What does the future of workspaces look like?
Austin members Michael Hsu and Maija Kreishman, Principal and Managing Partner of Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, discuss shifting ideas of workspaces and share their design tips for optimising your own
By Jess Kelham-Hohler Above image: Michael Hsu at his home office (Chase Daniel); below images by Chase Daniel Sunday 12 July, 2020 Long read
When Michael Hsu founded his architecture firm in 2005, his goal was to focus on locally engaged projects, particularly neighbourhood-oriented and hospitality spaces. In the 15 years since, he saw this realised with the firm’s sleek, minimal approach reflected in its projects. These range from hospitality spaces such as The Line Austin hotel, to workspaces for clients including Shake Shack, Platform Group Office and his own company’s studios in Austin and Houston.
Then lockdown hit and, like the rest of the world, Hsu – along with Managing Partner, Maija Kreishman, and their 53-strong team of architects and interior designers – had to figure out how to work from home. Spending so much time having to use their home as a workspace has got the duo – and their clients – thinking about the future of how we’ll work. Both agree that the experience is going to permanently shift how we think about the design of our workspaces, both in corporate offices and at home.
Here, Hsu and Kreishman discuss their personal working from home experiences, their vision for post-lockdown workspaces and their expert advice on how to approach designing your own home office.
Neither of you had a home office before lockdown – how did you adjust once you needed to work from home?
Michael Hsu: ‘Primarily, I didn’t feel it was necessary to have a home office, but I think a bit more structure is needed when you’re doing as many online meetings as we have to do now. I wanted to be in an area where I knew I could do the best work and feel emotionally satisfied. For me, that turned out to be the living space where the daylight is best.’
Maija Kreishman: ‘It feels better for me to be in as open and big a space in my house as possible. I think that’s definitely something Soho House started – those larger hospitality spaces where, even if you want to be at a table for focused work, you’re still surrounded by this bigger energy. That’s what I wanted to replicate in my at-home workspace.’
Do you think you have to compromise the design of your home in order to have a home office that is functional?
MH: ‘The tools you need to work nowadays are so sparse. What I have in front of me every day are three screens: my laptop, iPad and iPhone. And I actually put them away each day in order to get my home life back, which means that it hasn’t been a huge compromise.’
MK: ‘I haven’t even set up my second screen here yet, because I’m enjoying being able to pick up and move around my home to get a change of scene. Outhouses are becoming increasingly multipurpose – it’s our personal fitness studio, our workspace and our sanctuary. I think you can have a traditional desk with a permanent monitor if you have the space to do so, but it’s nice to embrace the flexibility.’
You’ve designed a number of workspaces, including your own. What kind of conversations are you having with clients around expectations for them in a post-lockdown world?
MH: ‘Personally, I think everything is going to shift and, in terms of workspaces specifically, I think there will be some dramatic changes. What you might see happen is something similar to retail – a lot of stores now are about brand presence and socialising, and I think that’s what hospitality and workspaces are going to move more towards. I see a scenario where not everyone is working every day, and the place where we collaborate is also where we break bread and have conversations. In my mind, this means workspaces become much smaller, more flexible and with fewer people. I also think the social spaces in work environments will become more important and increasingly experiential, rather than being a place to land while we’re at work.’
If there’s a permanent shift to at least part-time working from home, will this open up new design opportunities as people think about integrating workspaces into their homes?
MH: ‘Yes, and I don’t think it’ll just be what we think of now as a home office. It’ll be a secondary living space that can function as a workspace and more. We are looking at houses to do so much now, and are faced with the question of if a family member is sick, what do you do to keep them and everyone else safe? I think in the US we’ll see a new wave of changes, which introduce home offices that also function as wellness spaces, creative studios and additional accommodation.’
Kreishman and Hsu’s tips for designing a home office
Start with lighting
‘To be able to work in a space with natural light is so important,’ says Hsu. ‘So, try to set up in a bright space where you can get sunlight and have a view of the outdoors. I’m also a big believer in changing lighting according to your mood. I like bright, natural light to start the day, with it gradually dimming and getting warmer during the day.’
Design to your point of view
‘The joy of a workspace at home is that you can make something that is your taste. Approach it as a design exercise and you’ll find that you create a space that is much happier and more satisfying,’ says Hsu.
Give different objects their time in the spotlight
‘Lots of video calls means that, for the first time, many of us are showing our space as a backdrop, and that’s allowed me to also see my objects in a new way,’ says Kreishman. ‘Change things around you to keep yourself mentally refreshed.’
‘While I don’t consider myself a minimalist, I do think everything should be in its right place,’ says Hsu. ‘It’s about choosing things wisely, and only keeping out the things that make you happy and feel motivated.’
Try to have some boundaries between work and home
‘In an ideal world, I would have a more dedicated workspace, because I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep our work lives and our personal lives,’ says Hsu.
‘I’ve been making a conscious effort to hide away my laptop at the end of the day, because even leaving it out on the dining room table disrupts the idea that it’s a refuge from work,’ adds Kreishman. ‘That’s a way you can keep the boundaries if you don’t have the space to set up those sorts of physical borders.’
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