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Published 06.12.2021

Interview — Flexibility is key

John Löfgren is the Design Director of Form Us With Love, a Swedish design company renowned for mixing creative practices with lean, strategic applications. With clients ranging from IKEA over DePadova to +Halle, Löfgren’s Form Us With Love has developed a real-world approach to working with design by always evolving with the needs of each project and of the people who it’s intended for. Here, John talks to us about the need for flexibility in tomorrow’s workspace.

— Architect, Form Us With Love.
Linn.us University, BA Product Design, 2006.

How has the way we design our workplaces changed during the last 10 years?

“Quite a lot. I think something really clear is how flexible people can be nowadays. And of course that the workplace as we saw it maybe 10-15 years ago is a more vibrant space. It’s interesting what trends do to people, also in terms of workplace design. There has been an overwhelming talk about open offices and flexibility, and all the great things that come with that. It takes a couple of years and then people say “It is not really for me. I need to be able to concentrate”. Some offices today look like living rooms. You can lie down on a sofa if you want to. There’s pros and cons of working on a sofa instead of behind a closed door like in an old-school workspace.”

What do you see as the pros and cons?

“There’s a more relaxed setup at work. That’s lovely. But I had a conversation with a professor who is analyzing the noise levels of these wide-open spaces where we are tearing down walls and not building any new ones. Being productive in space where people are coming and going is challenging. People need a place to shut their doors to be able to do some proper work and have some decent meetings. I think it’s really interesting to see how different companies are handling challenges like these.

And how would you describe the design of workplaces today?

“Some companies have tried the open office plan and didn’t really like it. They long for cubicles with a door to shut, a desk, and some kind of ergonomic chair. But at the same time you have places that love it, and where it really works. It depends on what kind of work you do. it depends on what kind of workplace it is.”

Do you think companies are aware of the importance of good workplace design?

“I think it matters what kind of company you have and what kind of work needs to be done. Workplace design is not only about workshops and creativity and meetings. Oftentimes things just need to be done, and when it is good to be sealed off.”

What do you think is the great untapped potential of workplace design?

“People are fond of flexibility. I think the transit aspect of going from your home to work with an even more worklike situation when you commute, with great wifi along the way, is perhaps something that will be improved significantly in the future. Then you can leave a bit later from home in the morning and a bit earlier from work in the afternoon, and then work on the way, so the commute doesn’t have to be that stressful. I think there is a lot more to do there.”

What do you think happens if a company does not take workplace design seriously?

“If the workplace doesn’t do everything in its power to make sure that everything is ok – the workers have to be pleased with the indoor climate, the lightning, the chairs, how the furniture is arranged, how the noise levels are, how the access to their colleagues is and in general everything that surrounds them – they are going to pay.”

What do you mean by pay?

“Stress! Too many people suffer from some kind of syndrome that relates to stress. The working environment has the potential to cause stress. The physical surroundings have a major say in people’s health and wellbeing, and companies should be aware of that. If people aren’t feeling healthy, they are not doing a good job. I think it’s as simple as that.”

What do you think workspaces will look like in five to ten years?

“I think workspaces today are what architecture was about like ten years ago. All of a sudden these buildings are inhabited by offices now, so I don’t see a trend where you are building more small rooms for instance. I think we are going to follow the direction we are headed today a bit longer. Perhaps some companies will aim for even more flexibility so we’ll have these offices that will look even more like huge apartments or even playgrounds. I’m looking at the big ones in Silicon Valley that look more like a playground than actual offices because they want to attract people who are spending their whole day there. Hopefully, they are nice as well. But I think we are going at least a few steps backwards as a consequence of being completely open. We are going to see a lot of variation in offices like we saw in the 1950’s with the cubicles or doors. I think flexibility is lovely, and that it’s very powerful when companies have the opportunity to choose how to set up and develop their own environment.”

And how about your own workspace? How is that going to look in the future?

“I would go for a fully open space. And I will complain about it because we have a really small office. We are going to be eleven soon, and we have a setup where most of us are involved in everything we do. Right now I’m standing on another floor because the space is not made for talking on the phone. The only place where I can close the door is in the basement. I’m not the perfect example of the perfect office, that’s for sure, because we are moving towards an open space. Our office has benefits because everyone knows what is going and that is a nice feeling. But we don’t even have a decent meeting room and that’s why we are looking for a new place.” +

“People need a place to shut their doors to be able to do some proper work and have some decent meetings.”

Do you have your own desk or your own workstation?

Yes I do. And maybe I’m a bit conservative because I’m fond of actually having my own desk. I like to know where I have my own things. I know where to put my stuff and I know it’s going to be there today and also tomorrow.

When are you most productive?

I think at this stage it might not be at the office. Probably in a space by myself. I can choose to have music on or off and feel like I can control my environment completely, and that is probably at home.

And what about creativity?

That is a really interesting question. Creativity and productivity are not interlinked in my world. Creativity is definitely happening in the office because we have all the tools we need. We have ten brains and we know how to turn on our creative mindset when we enter the door. I really, really appreciate it and that’s why I’m fond of our energetic, flexible, open environment. I love the office, even though it is not perfect. When it comes to developing creative solutions for our clients there isn’t a better place. But when it is more isolated work and I’m going to do something that needs my full concentration, I need to be alone.

What is the single most important factor in recent years that has significantly changed your work life for the better?

It’s definitely the digital development. There are no geographical boundaries anymore, it’s easy to stay in touch and you can basically work from the location that suits you the best. Also, the progress we’ve seen in the last 10 years in terms of how accessible 3D-printing has become has been groundbreaking. The time and cost you save with this technique is fantastic.

And what part of your work life do you want to change next?

The Digital advancement also makes it hard to unwind and let go of your work or your social media platforms. Personally, I am trying now and maybe even more in the future to do my best to separate connected time from disconnected to create a balance between work and free time, to be able to recharge.