Greer Gehrt / Head of Design and Planning at the National Museum of Australia / Sophie’s Salon Series  / 
Reflections

story / Sophie's Salon / August 17, 2020

We thought that it would be very interesting to talk to women in the industry, about how COVID-19 will change work for all of us and how they have found life and design in the current crisis. GAZELLA editor Sophie Cleland went out to speak with female leaders to bring you their experiences and thoughts on the changes that are undoubtedly going to make an indelible mark on our industry. It has been an amazing undertaking and we can’t thank the women enough for their time and for speaking candidly on what they think we can expect. And how COVID-19 has already made a mark on them as individuals. Stay tuned…

 

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I have been working for the National Museum of Australia for 14 years. I head up the Property Projects and Design team. I’ve also taken carriage of the masterplan for the museum, which sets out the work that we’re doing from now until the year 2030. I look both at the projects themselves and their alignment with the global strategic position of the museum. How we operate day to day and what changes might happen into the future, particularly at the moment as a result of COVID-19.

The big question right now is do we really need offices anymore? And if we’re in the office, what kind of mix of space do we need? Is there a better alternative to our current office spaces due to capacity restrictions and different ways of working? Do we need more booths for virtual meeting setups? How can we accommodate larger face to face groups into the future?  Most people are thriving working from home, however still have a need to feel connected to their workplace and colleagues. Our highly efficient floor plans and everything that we’ve all been focusing on for so many years, I suspect, will change considerably in the future.

Even if it’s not COVID-19, we really have to think about our workspace differently, to allow for social distancing to occur. A hybrid of online and face to face meetings. Accommodation for staff who do need to be on site all of the time as well as space for staff that are working sometimes in the office and other times at home. It’s weird to have to think twice about having those impromptu meetings. Gathering around someone’s desk, chatting in the corridor, kitchen catch ups. Ensuring that people who might be feeling more vulnerable, are respected and feel included.

At the museum we’ve been looking at whether we have teams that have actually worked better from home, over this period. I certainly think our team has. We’ve definitely had less interruptions. My team spends quite a lot of time drawing and providing input, either from a space design or project management perspective. I think for us, it’s actually been great because we’ve been able to get through a lot more work and we just go to a site where we need to. I wonder what proportion of people that situation will apply to? But also recognizing we’ve had a few staff that much prefer being at work. They just want to interact and feel connected to the physical space and the organisation as a whole.

I’ve noticed that the meeting culture has changed. My diary is looking much better than it used to because people don’t actually see me as often! It’s a lot more efficient. I do, however, find online meetings a little bit more tiring. I think that that’s because you haven’t got all of those visual cues to go by that you get when you are physically in the same space. You can’t scan the whole room at one time to see how people are responding to what you have to say and whether you are connecting with them effectively.

I was thinking today how very lucky we are that we’ve got a lot of beautiful outdoor areas and if we could use the outside more as an office space. So rather than bringing all of the landscape inside, which is what everybody does, maybe there are some very simple ways that we could actually just get people to work outside? Why aren’t we thinking about having workplaces outside? If you think about European cafes, even in the dead of winter when it’s absolutely freezing, they’ve found a way for people to sit outside in comfort with heating and blankets in the elements. They’ve got the roll down blinds in some situations or glass windows that can be open to let some fresh air in.

We need to start rethinking the way we are designing and building our workspace. I’ve been imagining high rises in the future that have whole sections completely external to allow staff to be in sunshine or small outdoor work pods dotted around the lakes edge, which people can go and work in for the day  So many physical and mental health benefits from working outside.

I’ve been thinking recently that we’ve all had a bit more time to reflect on our lives and the way that we do things. I really hope that some of the good things we’ve done over this period of time, don’t get forgotten. I hope that we take it forward and we don’t go back to the way things were. I’ve noticed that people have been a lot kinder to one another, helping each other out by; doing a grocery shop for an elderly neighbour, teaching each other new skills such as knitting or making hair conditioner from scratch, baking and sharing produce from the vegetable garden or teaching a family receipe to a friend. I hope that the things that people have rediscovered over this time are maintained into the future.

 

The team at GAZELLA thank Greer for sharing her insights, thoughts and ideas on life post-crisis. We will probably all have had some similar experiences with the swift change in workspaces and the status quo with our usual desk sitcho. Greer’s ability to reflect is also important for all of us as we press into a post-COVID-19 world (whenever that may be!) We wish Greer all the best for a brighter 2021 and cannot wait until we can all hang out at Museums again. As always we’d love you feedback on how COVID-19 has impacted you – you can leave comments below! Always, S, J & D x

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