways to be inventive in the marketplace.


Look for staff input.

Particularly in white collar environments we are in a situation where tapping the brainpower of staff as it relates to producing goods and services can help evolve business. In my discussions with business leaders, I found this theme ever-present. 

Top leaders are clear that they don’t have to figure this out alone. Pooling expertise and resources is allowing them to reach simple, cost effective solutions. Solutions that will get people back into the office safely and optimize business performance. We can build for the future now – we don’t need to wait-and-see.



Impact of Camp 2

The physical environment of the office has been a major leverage point for proactive Business Executives in motivating their workforce and for generating and maintaining positive energy to move forward.

Moving forward will evolve to a normal that actually works for us.  Thinking through your office space can help to live more normally and increase productivity despite pandemic conditions. Not only can we find a way forward, we can get people connected as fast as possible to support your staff and clients.

Moving past survival allows us to thrive. Humans are meant to overcome challenges. Constraints drive innovation. If we work together and support one another, we can develop a brighter future.


Consider this a Re-Set.

A game plan and uncovering new ways of working in your office space ensures we design for flexibility while putting wellness at the forefront. This allows you to thrive in the new covid normal, while setting up your business space to easily accommodate future growth or a new generation of CEO within the life cycle of your lease.


The sooner that a company establishes a plan, gets back on their feet, and has direction and foresight into the future, the sooner they can make informed decisions about their real estate. The morale-building and cost-savings in the approach of camp 2 should not be overlooked.






Brittany Maddin

Business Development, Designer

With over a decade of experience in commercial office interior design, Brittany’s goal is to share the latest strategies that can improve how we work.

For more information, contact Brittany at