Aside from minding one’s hygiene, 2020 taught the global masses that they can and will find ways to work remotely. As the months wore on and people mastered group productivity tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, ad hoc home offices became more established and efficient. But now that the post-pandemic trickle back into physical offices is underway, employers and employees alike are contemplating why they should even bother. What does it offer, other than a return to crowded commuting and rigid daily schedules? At its own headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, furniture brand Vitra is exploring this matter with the “Club Office,” a practical lab of sorts aimed at defining how the office of tomorrow can better serve those who use it.
“We took this moment to go back to the fundamentals and consider the intrinsic motivation and productivity that make us human,” says Vitra CEO Nora Fehlbaum. The company surmised that people who will choose to go to the office moving forward will do so primarily to meet with their colleagues and feel like part of a larger whole, as well as to complete objectives that may depend on others’ expertise. Fostering and supporting collaboration with an inviting atmosphere was therefore front and centre in the Club Office concept.
Since each office environment has unique requirements and complex working relationships, developing a club-like program that suits all employees is not a one-size-fits-all approach. As Christian Grosen, chief design officer at Vitra, explains: “It’s important to get a 360-degree perspective on the company in question to understand its goals and strategies, while involving individual employees in the process. The office isn’t just a place of production — it’s a platform for people to live the company culture.”
For Vitra, this translated into three distinct zones — all part of the Club Office concept — that move from open and free-flowing to more structured and contained. First is a relaxed, welcoming public area that accommodates both spontaneous, informal meetings and socialization — a main reason people will return to the mother ship.
The second zone, for collaboration, is set up to enable teams to swiftly construct their surroundings to best suit their projects, whether for a day or for many months, and reconfigure them when needs change. Finally, a private area with unassigned desks for more focused work serves those who prefer to tackle assignments headsdown, yet decide to come into the office rather than log in from home; it recognizes that some degree of remote working is likely here to stay, but carves out a niche within the communal office to replicate its comforts.
Since the Club Office emphasizes achieving these malleable settings via adaptable furniture — rather than undertaking costly permanent buildouts — the concept is ideal for retrofitting existing workplaces. It enables businesses to move with the current, creating environments unique to those using them at the time. In a sense, Vitra’s proposition could be future-proof.
A “Club Office,” that is. Turning its Basel headquarters into a hands-on lab, Vitra explores the layered needs of today’s office.