Nora Fehlbaum is the granddaughter of Willi Fehlbaum, who, based in Basel in the 1950s, established design classics such as those by the Eames brothers or Verner Panton worldwide. Fehlbaum has been running the company since 2016.
Vitra – the production is located on the German side of the Rhine – is not only a supplier of many design classics but also a large office supplier. That is why those responsible began to deal with the consequences of the same for workplaces and living spaces shortly after the start of the corona pandemic. On October 22nd and 23rd of this year they are organizing a conference on the topic – digitally of course via their website.
What has changed for you personally with and through Corona?
I travel significantly less, and a lot has changed in my routine, in my processes. What struck me: Especially during these dark weeks in spring, I exchanged a lot with other people in a similar position to me. We have often smirked at being alone in our offices. That we had to send all employees home, but that we as bosses identify with this place so much that we had to assure ourselves every day: Is everything still there? If everything goes haywire – is the office still there, does the company still exist?
How long did this state last?
The home office worked well for us, as with many other companies, and we came back to the offices very early as soon as the regulations were relaxed because we missed the physical exchange. And also to be able to show our customers that it is possible to come back to the office under the right guidelines. We had to send some people back home during the lockdown. Especially when you come from a situation in which your home does not present itself as an ideal working environment, the children are at home, or you are very alone, returning to the office plays an important role in increasing social and productivity.
Didn’t you have any employees who wanted to stay at home?
There are of course such cases: When the commute is very long or the atmosphere in the team is not that good, for example. A friend of mine, an architect who advises many companies, said: If companies are struggling to get their employees back into the office, they have to work on their culture. There are almost always deeper problems.
What was it that you missed when you were sitting alone in the office?
Not much. An established team that knows each other well can work remotely for a few weeks. But over time it gets harder. We are now seeing that in England and the USA, for example, where people still work from home and where the uncertainties are still very high. Over time, a kind of living apart emerges, like in a distance relationship. It’s easy to lose touch with one another. An office is not just a place of work. An office is often the only place where a company really manifests itself physically. An environment always radiates something. It has an impact on the employees, the customers and everyone who is there. If over time the connection to this place is lost, then one can also lose orientation. What am I doing here? What am i working for What is my contribution? Perhaps not everyone needs this place of identification, but many companies and employees.
What about the demand – do you already notice that we are experiencing a turning point?
For many years there has been a movement to make the office more homely – that is, the influence of the home on the office. What happens now: the office influences the home. The home is suddenly a multi-functional place. It has to accommodate many more functions than before. This includes work or home learning, maybe you go to restaurants less and receive more guests at home. This leads to a specific functional demand: office chairs for the home, sometimes even height-adjustable tables for the home, more dining room chairs for the home. But also the insight that this place, where I have now spent a lot more time, is actually worth being well designed. Often you live with a compromise because you bought something at very short notice. That’s what it says there, you don’t even see it anymore, you become blind in your own environment. Now that you’ve been in this environment for three or four months, you feel the urge to change something. The classics, i.e. existing values, things that convey security, which have been around for many decades and will be good for many decades to come, are particularly in demand in these times.