The Office as a Collaboration Space: It’s Time to Switch the Focus
We’re all tired of pandemic-induced buzzwords in business, right? ‘The new norm’. ‘Unprecedented times’. ‘Transformation’. And, of course: ‘hybrid working’.
This isn’t to say they haven’t all been valid – they very much have been. But the issue with these soundbites or blog-fodder is that they’ve become so entrenched in the COVID narrative, that businesses have almost forgotten what they mean… what they should actually be doing to address them.
Hybrid working is perhaps the best example. Some people want to work from home. Others would rather return to the office. Or, as a Nyenrode Business University, Open University and Moneypenny report found, 88% would prefer a ‘hybrid’ “50-50 model”. We know all that.
But what does this actually mean, and what should organisations be doing to pivot in line with this acknowledged state of play?
The answer lies in what employees will use the home and the office for in the future. Or, more pertinently, how organisations will get the best out of their employees in this new dynamic.
With this in mind, perhaps it is time to reignite the conversation of ‘office and home’ with a new, more appropriate, buzz term. Looking forward, this equation should be looked at, respectively, as ‘collaborate and focus’.
A new definition of hybrid working
When the pandemic struck and people were forced into makeshift, at-home offices, many inevitably struggled. However, that ship seems to have largely sailed two years on.
Workers have found ways to mitigate all of the challenges that threatened their focus and productivity at home. Plant-lined offices have been developed or created. We’ve learned how to share workspaces with significant others without strangling them or ‘accidentally-on-purpose’ disconnecting their computers. We’ve honed routines when it comes to family or pets. We’ve essentially created the perfect, personalised havens to operate out of, according to our own lives and needs.
If anything, it may now be easier for many people to focus from home, than from traditional offices. A theory echoed by 97% of workers in the aforementioned academic and industry study, who would prefer to remain working from home longer-term.
However, what can’t be remedied to the same extent, is the level of planning and collaboration that goes into many of our work tasks. Programs such as Teams and Zoom have been positives to come out of the past couple of years, for sure, but there’s nothing quite like chatting things through in person. Like problem solving in an instant. Like having a brainwave around the cafetiere (let’s face it, water coolers just don’t cut it at the moment).
And that’s where the real meaning of ‘hybrid’ can be unearthed. It’s about more than simply ‘working’ from either or both, in that all-encompassing sense.
Hybrid working as a present-day term needs to reflect workers’ needs to lay the groundwork for tasks in a professional, collaborative setting; before carrying out those tasks with a more personalised focus.
It’s about getting the best out of each environment, rather than simply making both environments available for all work.
Not just a ruse, but a concerted strategy
This above transition may sound simple, but there needs to be method and tangible transformation behind it. It’s not as easy as requesting people come in for planning meetings, and then going back home to put those plans into practice.
At first, of course, it needs to be a spoken strategy. Culturally, workers need to know the rationale behind this hybrid theory, and buy into it. To do so, it’s important to stress that office-time is no longer directly being equated to value or remuneration.
Rather, the office’s role is one that’s part of a wider chain of considerations that gives workers the hybrid balance they crave, as well as the impetus to carry out their best work.
Beyond vocalising the method, however, organisations should also look to visually and functionally transform ‘the artist formerly known as workspace’ as well. If it is now a place to collaborate, then the feel and aesthetics of that space should evolve as such. With this, there should also be a noticeable flexibility around office occupation that confirms to workers that this isn’t just a ruse to encourage people back in.
Adopting solutions around desk booking, meeting room booking, visitor management, flow management, or digitised security will all affirm that the new-look facility is geared towards an agile, unpredictable come-and-go culture; and not the traditional everyone-in-from-nine-to-five setup.
A data-driven transition
For organisations looking to make this, more tangible and deliberate, transition towards a true hybrid network, they needn’t do so through trial and error.
The temptation – especially when this is something of a nascent concept – would be to go with gut feeling about how the new space should look… what it should comprise… what innovations to invest in.
But, as ever, there is in fact data to help guide these decisions.
Data pertaining to access control, the need for occupancy sensors, the sheer volume of space you have against the space you’ll need for a collaborative workplace. By outsourcing and seeking consultative advice on how to begin this process, organisations can open themselves up to a portfolio of use cases and precedents that will inform bespoke models, various scenario plans, and a host of ‘what if’ analyses.
This data-driven approach will make sure that the process of transition isn’t a tentative trial and error attempt; but a concerted commitment to a new worker dynamic.
What this calculated effort is likely to yield is a greater sense of loyalty among staff members who will see employers moving with the times, and rebuilding for their sake.
In turn, they are far more likely to buy into, and make use of, a new status quo that we now know to be optimum. The home is now, for many, the best place to focus on core work tasks. But the office still has a potent, collaborative, role to play in the future of business.