It’s easy to feel as though nothing will ever be the same in our new life of work. In these remarkable times we’re living through, we all miss the human connections and the restorative presence of nature that bring life to the places where we meet. And in their absence, we realize just how much we need these things to experience a fundamental sense of wellbeing.
Last year, we undertook an in-depth study of wellbeing through a theme that impacts everything we do as a company — Comfort. As we prepared to publish this study, Relate, at the start of 2020 we were excited about challenging some of the basic assumptions about comfort. We envisioned a more complete and constant role that four key dimensions of comfort play in our wellbeing — physical, social, emotional and cognitive factors that naturally occur in any setting where there are people. We wrote about increasing the ease of these experiences and how they can be prioritized in design.
Then COVID-19 happened.
Like so many around the world, the pandemic caused our work in progress and major plans across our company to press pause. We were among institutions and individuals everywhere who shifted to a response mode, wondering as the realities sank in how we might evolve under the ever-changing conditions of COVID-19.
What will help us feel safe has effectively become one of the central questions of our time. Certainly, no issue is more important for work today, and for what the workplace may look like tomorrow, than our new, heightened sense of safety.
As of this writing, investigative work is being done by our parent company Steelcase on the science of safety that can help us all return to work more securely. On a parallel track, our thinking at Coalesse has turned to the all-important sense of safety — the subtle yet pivotal perceptions that deeply influence our reality of feeling safe. This is part of the wellbeing needed, on a psychological and emotional level, to re-enter and thrive in shared spaces that may not look the same way they once did. So, we’ve returned to the question we were previously asking — how can we be at ease when the work is hard; and, when the new life of safety is paramount, too? How must buildings, organizations, shared environments of all sizes, and design itself, support the total comfort and wellbeing of workers, starting with feeling a greater sense of safety, now and moving forward?
In any anatomy of wellbeing, comfort and safety must go hand in hand. Comfort, like safety, is an innately positive human response that helps us feel well, so that we can do well.
If a sense of safety is the lens through which we view the world today, then the dimensions of comfort are the constant settings on its dial.
People have always turned the settings of their comfort to ‘dial into’ the changing conditions in the world around them. Now is one of those times; and recognizing the current pace of change, six and twelve months from now will be, too.
When we first wrote our issue on Comfort, we proposed:
Comfort is the antidote we’re seeking.
Today we will add to this: And a sense of safety is its lens.
With this in mind, we’re proud to share our article, Relate, with you. We revisited our story to make sure that comfort not only remains relevant but also reflects more recent experiences. And we’ve prioritized a sense of safety within our viewpoint as we look forward. In doing so, we find ourselves even more committed to the significant role that comfort plays in our work lives, and how design can help create it.
We all know this: without a sense of safety, we can’t be at ease. And without the ability to be at ease, stress builds, relationships falter, productivity is diminished, and our wellbeing declines. Comfort disappears, and that makes us feel far less safe. Yet we also know that what feels uncertain, unsafe or uncomfortable today will continue to evolve, even after a vaccine is globally available.
Between now and then, time is a variable that will drive different strategies and design solutions. Like time, the pandemic will pass. But the dimensions of comfort and the sense of safety they support will remain anchors in shaping our shared culture of wellbeing.
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