Petrus Palmér, the Stockholm-based founder of design brand Hem, is wondering what the future of the workplace looks like. He believes offices will become about meetings and less about employees having their own desks. What does this mean for designing home offices too, he wonders?
YOU’RE BASED IN STOCKHOLM WHERE THERE HASN’T BEEN A FULL LOCKDOWN. WHAT’S THE MOOD LIKE?
It’s been a bit looser here and the economy has shrunk a bit less than some other countries, but no one really knows how this will end up. Our office is open and out of a normal team of 40 there are five to 10 people in the office everyday. The first couple of weeks I was alone here and then I had my COO and now we’re trying to open up slowly. We’re so used to working remotely and we have the people in the US working remotely anyway, so it’s fine. We’re all pretty used to the video tools, so that didn’t change much for us.
YOU’VE HAD TO PUT A LOT OF PLANS ON HOLD THIS YEAR.
Yes, but we’re healthy and that’s the main thing. It’s a shame because we were coming out of our shell a little bit. The projects during the year preceding this were about trying to get to the core of who we are and who we want to be. The first years were just about fighting our way for proof of concept and our right to exist and then we took a step back to do a bit of soul-searching and ask ourselves, now that we’ve proven we can exist and our customers have given us that confidence, why and how should we contribute with something that is valuable on a longer horizon. We spent a lot of time and money on projects to define our next phase. There was a branding refinement, an updated website, new products. The biggest thing was our new showroom in New York. We flew over to open it and on the day we were meant to open, New York announced its lockdown. We were all dressed up, sparkling wine waiting for our 300 guests, but we had to tell everyone not to come. And then we flew home.
HAS YOUR DIRECT TO CUSTOMER MODEL HELD YOU IN GOOD STEAD?
Yes, things have been better than we feared, especially our online sales. Some of our bigger office orders have been slow, but there’s lots of action and we’re okay with our distribution centres in Poland and Chicago. We’re still delivering and we keep inventory, which has been good.
WHAT LEARNINGS HAVE THERE BEEN DURING THESE MONTHS?
I feel like we did a lot of this last year, working out who we want to be.
It’s more interesting to look on a macro level, how will the world change - that’s a bigger issue. I believe that most offices will change even quicker then they have already. Before this people were beginning to doubt the office as a valid place and I think now even more so. The management teams of various companies, as I’ve read, are beginning to question the office and that will have a huge impact on the design business, because in the end, the vast majority of furniture sales of most design brands are in some way connected to offices.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OFFICE DESIGN? WHAT DO YOU PREDICT?
If we allow working from home to a much larger extent we won’t need so much office space, but we will still need meeting places. My forecast is that there will probably be a change towards spaces that companies have that are in effect offices, but are more centred around meetings, but not necessarily everyone with their own desk. Obviously with my own interest as a company that does primarily products that are in between the office and the home, that work for both, this is the kind of space that we want to build for ourselves. Where you can work individually and in a group. And you can premiere the soft values: how it feels to be there, how it looks, and not necessarily squeezing efficiency into every square metre possible.
IN THAT REGARD, HEM IS VERY WELL POSITIONED. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE INADVERTENTLY BRACED YOURSELVES FOR THIS MOMENT?
I think so and the funny thing is that is has not been a strategy, it’s intrinsic. We’ve always felt that if we are to make the products people will invest in, we need to make products that people are going to feel affectionate about. We can’t make task chairs and desks, because I hate them and I’m definitely not interested in height adjustable tables.
THE DESIGN INDUSTRY HAS ALWAYS NEEDED TO ADAPT AND BE ENTERPRISING, SO PERHAPS MANY WILL SURVIVE. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I think so too. I think in the end most of the brands are small; they’re family run or used to be and are used to scaling back. Most don’t have recurring costs. We’re one of the few brands who hold inventory. When you buy from us it’s already on the shelf in Poland or in Chicago for fast delivery, but most design brands are made to order, which means you don’t have a lot of warehouse costs and workers. So push comes to shove many can come down to almost zero in expenses. And few have retail spaces so I feel like they can survive this. And on paper, Hem is really well positioned, so I’m not worried. It’s an interesting time.
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