Taking the FOJAB office into the future

What is a sustainable office? Is it reasonable from a climate perspective to have your own office space while sitting at home half the time? How can design help increase creativity and efficiency? We had a chat with Anders Eriksson Modin, sustainability manager and architect at FOJAB, about the office of the future.

Spotify is leaving several of its premises in central Stockholm, Fastighetsvärlden reported in March. The reason is partly a financial saving, and partly that the company is generous with teleworking for its employees after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The question of the future of the office has become highly topical after the pandemic. Expecting employers to provide office space for employees who work from home for part of the week is not only bad economics, but also questionable from a climate perspective. Duplicate workplaces take up space, which means a bigger carbon footprint.

How is the office really doing? Are we seeing the death of the office?

- There was a perception during the pandemic that the office would lose its meaning. But I don't think the office is dead. On the contrary, it has never been so important. But it is based on being able to create attractive environments that touch people," says Anders Eriksson Modin, architect responsible for the office business area at FOJAB and head of sustainability.

Designing for creativity
- "The lesson after COVID-19 is that interpersonal encounters are very important for creativity," he continues. "Of course we can work effectively at home, as we showed during the pandemic, but quality suffered. Those spontaneous two-minute conversations are needed to build quality of work and workplace culture.

Forcing employees back to the office is not a good solution, says Anders. "This is an important task for architects: to create offices that people want to be in, where ideas can be exchanged and relationships and trust can be built.

FOJAB's own office in Malmö, Trikåfabriken, where it moved in March 2022, is designed to maximize creativity and social interaction. The entrances, cafeteria and coffee machine are positioned to encourage people to run into each other, chat for a while, and discuss important and unimportant matters. There are sofa groups to have a coffee or work from. Enough space for a Christmas party and after work. The fixed workplaces have been replaced by flexible ones to support an activity-based approach. There are also several separate rooms for meetings and focused work.

- You can get a huge leverage effect and increase the efficiency of the organization by designing the space in the right way," says Anders.

Building on the existing
The sustainable office of the future also means making more use of the existing. The old solution of demolishing and building new is no longer viable.

- We will certainly build new offices in the future, but not to the same extent. We need to develop attractive premises in the existing stock. This can be a challenge, because a large part of today's buildings are actually not very attractive," says Anders, pointing to, for example, low ceilings, poor technical standards, boring material choices and poor locations.

Here the solution is transformation, finding a new content that fits the building.

- Housing works better with low ceilings. Or maybe a hotel, or a logistics center. If you remove a floor, you have very high rooms that can become a library or a concert hall. It's about looking beyond the challenges and embracing the opportunities.

A long-term idea
Those who renovate rather than demolish to reduce their carbon footprint often face a dilemma.

- As soon as you renovate something, the new construction requirements apply. "We shouldn't question the fire regulations, of course, but should we really have to tear out an entire office interior from the 1960s because the doorways are a few centimeters too narrow," says Anders.

He would like to see some kind of reasonableness clause in the Boverket's rules for renovations.

- 'Just because you meet all the requirements doesn't automatically make it a good building,' Anders points out. "We sometimes use the word checkbox architecture. It's our responsibility as architects to make sure that we don't just check off the requirements but also have an idea of what the building is for, what the benefits are for the people who have been shown there and how the building can live for a long time. Then it becomes truly sustainable.