The world of Workplace is increasingly more fascinating and more complex. Through our years of practice designing and building workplaces for organisations, small, medium and large, in various industries and from around the world, we have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and insights, all thanks to our clients.

Whether we work closely with the head of Human Resources (HR), the head of Facilities Management (FM) or the head of Corporate Real Estate (CRE), one thing is clear, these roles have been coming closer together and gaining more and more overlaps over the last number of years. A new role is even emerging that blurs the boundaries between HR, FM, CRE, and even IT and Corporate Communication to name a few. We call this role ‘Workplace Professional’.

Over the last few months, we have been interviewing leading Workplace Professionals in the best companies from around the world. In this series, we engage in conversations with those at the forefront of the world of workplace, to bring you their intriguing insights, best practices, and most successful case studies. Welcome to the Workplace Experts’ Interviews series!

This week, we share the insightful conversation our CEO Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes had with Gilles Debout, head of workspace services at the European investment bank.

The European investment bank is a publicly owned international financial institution whose shareholders are the EU member states. It was established in 1958 under the Treaty of Rome as a policy-driven bank using financing operations to further EU policy goals such as European integration and social cohesion.

Gilles Debout MRICS, is a facility management and corporate real estate specialist with over 20 years of successful experience in managing building facilities and developing workspace strategy. He has an extensive international experience having worked in EMEA (covering Southern Europe and Middle East) and in Asia Pacific. He is currently based in Luxembourg, working as Head of Workspace & Logistics at the European Investment Bank.

Covid-19 Note:
While the below interview was conducted before the pandemic happened, per was kind enough to supplement the conversation with his most recent thoughts and insights related to Covid-19 and the future of work and the workplace, in a final question at the end of the interview.

Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes: Gilles Debout, welcome. Welcome to this conversation. It’s a pleasure to have you here.

Gilles Debout: Thank you.

Stephanie:Thank you for joining this new series of the Workplace Experts’ Interviews. Let’s dive right in. Would you be able to describe your role in one or two sentences?

Gilles: I’m head of workspace services & logistics at a European Investment Bank (EIB), and my job is to deliver workspace solutions that inspire EIB colleagues.

Stephanie: Could you tell us what is at the top of your agenda at the moment when it comes to employees and talent and the workplace?

Gilles: Of course. Our target is to develop a workspace strategy solution, which will be flexible enough to support the diversity of department and functions across EIB, give colleagues greater choice and control over when, where and how they would like to work and create a workplace that supports tasks performed. We are also trying to develop a workplace that will enhance communication and collaboration within and across different EIB groups at all levels. When I say at all levels, I am including clients, customers and end-users.

Stephanie: Right. And what do you think is the greatest added value you can bring to your organization in your position?

Gilles: Well, taking into account the changing dynamics of the EIB organization (within the existing space and future expansion/adaptations), the fluctuations in headcount and the evolution of working practices, we are designing spaces that will address clients needs. Our biggest challenge is our mix of generations. We have both new and older generations and it’s very difficult to answer the very different needs.

Stephanie: Yes, I can imagine. It is one of the main things that I think most companies are facing. Many companies are still tying to understand millennials and already the next generation is coming in and that’s already a whole other set of needs and requirements.

Gilles: Correct.

Stephanie: What is one thing that you are very proud of having accomplished in your organization?

Gilles: Well, we have developed since few years new ways of working concept in order to provide flexible space that reflects the type of department, division, unit within the premises in a cost effective manner, working in close collaboration with IT department.
As you may know, the work environment in a bank is very conservative, and to move to an activity-based model is very challenging. However, so far it works. We have a better grip on how people work, where and when. We are also able to monitor the space occupancy. It have been a real challenge and a great success for us.

Stephanie: That’s great. Now this was implemented two years ago. Can you share some of the highlights that you have seen, maybe some measurements or some specific things that have improved?

Gilles: People have started to work in different ways. They huddle to work on a project, if they have to meet one-on-one they make use of small meeting rooms available, if they have to work within a project they use a multi-functional room, if they have to just interact with people, they sit in one of the open spaces. For us, it’s a great accomplishment.

Stephanie: Yes, that’s really the essence of activity-based working. What is a pipeline dream or goal that you have not accomplished yet?

Gilles: Yes, we had a project in finance a year ago where every team was working in silos. This created problems so we decided to break the silos. So, we did a workshop with the teams and we analysed how they work including their lean management approach. So based on our findings, we have created a pilot project where we have designed the space closely matching their lean approach. We created a space that follows the flow of information and people, with several small meeting rooms, a flexible multi-functional room, and a number of other settings. It was a real success.

Stephanie: That’s very interesting. I’m sure you have faced your share of resistance and difficulties when it comes to introducing change among people. Do you have any learnings or reflections you can share with us about how to deal with change management effectively?

Gilles: I think it’s about energy and engaging people at the beginning, not only managers but also the people that are working, I mean, all the people in the pyramid. It’s also about having a very strong communication and not choosing a traditional way of communication by email, but going for a different kind of approach where you can bring with a clear vision, a very simple vision with few words, that people can connect to and be moved by. So it’s like a Start-Up, you know, as long as you have a clear vision, it is much easier to sell it and get people on board. And a project like this, for me, is like a small Start-Up and people need to really be in it and with you.

Stephanie: Right. They need to see it and then really stand behind it.

Gilles: Correct.

Stephanie: So, you upgraded your workplace a couple years ago and it’s actually working really well. If you still had things that can be improved, what might those be?

Gilles: We need to develop and promote more pilot projects in which we can involve all generation of colleagues. The idea is to share our workspace vision and explain what we are trying to achieve to foster interaction and innovation. This have to be done with the support of architects from the beginning, in order to address clear expectations in terms of space, in terms of how the space works and how people will flow in it.

Stephanie: I absolutely recognise that. As an architect myself, I recognise this challenge that I also hear from other clients. So, you’re saying that when it comes to the way of working that you want to implement, this has not been taken into account since the beginning of the architectural process. Is that correct?

Gilles: Yes exactly. The other aspect to take into consideration is time. In fact, when you are developing a construction project, the process could be between 5-10 years. During that time, a lot of changes could happen especially when it comes to technology. The mainstream architectural process is not flexible, not agile, and it is hard to update during the process. I find it very frustrating.
So, most of the time, you move forward with the building specifications as is, knowing it is not matching what we need and afterwards we’ll have to do some adaptation to match with the reality of the trend of the market.

Stephanie: That’s absolutely true and incredibly frustrating. Your building is then obsolete before it’s actually built and before you move into it. That is extremely frustrating.

Gilles: Exactly.

Gilles: Well, I would say that in 2000, buildings were connected, you had cable TV, a DSL Internet. In 2010, we have smart buildings, hooked on sensors and information from the cloud. To me, in the future, I can foresee what we call the service operating system, where we will be able to have more flexibility, small data and be able to offer smart objects, connected everywhere, so that people will not only choose their desk to work, but they will be able to work and know in real time what’s going on everywhere and have access to absolutely all services.

Stephanie: Very interesting from your perspective of workplace facilities. How do you conceive of your responsibility when it comes to the employees?

Gilles: Well, to me, we are a service to support customers. We have to listen to what our customer wants and use our technology to serve that. We also aim to listen to feedback in real time in order to be flexible and agile in the way that we would manage workspace. For me, tomorrow, in relation to workspace, we will not conceive it as workspace management but as digital workspace management. It’s really a shift in terms of competencies. It will not only be a physical workspace, but it’s also a digital one and the key is how you can interact with both.

Stephanie: Right. So, building on this vision of the future that you just shared, what would you say might be our biggest challenges in trying to get there?

Gilles: There are several challenges. First, it is the human challenges and this transition can be done only if you have a very strong change management in place because it will affect the way that people are doing their job, commuting to their work, when they will work and how they will work. You will need to have HR aligned in this transformation. The second challenge concerns how you will design your building. Again, you need to think the building as a whole and not as a workspace.

Stephanie: Great. So, it’s really about the psychology and the architecture going hand in hand.

Gilles: Correct.

Stephanie: So, you mentioned that you’re not looking at work management only and not looking at it as a physical thing, but more as a service, aim to support people. So how would you describe the ideal workplace? What benefits would it create to support people?

Gilles: For me, it’s about creating a workplace where we will take into consideration the changing dynamics of the business organization, such as fluctuation of headcount and the evolution of working practices, including social change in the workplace and new technology.

Stephanie: Can you describe a recent time where the workplace has really been problematic for the people’s performance in the workplace?

Gilles: Yes, we had a project in finance a year ago where every team was working in silos. This created problems so we decided to break the silos. So, we did a workshop with the teams and we analysed how they work including their lean management approach. So based on our findings, we have created a pilot project where we have designed the space closely matching their lean approach. We created a space that follows the flow of information and people, with several small meeting rooms, a flexible multi-functional room, and a number of other settings. It was a real success.

Stephanie: That’s very interesting. I’m sure you have faced your share of resistance and difficulties when it comes to introducing change among people. Do you have any learnings or reflections you can share with us about how to deal with change management effectively?

Gilles: I think it’s about energy and engaging people at the beginning, not only managers but also the people that are working, I mean, all the people in the pyramid. It’s also about having a very strong communication and not choosing a traditional way of communication by email, but going for a different kind of approach where you can bring with a clear vision, a very simple vision with few words, that people can connect to and be moved by. So it’s like a Start-Up, you know, as long as you have a clear vision, it is much easier to sell it and get people on board. And a project like this, for me, is like a small Start-Up and people need to really be in it and with you.

Stephanie: Right. They need to see it and then really stand behind it.

Gilles: Correct.

Stephanie: So, you upgraded your workplace a couple years ago and it’s actually working really well. If you still had things that can be improved, what might those be?

Gilles: We need to develop and promote more pilot projects in which we can involve all generation of colleagues. The idea is to share our workspace vision and explain what we are trying to achieve to foster interaction and innovation. This have to be done with the support of architects from the beginning, in order to address clear expectations in terms of space, in terms of how the space works and how people will flow in it.

Stephanie: I absolutely recognise that. As an architect myself, I recognise this challenge that I also hear from other clients. So, you’re saying that when it comes to the way of working that you want to implement, this has not been taken into account since the beginning of the architectural process. Is that correct?

Gilles: Yes exactly. The other aspect to take into consideration is time. In fact, when you are developing a construction project, the process could be between 5-10 years. During that time, a lot of changes could happen especially when it comes to technology. The mainstream architectural process is not flexible, not agile, and it is hard to update during the process. I find it very frustrating.
So, most of the time, you move forward with the building specifications as is, knowing it is not matching what we need and afterwards we’ll have to do some adaptation to match with the reality of the trend of the market.

Stephanie: That’s absolutely true and incredibly frustrating. Your building is then obsolete before it’s actually built and before you move into it. That is extremely frustrating.

Gilles: Exactly.

Stephanie: And it’s a fundamental flaw in how mainstream architecture works. It’s a profession that is, of course, supposed to be creative, but it’s run in the most uncreative of ways. And, it hasn’t been really innovated in so long. The way the process is run is still run the way it was decades ago. The way it’s been built was OK for a time when change was so slow to happen. However, these days, the process still takes quite a long time. And in the meantime, reality has changed and people have moved on. And this is exactly why we actually have founded AKKA. AKKA was created to champion a new vision and new process. As you may know, we have created a last phase in our process called adapting exactly for that problem. And what’s been really interesting in the last few years is that sometimes we are hired just for that phase, on a project that is brand new, done by another architect and that already doesn’t fit the needs of its people. And we have to come in and be aware that at this stage, the company has spent quite a bit on the building, so the budgets are depleted. The morale is low because you already know it doesn’t work. And what we focus on is two things, on one hand upgrading the design to ensure it matches and supports its inhabitants’ needs and on the other hand we also build a process of engaging people, so they continue to adapt their own space in the future. And this is of course very dependent on all teams and departments working together. You already mentioned above the importance of the role of HR. What is your vision on the way the different departments of HR, IT, Facility Management and even Corporate Real Estate work and the collaboration that is needed between them?

Gilles: Well, I would love to see a kind of digital workspace department emerge where you can have all the competency skills and that would own the collaboration and the bringing together of HR, IT, Facility Management, Corporate Real Estate and others as needed.  

Stephanie: I would totally agree. Now, let’s zoom out and look at the big picture. If you contemplate the future of work in general, what would you say are the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity in that future?

Gilles: From my perspective right now, the challenge is to create a digital workplace with a sustainable approach. Tomorrow our vision is to be greener, in our procurement, in our way of sourcing furniture, in the way we will work. So, the opportunity would be to have both the digital workspace and supply mentor environment or system ability. And I think for us, a challenge as workspace management professionals is just to be aware of all the things that are going on. It’s like a process where you have to adapt yourself and be always aware of what’s going on in the market, which is difficult sometimes.

Stephanie: And I would add, there are so many experiments happening which sound exciting and at first sight might actually be successful. But we also haven’t spent the time seeing the consequences or unintended effects, five or ten years down the line.

Gilles: Yes, it’s true.

Stephanie: Which is also quite a good incentive to avoid literally or blindly copying and pasting other companies’ experiments.

Gilles: Yes exactly.

Covid-19 Note:
While the interview above was conducted before the pandemic happened, Gilles was kind enough to supplement the conversation with his most recent thoughts and insights related to Covid-19 and the future of work and the workplace. So, we asked him two more questions.

Stephanie: How do you think Covid-19 has and might continue to affect our ways of working and our workplace?

Gilles: When today’s workplace models were developed (e.g. closed offices, open space), we lived in a time where life cycles were five to ten years. Now life cycles can be a year, or even a month, a pace of change that would terrify a 1970s’ executive. With Covid-19, we experimented a brutal, quick change in less than a week and when a big change initiative comes along, the first job for a real estate leader is to challenge people’s thinking and develop new ways of working. What we achieve to face this crisis is to discuss with our colleagues at all levels about their feelings, and have deep conversations about what their worries are. This helps us address their concern about changing the way we work and about the future of our workplace. As a result, a massive teleworking initiative has been implemented. Today, we are driving by the need to continue the business and provide a safe and healthy workplace when staff will return. Nevertheless, there will be no more return to normal but a concept of “new normal” in which teleworking will become a norm.  The new workspace will be designed on choice-based environment allowing people to work where, when, and how they wish to complete their tasks fostering interaction and innovation.

Stephanie: What would you say is the most important thing to focus on right now, to ensure a successful recovery for our, workplaces, employees, and organisations?

Gilles: “We may need to solve problems, not by removing the cause but by designing the way forward even if the cause remains in place.” Edward de Bono. According to me, the focus should be on developing a “new normal” built on lessons learnt about teleworking, commuting, workspace needs and climate impact. Today, we have become too preoccupied with repairing damage when our focus should be on building a new workplace environment allowing organisations to cope with their business needs in term of space and occupation.

Stephanie: Wonderful Gilles, I’m going to thank you for this conversation and fantastic insights. A lot of food for thought.

Gilles: It was a pleasure. So, thank you again.

To find out how optimising your workplace can help you retain your employees by fostering better social interactions, download here AKKA’s Innovative Workplace Expert guide, which contains the full version of one of our case studies and more practical examples of other projects that show you how AKKA has increased team engagement and boost productivity over and over again for small, medium and large organisations, in a variety of industries and countries from around the world.

Use your workplace as a strategic tool to attract and retain the best talent.

How to ensure a successful return to the office by creating a resilient workplace experience.

As lockdowns slowly ease in countries around the world, people are getting ready to go back to work. Whether employees take shifts being in the office on different days, wear masks, get their temperature taken, eat alone at their desks or take the elevators one at a time, one thing is sure, the return to the office will be nothing like we have known before. While physical measures are being implemented in workplaces around the world, what about the psychological, emotional and social dimensions of employees’ well-being in such uncertain and unfamiliar times?

How do we create a resilient workplace, one that can change and adapt to what the short term and long term futures may bring?

Returning to a resilient workplace
A resilient workplace

All around the world, countries, companies and people are trying to move forward and regain a sense of normality. It is however clear that we won’t be able to go back to our old normal. Instead we are looking for a new normal. What will happen in the next few weeks and months, is essentially an experiment. Going back to the workplace is an experiment as well. We don’t really know what will work and what won’t. Furthermore, we don’t know what the ramifications of what we are doing now may be in the near future, let alone the long term future. So how can we proceed, when we don’t know what will ensure success? There is one quality that will ensure some level of success no matter what the future will bring and that is resilience. The question is: How do we create a resilient workplace, one that can change and adapt to what the short term and long term futures may bring? The answer to creating a resilient workplace starts with its people.

Well-being is three dimensional

Over the last decades, companies have realised that their business results actually hinge on their employees. They also realise that investing in their people is not only a matter of materials or physical things such as better pays or ergonomic furniture. Investing in people starts with people’s well-being. The recent rise of burnouts have made it very clear that the well-being of employees is essential for their physical health, performance and consequently the bottom line of the company. It is now also increasingly clear that employees well-being is three-dimensional: psychological, emotional and social. So in these times more than ever before, how can you as a Workplace Professional support the well-being of your employees? How can you nurture their psychological wellbeing, support their emotional wellbeing and cultivate their social wellbeing?

How can you nurture their psychological wellbeing, support their emotional wellbeing and cultivate their social wellbeing?

Returning to a resilient workplace
Returning to a resilient workplace
Returning to a resilient workplace
The four Ms

Whether you are a HR manager, a Facility Manager, a Happiness Officer or a Workplace Professional in any capacity, you are probably asking yourself: how do we ensure people can return to work safely. You also already probably know that safety is not only physical and while corona-free health is a high priority, we have to anticipate the next stages and ask ourselves: how do we ensure people can return to work safely and sustain their physical and mental health, for months and years to come, in this new reality.

As a Workplace Professional, there are four practices you can introduce in your company right away, to nurture your employees’ psychological wellbeing, support their emotional wellbeing and cultivate their social wellbeing.

1. Mindfulness
Research has shown that mindfulness can have numerous benefits, ranging from decreased stress levels to increased focus levels and happiness1, which is particularly helpful when faced with challenging circumstances or difficult situations. What can you do in your workplace: When it comes to your employees and their workplace experience, considering introducing practices of mindfulness, whether as team activities, daily routines along with the morning stand up meeting or company-wide practices. A particularly powerful focus of mindfulness practices is to focus on gratitude.

2. Movement
Physical movement is extremely important not only because of its benefit to our physical healthy but also because the state of our body affects our mental state. It is no secret that the way we stand, walk, sit and even breathe affects our mood. Studies have even shown that smiling consistently enough (even if it is a fake smile at first, meaning a pure muscle exercise) helps people overcome depression2. Movement helps our emotional and psychological well-being. What can you do in your workplace: Can you introduce a habit of ‘walking meetings’? Can you re-arrange small things around the office to stimulate more movement? Think of spreading facilities such as the coffee machine, water cooler, toilets, printers, office supplies, …etc apart from each other to stimulate more movement. While you can’t move the toilets or even the coffee machine, some things that people need to get to, can easily be moved.

3. Mastery
Continuously developing our talents and learning new skills is guaranteed to contribute to boost our mental well-being. Research has shown that learning actually makes people happier and healthier3. Researchers found that one of the things that people need to be happy is to be engaged in difficult-but-doable activities4. What can you do in your workplace: This is not about the already existing trainings available for employees. Rather, consider a more personal approach to finding what learning means to specific people and how you can make ongoing learning – of the right subjects and skills for the right people – an intrinsic part of your workplace experience.

4. Meaningful Connections
Research has proven the link between the number and quality of our relationships on our mental and physical well-being5. Proven links include lower rates of anxiety and depression, stronger immune system, better recovery from disease, and even longer life. On a group level, meaningful connections create more trusting and cooperative relationships. What can you do in your workplace: Consider how can you foster meaningful connections among your employees? What can you put in place for people to be able to truly develop deep friendships? This is more than just ensuring employees ‘get along’. A sense of belonging is a powerful intrinsic motivator and a booster of employees well-being and performance.6

Mindfulness, Movement, Mastery and Meaningful Connections are the four Ms you can introduce in your workplace right now, to ensure your employees not only survive this difficult period but actually thrive in it. Consider introducing those new practices incrementally and tie them to existing anchors. Avoid making them see like ‘the flavour of the month’, otherwise they won’t stick and may even backfire. Once introduced correctly, the Four Ms will do wonder for your employees’ psychological, emotional and social wellbeing and your organisation’s performance during this period. And the best part is, crisis or not, those are fantastic practices to have in place and they will go a long way in nurturing employees and ensuring the long term success of your entire company.

Do you need help translating the 4 Ms to your company’s specific situation? Are you wondering about the best way to introduce them to your employees in order to ensure adoption and long term lasting success? Send us here your question and we will get back to you with personal advice.

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This week, we received more pertinent questions from our clients, partners and community. In this article, AKKA Architect’s CEO, Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes shares two of the latest questions and her thoughts!
If you have a question you would like answered, please send it to us using the form at the end of this article.

Question: What do you think is our best ally while working from home?

There is a lot actually happening in the HR and Facility Management communities about digital tools to facilitate working from home and tips and tricks for how to make the most of it. And everything I’ve read out there is great and gives fantastic insights and ideas.

However, there is something I am missing in that discourse, and that is the why, the question of why are we doing what we are doing? One of the best allies to a successful working from home is, I believe, having your why clear. This of course connects back to preventing this loss of connection or loss of engagement that I mentioned in the previous article of the “You Asked” series.

During this time, there are a lot of uncertainty and questions up in the air. Things are so radically different, that there is a lot of questioning about what is happening and what might happen next, in the next weeks, months, years. All these questions are underlined by an almost new found reminder of what is important in life, a kind of return to the basics, if you will. And with that comes the question of why am I doing what I’m doing? and is it important?

So, I think the best ally of working from home for the benefit of people as well as the work and the company as a whole is to make this ‘why question’ very, very clear for everyone, in the entire company. This is the one thing that can prevent this loss of connection and engagement.

In a time like this, if what you’re doing is actually meaningful and helping this situation in some way or another, then you will be twice as motivated.

Why am I doing what I'm doing? Is it important?

Question: What are the main recommendations you can share with Workplace Professionals, at a time like this?

Well, if you’re a HR manager, Facility Manager, a Corporate Real Estate manager or a Workplace professional of any kind, ask yourself this: How do we learn from now to make tomorrow better than yesterday? So, what can we learn from what we’re going through now, during this time to create a future that is better than the past?

For me personally, I believe that one of the worst things that can happen after all of this calms down is that we go back to business as usual. It may sound strange to say that. However, the reason I’m saying that is because while I don’t know what it is yet, I believe that there is an opportunity in this crisis for us to do better than we have been doing so far. This is a decision point for the world of work and an opportunity to reshape the future of work.

Obviously, don’t get me wrong. What is happening is a complete tragedy and any opportunity I might point to, in the middle of this tragedy is not to undermine any of negative things that are happening at the moment. And maybe now, more than ever, we do need to be able to look for the shred of positivity in a major crisis. There are actually opportunities for us to learn from what is happening and to do better.

I believe that this crisis, like any other, is going to make weaknesses worse, but also strengths stronger. And now is the time to redesign our systems in a way that they’re more resilient and much stronger in the future than they have been in the past. So, ask yourselves: “How do we learn from today, to design a tomorrow that is better than yesterday?”
Do you have a question about your workplace? Request your FREE PERSONAL ADVICE now, by asking our very own CEO your most burning question. Fill in the form below with your question and Stephanie will get back to you with her thoughts.
 
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This week, we have rounded up some of the most pertinent questions we have received from our clients, partners and community. In this article, AKKA Architect’s CEO, Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes shares her thoughts about your questions!
If you have a question you would like answered, please send it to us using the form at the end of this article.
Question: With the situation that we’re living nowadays, what do you think are the biggest challenges we are facing for the future of work? 

When we think of the challenges that we are facing for the future of work, we need to think about them along two timelines. One is during this period of crisis, if we can call it that, and the other is after the crisis has hopefully subdued and we have returned to some kind of normality. Besides the two timelines, the challenges we are facing are also spread over three levels: the individual level, the organisational or the company level, and the global economy level. 

If we look at the individual level, I think one of the main challenges that an individual may be facing in these times is a loss of connection and a loss of engagement. Those might be triggered by a number of things. Obviously, the fact that people are not in the office and they don’t see their colleagues means they don’t socialise as much and not in the same way. I think a lot of us are doing our best to keep that up with digital tools. But there is still some kind of an impromptu face to face, an atmosphere that is lacking and that could cause a loss of engagement and a loss of connection. The other level of this loss of connection and engagement is actually the work itself. I think these times that we are going through, have really put a lot of things into perspective or at least questioned a lot of things with the basic question of what is important in life and what isn’t. With so many people being affected and so many people losing their lives, we cannot help but question what is really important and I can imagine a lot of people would take a hard look at what they are doing with their time and work and lives. A loss of connection or engagement at that level could result in the thought that, ‘the work I’m doing on a day to day basis seems less important now because it may not be vital work nor directly helping people during this crisis’.

At a company level, things are related. The loss of engagement and loss of connection of employees will, of course, affect the company as a whole. I can also imagine that during this crisis and after the crisis, companies might face a huge challenge which is related to the loss of employees and the loss of talent. That is either caused by the company itself having to unfortunately let go of people during tough economic times. And that could also be caused by employees themselves, deciding to leave and do something they might consider more meaningful, although I would predict that process might take some time before it starts manifesting.

The third level I mentioned is the level of the global economy. I think the main challenge there is that we are going through a change, although no one really knows that the result of that may be. I think we’re already witnessing new clues emerging during this time; however, I think we are not noticing them enough. I can imagine that even after we regain a new normal, not everything will go back to the way it used to be. So, I can anticipate that there might be new needs that emerge which will create new jobs and new services, new products that will affect and change our economy overall.

One of the main challenges that an individual may be facing in these times is a loss of connection and a loss of engagement.

Question: How do you think that we might be able to overcome the challenges that we are facing during this crisis?

I read something the other day that was really interesting. The word crisis, has its root in Latin and actually means ‘decision point’, which I found really interesting. So instead of thinking of this as a crisis, we can also think about it as a decision point and ask ourselves, what decisions do we need to make?

If we talk about a loss of connection and a loss of engagement, I think this comes down to the quality of interactions we have in the workplace. So now that we are dispersed out of the office, the question is: what do interactions mean or what forum can they take when we’re not actually in the office? What could be those new things that we put in place that are not just strictly work meetings and work related conversations? So, to conduct work meetings while working from home, we have all shifted to digital tools. However, I don’t know of anyone who is having a Skype call, Zoom call or a Google meeting or whatever the tool is to just have a chat, you know, the equivalent of the one you used to have at the coffee machine in the morning. And that is a problem, because I believe those chats are actually much more important than they seem.

Just last week, I was discussing with a client of ours at AKKA who was asking, ‘what do we do to help our managers and our leaders lead in times like this, when they can’t actually have face to face contact with their teams’? And one of the ideas that we came up with emerged from asking ‘what is the digital equivalent to the open-door policy’? So, in the companies that still have offices with walls and a door, some of them have an open-door policy, which basically means that the door of that manager’s office is open. And that’s a signal for employees to pop in and have a chat at any time. So translate that now to the virtual way of working. On a digital platform, could the managers and leaders be available online throughout the working hours, for people to ‘pop in’ for a chat or a spontaneous question, without a scheduled meeting? What is happening now, since employees can’t simply pop in their manager’s office for a spontaneous question, is they resort to a phone call or an email, emails most likely. And that does not help the work itself, let alone the social dynamic.

So to sum up, we can overcome a lot of the challenges our workplaces are facing today by paying attention to the quality of the interactions our teams and employees experience and indeed asking ourselves “how do we continue to nurture the interactions, even when people are working from a variety of dispersed locations and over digital platforms?

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The second most important quality that your workplace architect should have is: A participatory process.

When you are investing in designing or re-designing the best workplace for your team, you want a great architect – not just a good one. And while Simon Sinek is right by saying that “greatness starts with a vision”, a vision is nothing – but intention or dream – if not translated into reality.  So when it comes to finding the best architect to design your workplace, the two most important qualities you are looking for are: an aligned vision and a participatory process.

“Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is only potential power. Action is power.”

Just like knowledge without action does not lead to results, a vision without a process will not create your next workplace. An architect that is an expert in workplace interactions will ensure that the process is based on interactions – with you and your teams. This means that the design and technical architectural process needs to be expanded and complemented by the human interactions component. We are talking here about a participatory process. Although the process varies from one architectural firm to another, here are the principles you want to be looking for throughout the phases of the process.

Principle 1: creating an aligned understanding.

It is crucial that the process does not start with design, but rather with creating an aligned understanding among the different groups of people concerned by the project. Creating this alignment allows the architects’ team to truly understand your vision, values and goals as a company. Read here why this is essential to create a workplace that truly supports your employees and entire organisation. Beyond the architects’ understanding, this step is essential to create alignement amongst your internal stakeholders. It is a very important step that is often missed, by assuming that employees are aligned when very often, when it comes to the workplace, they are not.  Another side benefit of this process is the community building aspect of it. While the participation should kick start the process, it should continue to take place when and where appropriate throughout the rest of the process. This continuous engagement of the project’s community is a very effective community building tool.

Principle 2: creating a shared vision.

After having collectively reached an alignement regarding the project, it is important to then co-create the shared vision of the project. This is where the understanding of the project’s question created earlier needs to be carefully translated into a vision that can answer the question.

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Principle 3: implementing through iterative cycles.

The main principle during design development and implementation is learning by doing. This part of the process needs to adopt an iterative approach of design, prototyping, feedback, design, prototyping…etc. This iterative process allows the architects’ team not only to incorporate the feedback of the people but also the feedback of real time testing. It is through these cycles of learning by doing that a refined workplace can be created, that truly supports the specific needs of your organisation.

Principle 4: adapting based on real-time behaviour.

This principle is one that most architects never even consider, since the customary architectural process ends right when the building is completed and right before people move into it, and start inhabiting it. When you work with a Workplace Interactions Expert architect, things are different. Their participatory process should extend beyond the end of the customary architectural process. In fact, once your teams start inhabiting the newly (re)-designed workplace, the last phase of the process should start. This is the living phase of the project. During this living phase, it is the responsibility of your architect to accompany your teams as they inhabit their new workplace. In this phase, the principle is to refine and adapt the workplace design based on observing how people are using it. It is by observing how people are using the workplace that your architect should be able to refine it and make the last adjustments needed to create a space that truly triggers the right interactions. This is essential to ensure that any workplace created embodies the company’s culture and does in fact actively support the ever-changing needs of its employees.

To see what this process could look like in practice, read more about AKKA’s process here. Curious about what kind of workplaces can this process lead to? Download here our Innovative Workplace Expert Guide.

As a workplace professional, whether you are a Human Resources manager, a Facility Manager or a Corporate Real Estate manager, it is usually part of your scope to translate the organization’s vision and goals into the daily operations and manifestations of the company. Your workplace is no exception. It too, needs to represent and enable your vision, values and goals. When considering hiring an architect to (re)-design your workplace, make sure you check if he/she has the two most important qualities an architect can have: an aligned vision and a participatory process.

At AKKA, we believe that space is a strategic tool that can foster interactions, and any added value or innovation, small or large, starts with interactions. Interactions are the seeds of innovation. At the intersection of the main forms of interaction creativity, collaboration and learning added value emerges. Are you interested in learning about our vision at AKKA and how it can support your workplace design? Download here the excerpt of the book The Power of Interactions.

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