3 Architects and Designers Look Toward the Future

As the world continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and adapt to these unprecedented times, HD is checking in with members of the hospitality industry around the globe to find out how their businesses are being impacted and what they anticipate will change down the line.

Tom Ito, Gensler

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Tom Ito

We know the pandemic will not last forever and the uncertainty of how long it will last is a challenge on all fronts for the hospitality industry. During this time of uncertainty, we are staying close with our clients to reassure them that we are here to support them during this critical period and to help pave a successful path to recovery. As a global firm, we are encouraged by our offices in Greater China, who saw the first wave of the pandemic and are now starting to see a measured return to normal. It also has been a real challenge not being able to have the level of real personal human connections that can only happen when we are physically together. This lack of social connectivity reinforces the prevalence of loneliness, which we already had prior to

What is your current work situation?

As of March 17th, Gensler’s China, Asia, Europe, North America, and Latin America offices are all working remotely—successfully. We were prepared by having studios participate in work-from-home trials in anticipation of this potential remote situation. We went from 50 regional offices to 6,500 individual offices within a few days. Luckily, we are accustomed to working with diverse teams across multiple offices as a normal business practice, which made this transition a little easier.

With the ebb and flow of projects during this period, we remain flexible and nimble to move teams around to satisfy the immediate needs of our existing clients. Our diversity of work and multiple practice area expertise helps us during times such as this.

We are constantly reinforcing internal group connectivity with regular check-ins, sharing photos, virtual happy hours, and using video whenever possible to strengthen relationships across the organization. And, of course, encouraging our people to stay well and find that balance while working from home and taking care of themselves and their families.

What are some of the positive effects of working in these new ways?

We’ve never been more engaged. As a global firm, we are connecting to our communities around the world, collaborating, and working together virtually seamlessly. It’s truly amazing how technology affords us the opportunity to continue servicing our clients and working with vendors and consultants to deliver project work.

We are also learning that we are able to conduct meetings successfully without having to meet in person all the time. This may prove more efficient moving forward by saving travel time and expenses, while yielding a more productive output.

What is your pulse on the industry?

For the most part, projects that were fully funded are continuing and construction is moving forward where cities are allowed. We’ve also seen some clients take the opportunity to make updates that at other times may have been disruptive to occupancy. We are fully prepared that some projects may need to be put on hold due to city limits on construction or client decisions. However, we are encouraged by the amount of activity happening around the globe and our ability to bridge the gap with Gensler’s diverse practice area mix.

We are staying close to our clients and reassuring them that Gensler is operating seamlessly during these uncertain times to support their needs. We are staying connected with them by providing them with a weekly Dialogue Now newsletter to provide them with credible and relevant information by sharing real-time strategies and expertise to help drive their business forward during this time of change.

What does this mean for the future of hospitality?

Health and wellness will be at the forefront for guests and staff and there will be real effort to regain their trust. Hotels should very clearly communicate the efforts from their staff training, operations, and cleaning practices to make guests feel safe.

Design considerations like anti-microbial materials should be considered, especially in high-traffic areas like lobbies, check-in desks, and conference spaces, but even linens and materials used in-room. Digital check-in is already a reality and automatic controls will also enable hands-free use of lights, doors, and other operational functions. Investment in air-purifying systems to sanitize heavy-use environments will be another investment to make guests feel safe and secure.

The arrival experience may be something to reconsider as guests enter the hotel through a transitional space or safety corridor in which they have a wellness screening, sanitize, and refresh before accessing different parts of the property. There’s also an opportunity to think about the flexibility of hotel spaces, as larger events and gatherings take a back seat: How can those spaces be adaptable to market demands and remain profitable? We may need to rethink occupancy and capacity per person, moving toward smaller gatherings.

Lastly, share some good news! Have you done anything to stay busy in these crazy times?

Weekly virtual happy hours have become de facto. It’s something that I hope we can continue when we are all together in the same space. I have also been learning to cook, which has been a long-time passion I’ve wanted to pursue.

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