He imagines meetings where people will no longer have to strain to hear remote callers on a speakerphone or squint to see slides if they happen to sit at the far end of a conference table.

But having watched the workplace evolve over the past 50 years, Campbell is quick to add that conference tables won’t disappear entirely. “When you’re negotiating, you’ll need a table,” Campbell explains, noting that conference tables can be instruments to create psychological distance and a sense of power, as Russian president Vladimir Putin does with his ridiculously long meeting tables.

The end of cookie-cutter offices

The upheavals caused by the covid-19 pandemic presents a rare blank slate for architects and companies. “This is actually one of the most exciting times in my career,” Campbell says. “When I first started, lots of people had [fixed] standards and we had to follow a cookie-cutter approach.

The crisis in office space compels organizations to think more broadly and boldly, Campbell observes. “The beauty is that old ideas have been blown apart and our job now is to work with clients to help them understand who they are, what’s their culture, what is really the right solution for them,” he explains.

Designing for flexibility is essential at this juncture says Campbell. He tells Quartz that more offices in Europe and Asia are adopting raised floors—a construction model that leaves a gap between the slab and flooring to conceal power and data cables. This allows offices to move furniture without having to drill holes in the floor or disturb people, he explains.

Movable partitions, like the “dancing wall” produced by the Swiss furniture company Vitra, are also proving useful, says Campbell. Once marketed as privacy barriers for overcrowded open-plan offices, the mobile fixture that transforms into a bookshelf, coat rack, rolling coffee station, or plant stand allows companies to experiment with new space configurations as employees trickle back to the office.

“We’re in interesting times,” Campbell says. “It’s all a big experiment.”

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