A Q & A with Claude Restoule at Artopex

We recently caught up with one of our office furnishing partners to speak with Claude Restoule, Sales Representative at Artopex Office Furniture.  

How did COVID impact you at Artopex? What changed at work?

The social element of sales and interacting with our clients greatly reduced over COVID.  The notion of we love you, but we really don’t need to see you became very clear.  The personal connection that we once created with our clients was diminished so we had to get creative by whatever means necessary. People wanted to do business but didn’t necessarily want to see you at their place of business, or they worked remotely.  As a salesperson like myself, we need to be out on the road visiting dealers and clients. We need to have direct communication with our clients to create proper solutions.  We were pretty much forced to stay home and couldn’t do sales (the way we were accustomed to), so we had to evolve and find different ways to service our dealers and end user clients.

Even when we were allowed to let visitors come into the showrooms, they would automatically distance themselves from you so even the in-person social interaction really changed. Without even knowing it, I think this changed us all.

How has this affected your sales ability or your sales approach with clients?

When you meet people or clients for the first time, you want to connect on a more personal and social level to develop their trust. I’m the expert helping them to find solutions, so connecting with them on a more common level gives you the advantage to interact with them and get to know their needs and their businesses. It’s not always about the sell, establishing a true relationship with the client is very important in our line of work.

What are you doing differently in sales?

Now we’re learning more about our client’s vision for the future. We are at a point within the industry where we must listen more; be more in tune with the client.  Companies are struggling because they aren’t sure of what solutions to create for their staff, so they are seeking a lot more guidance from us. I read posts every day from design professionals and industry colleagues on how staff should return back to the office or how the new office normal will look. I think what’s different now is that we cannot just provide them with solutions that are typical – instead, we need to help them with tailored solutions that work for their type of business, staffing requirements and their vision for the future.   

How is business doing?

Business has never been better. Artopex is doing all the right things and growing exponentially. Our senior leadership team and internal design teams have really focused on delivering the right products for our sales teams which is helping us hit all the right points in today’s marketplace. The team we have is second to none and the products we have to offer have allowed us to grow in all our markets.  Like everyone else in our industry, we face challenges with the supply chain but we have done a really good job moving products through our factories so we can keep on supplying great products to our dealer and clients. Being a Canadian manufacturer from Quebec and dealing with many Canadian suppliers has been fantastic and has really helped us meet order requirements faster than most of our competitors.

What types of changes are happening in the workplace?

When I talk to my clients at the executive level of various firms, they all have different ideas about how the workplace will look. Some foresee major changes, while others envision doing nothing at all. For example, I deal with a few large call centres that are ordering workstations that are nearly identical to what they ordered before the pandemic, with the addition of divider screens for separation and protection. The consensus has been that all employees must be vaccinated before returning to work, therefore little modifications appear to be the norm in these businesses. In saying that I am noticing that some of the changes being considered for these types of settings are employee lounges, cafeteria, and areas of collaboration. In some industries change seems to be subtle but in other cases clients are looking at full floorplate changes and looking at variables to bringing back staff in a new safe work environment conducive to today’s new normal.

Then I work with companies that continue to operate remotely and are thriving as a result. Some believe that employees in some industries are more productive at home, and that, depending on their role, they may seek a hybrid work environment in which they work from home some days and go into the office on other days. This type of environment will undoubtedly require clients to change their workspaces, as assigned desking will no longer be required, however drop-in stations will become a better way to manage real estate.

Trying to entice employees back to the workplace is growing more difficult, and the worry of losing social connections among coworkers is becoming a bigger issue. This pandemic has impacted negatively on every industry, but I feel it has taken a toll on individuals the most; our social skills have been permanently harmed. It’s become the standard to keep your distance from one another; the handshake and hug are rapidly becoming obsolete. The pat on the back is nearly non-existent, and the office environment is undergoing a complete transformation.

I’m concerned that because employees have been working from a safe environment they’ve established at home, returning to work will be a very different experience for them; although some may welcome the opportunity to return to the office, others will be cautious. We must keep in mind that employees have not interacted in nearly two years, and depending on your personality and level of comfort, I expect some awkwardness in a return-to-work scenario. Therefore, our profession and expertise are so important.  A big part of how we can help companies is to create the right environments for their employees so they can safely bring them back to the office in a setting that will make everyone feel more comfortable.

What can we learn from all of this?

We’ve reached a stage where we need to listen a lot more. I’ve been reading posts from industry colleagues and design firms about how the new office will appear and how employers will entice you back to work. The answer, in my opinion, is to pay attention to the end-user, learn what they want and need, and then build a safe and valuable solution around it. I don’t believe in promoting a solution based on a magazine or web article’s hype. I’ve been in the market for a long time and have seen the office evolve from closed offices with high divider workstations to open floor plans, benching, and social settings. I see the office environment being a place where you will find different types of settings for different types of work. Settings where you will have staff that need to be at the office, you will find workstations that are designed in a way where the employees can be socially distanced and more protected while being in the office every day. You will have spaces where you will find unassigned drop in desking for staff that work remotely or on the road.  We will have more open meeting areas where people can meet in socially distanced settings, further spaced out and scattered lounge areas, larger hallways between work areas, more closed office areas for executives. Like I mentioned it will be the ability to listen, adapt and create the right setting for each client has they all have different wants and needs for the way they need to do business.

What changes will happen as we enter 2022?

I don’t really know if it is so much about change but a hope to go back to a more normal way of doing business whatever that may look like. I truly believe we need to get back to a normal way of life.

As for change we will see new designs, new ways to adapt floor plates of furniture and workplaces that are more conducive to the way our post COVID life looks like. To some of us, this pandemic was a speedbump that slowed down the economy and for others it was a big shock.  Now, we need to look at ways to adapt to the new way of thinking.

Where do you see things going with the office of the future?

I believe the future of the office is still largely unclear, as it has always developed over time. With COVID, I am confident that office designs will alter even more dramatically than in the past, but we will all learn along the way, particularly as the population returns to the workplace. As someone who has worked in the industry for a long time, I can say that we used to be the driving force, but now we need to listen more and develop environments that are appropriate for the present circumstances.