For the Copenhagen-based Njusja de Gier, the Senior Vice President of Branding and Communications at the Kvadrat Group, this year has been a useful and productive time to research and progress. It’s been an ideal opportunity to fast track the digital capabilities of Kvadrat and to reflect on our industry’s environmental responsibilities. De Gier is keen to see a cautious return to togetherness and community, but believes that flexible working is the way forward.
HAVE YOU BEEN BASED IN COPENHAGEN THE WHOLE TIME?
I’ve been working mostly from my coastal summerhouse, which is 90 minutes from Copenhagen, but we’ve been back to the city for my kids’ school.
There wasn’t a strict lockdown here; you could do grocery shopping and small shops were open, but a lot of the places where people gather, like malls or hairdressers and gyms were closed. Most companies closed down for four to six weeks and then everyone has been gradually returning, but most people have been working from home.
AS A COMPANY WERE YOU ALREADY SET UP FOR WORKING FROM HOME? HOW DID EVERYONE ADAPT?
Our Copenhagen showroom has been open the whole time, but was by appointment only. And our offices were operating in limited shifts, but most of us were working from home. I think there has been a leap of five years this year in our industry. If you look at the furniture industry as a whole it has been quite delayed in accepting and working with digital technology. So you can see a whole industry that has gone at super-speed to catch up, so that was necessary I think. I came from the digital industry, so I really believe there are new opportunities and new ways of thinking that we can apply.
At Kvadrat, we’ve had to adapt quite quickly. Our industry is really physical: all of our fairs were cancelled and we had lots of products to launch and needed to stay in contact with clients. We still see that everyone still has a need to connect, a need for information, a need to learn about new things and projects still run through of course. We are a business-to-business company, but recently started being a consumer brand too, which for us is a whole new sector to explore. Naturally people are home and more focused on the home generally, so that area has been going very well. Our sales team was not using digital at all, so marketing started creating lots of digital tools to help. We’ve also started working on a digital exhibition to launch our design project that was supposed to go to Salone in Milan. So the sales team had to learn how Skype for Business works, how to connect with clients, how to do online meetings - it’s been an entire shift of mentality, but of course that’s an opportunity. Everyone was always travelling too, so there are positive effects for our emissions. We’re more conscious of when and where we travel. Do I actually need to be physically there for every single meeting? These are good long-term effects where people can get a better work life balance.
SO WHAT HAS THAT MEANT FOR YOU PERSONALLY?
For me it has been less travelling for the last two years since I moved to Denmark, but of course we often travel. I have not set foot on a plane since February and I don’t think I will do so until the end of the year. I’ve had a lot of new projects to work on, but normally during the day I’m in meetings and then often in the evenings I have to catch up or travelling. Right now it’s great to have a better balance. I’m working from home, so put in my own hours, although I’m not as good an example as others maybe because I was already working two days a week from home anyway. I can see how it has affected my friends and my colleagues though. There’s no commute to work, they can spend that time with their kids or doing something for themselves. Of course having kids at home has been quite stressful, but now in Denmark all of the kids are back to school, so that gives people a little bit of flexibility. It’s more accepted to have that flexibility.
DO YOU THINK THAT WILL CONTINUE BEYOND THE PANDEMIC, AFTER THIS YEAR? IS THIS A PERMANENT SHIFT?
In Denmark and particularly at Kvadrat there has always been a great deal of flexibility working from home. But if I look at the world on a larger scale, people will no longer accept that they have to be in the office, because they now proven that they can perform from home. And actually also maybe this time has shown that people are much more motivated because they’re not so stressed. When I lived in London a while ago I had an hour commute, or an hour and a half on a really bad day. You lose a lot of time travelling, which people can now spend either having an early meeting or having dinner with their kids instead of sitting on a train. There’s much to be said about wellbeing and happiness - especially in countries like the US where it really isn’t done to work from home. I think there will be a big, big change.
THERE’S THIS INTERESTING DIVIDE BETWEEN THOSE WHO MISS HUMAN CONTACT AND BELIEVE THERE IS A GREATER NEED FOR OFFICE LIFE, AND THOSE WHO THINK THAT WORKING FROM HOME AND FLEXIBILITY IS THE FUTURE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
I think the office still has an important function. We are social animals and also when you’re brainstorming about ideas and creativity there is this need to come together, but does that mean that you have to be at the office 8-10 hours a day and five days a week? I don’t think so. Maybe officers will be smaller, with more flexible working time and people working from home. And also meetings: some things just go faster and better face-to-face, so the office is still super-important, but now there’s the freedom to plan your working week the way it suits you the best. The office can also be annoying when you need to concentrate. An open plan office can support community and creativity, but that also means that when you need to focus and concentrate on something it’s really hard – there are lot of distractions. I think this way with more flexibility makes more sense.
WHAT SORT OF CONVERSATIONS ARE YOU HAVING WITH ARCHITECTS THIS YEAR?
I think a lot of our very big clients are mostly focused on getting the office adapted to suit this new situation. Some of our big architect clients are freaking out a bit as they want to get their teams back in the office and there’s a lot of focus on how to safely reorganise spaces, but still feel like people are together in a collaborative manner, without it becoming too clinical. Some people are feeling like we need to have vinyl everywhere or other wipe-able surfaces. I think we really need to get away from that fear because the contamination through surfaces has not been proven; it’s through droplets and people. And if it lands on a textile there’s a porous surface that makes it less susceptible than a smooth surface, because it gets trapped and then the virus dies. For wellbeing you need some texture and materiality and some warmth, not a clinical environment.
IS KVADRAT ALTERING INNOVATION TO ACCOMMODATE WHAT’S GOING ON?
Anti-bacterial coated surfaces simply don’t work on viruses – only on bacteria and stopping the growth of bacteria. Also, there are toxins that can harm you, and our water and that is ruining our planet. We do a lot of research into sustainables and environmental anti-viral treatments – we don’t want to give people a false sense of security. We’re also looking into extending our line of polyester programme. Right now there is a lot of panic.
IS KVADRAT ENGAGING IN RESEARCH IN THIS AREA?
We are researching, and very much involved in seeing what treatments there are on the market that are anti-viral and also won’t warm the environment. If something kills COVID, but you use it for years and later it gives you some other disease then you’re also not happy, right?
KVADRAT IS VERY PRESENT AT THE MAJOR TRADESHOWS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. ARE YOU MISSING THOSE EVENTS? ALSO YOUR WONDERFUL ARTIST COLLABORATIONS.
Of course we really miss the tradeshows, which are about presenting new products, but also relationship management – you need to meet people. That is something we all miss it. But in the meantime, we’ve been really good at pushing out our products digitally. We’ve also been sending out samples to clients and then we’ll have a Zoom meeting to walk them through what we’ve sent. There was also a project called Knit, working on with 28 international designers to each create a piece. We’re planning to launch that at 3 Days of Design in Copenhagen in September, but that is by far not as international as Salone, so instead we’re going to launch it digitally and then it will travel to different locations. The many artist collaborations that we had planned have been moved to 2021.
EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE PRESENTING IN NEW WAYS, DO YOU THINK THIS PERIOD WILL PERMANENTLY CHANGE THE SYSTEM OF LAUNCHES?
I don’t know. I can feel it here in Copenhagen, since we’ve opened up again, there is this great need to come together, to socialise. This has affected the economy and our industry quite heavily, so I think set-ups might be smaller and maybe less frequent. It depends how long this keeps going. We’ll definitely still do the big shows, but also we’ll focus on some smaller events, some local, more intimate events. This is such a good opportunity to reset. We’ve had such opulent behaviour in our industry and maybe it has given us time for reflection, to think about what’s important and what counts. And we now have the opportunity to build from here. Of course there is a lot of sadness with so much illness and job losses, but now we have to ask what can we do better and what can we do differently. There needs to be a bigger focus on what is good for the planet and how can we make more sustainable decisions from here.
IN TERMS OF TEXTILES WILL THERE BE CHANGE OF DIRECTION?
I think right now there will be a bigger demand for polyesters that you can disinfect with harder chemicals even though it’s not necessary. I think there will be a little bit of a move towards people trying to create more closed environments where there are not such big open spaces. People will still be working more from home, spending more time at home generally, so wanting to create a really good, comfortable space. I think there will be more attention on how offices are designed, because that becomes the space where people are when not working from home – where they come together to communicate and to thrive. Both environments need attention.
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