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Could you please introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about the Flow Company?

Yes, my name is Jo Monaghan. I am the founder and director of the Flow Company, which I started to create workplaces that can connect and inspire people more than I’d seen in the past, and in workplaces I’d worked for. The Flow Company focuses on well-being and sustainability—and specifically, how to bring those into workplace strategy and design.

Why do you think the workplace environment is so important?

I think, especially now with COVID and all of the ramifications that it is producing and the effects that are rippling through, people are redefining the future of the office. I think there’ll always be a demand for places for people to go and interact with each other, but I don’t necessarily think it’s all about work—it’s about making connections and culture as well. And we’re rapidly evolving, and we need to keep evolving and just iterating and trying things, because I don’t think there’s any one solution at the moment. But I think the workplace is always going to be important for businesses to have as it’s sort of their flag, it’s their—you know, their stake in the sand about who they are and why they’re there. And I think it’s going to be hard to just get rid of that, to not have that anymore and expect everybody to be remote and yet feel part of something.

People talk a lot about ‘fun’ workplaces like Facebook, Google, and so on—what do you think it is that has earned them this reputation? 

I think it would be the fact that they designed the spaces to suit the culture. If you think about Facebook and Google, for instance, it’s quite different to a bank or an insurance company. It’s about the demographic of the people that work there, it’s about the values of the business and the values of the people that work there—you know, millennials have a different way of thinking than Gen Y or Gen Z or Gen X or the Baby Boomers.

So it’s all about designing for the people within the business, and each business is unique. Google will be different from Facebook, which then will be different from the insurance company, which then will be different from the bank, and so on. If they love the slide from one floor to another, as everybody talks about, then that’s a success measure for them that they love that, whereas that might be highly inappropriate for another business, because again each business is unique; it’s about tailoring your response and not having that cookie-cutter approach or thinking that one size fits all.

How do workplaces affect health and wellbeing today? 

What’s interesting now is that people talk about wellbeing in the same way that they talk about health and safety; now it’s very much health, safety, and wellbeing—which is awesome that wellbeing has been tacked on. Wellbeing relates to your physical and mental and emotional wellbeing, and how that is managed either within a space or by a company, especially with mental health becoming such a prevalent issue in New Zealand. How can we allow people to feel comfortable, safe, and connected at work? Because all of those things help, and that could be the design of the environment but it could also be the cultural aspect of it. So it’s good, from my perspective, that well-being is a lot bigger than it was, that people aren’t frightened to say the word anymore—whereas before it was kind of yes, that’s a bit ‘woo-woo,’ but wellbeing is important.

What are some of the common challenges that companies face as a result of COVID? 

So, there’s a number of different aspects to what’s happening. It might be that you’ve unfortunately had to redefine your business, which might mean a reduction in staff. It might mean a redefinition of what you’re offering to the market, which if you’re unfortunately reducing staff, then you’ve got real estate, which potentially you don’t need anymore—what do you do with that real estate? Just because people are working at home doesn’t mean you need less real estate since, in theory, you could be creating spaces that have a different purpose. But you might not need as many desks, for instance, or workstations in the traditional sense. I think that’s a huge challenge, and I think maintaining culture is a huge challenge.

There are a lot challenges at the moment, and they’re not just about real estate. They’re about positivity, they’re about brand, they’re about realigning the strategic vision and values of your business—all depending on how you’ve been impacted. And, you know, some companies are growing, which is great. It just depends on what the offer is that they’ve got and also what they see the future being for them. But it’s not all about challenge, it’s about opportunity as well.

What’s the future for workplaces—and how might businesses think about future-proofing themselves?

As I’ve said before, the workplace is here to stay. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. It might reduce in size depending on, again, the business strategy and the values and an offer they want to take going forward. But I think it’s going to become more collaborative. What are we going to come in for? Well, let’s make this worthwhile. For two days we’re going to all be in the same space and maybe it’s an ideation space, so it’s a different type of space; so you create this really good community space to work and meet in, and that becomes the village center where you can bump into everybody. You know that if you’re in the office for the day and you spend time in that space, then you’ll pretty much see everybody that you might want to see and you can chat with them. I think it’s repurposing that, I mean, I’ve invented or developed a ‘flow at work’ tool, which looks at how spaces can support well-being through that physical, mental, and emotional side of things. And that talks a lot about, you know, do you have spaces to get together? Do you have spaces to eat together? So it might be that a company now will do a weekly breakfast or a monthly breakfast; and that draws people in, especially with a certain demographic—they might be like, cool, free breakfast.