The world of Workplace is increasingly more fascinating and more complex. Through our years of practice designing and building workplaces for organizations, 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 highly stimulating conversation our CEO Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes had with Martin Grønberg Myrold, Campus Manager and User Experience at the HQ of L’Oreal Deutschland GmbH in Düsseldorf.

L’Oreal is a French personal care company headquartered in Clichy, Hauts-de-Seine. It is the world’s largest cosmetics company and has developed activities in the field concentrating on hair color, skincare, sun protection, make-up, perfume, and hair care.

Martin Grønberg the Campus Manager for L’Oréal Deutschland GmbH’s 22.000 m2 headquarter in Düsseldorf, where he is responsible for the development of the workspace and ensuring the everyone stays true to the workplace values: transparent, innovative and sustainable.

Covid-19 Note:
While the below interview was conducted before the pandemic happened, Martin and his colleague Marcus Born, Head of EHS and Facility Management, was kind enough to supplement the conversation with their most recent thoughts and insights related to Covid-19 and the future of work and the workplace, towards the end of the interview.

Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes: Martin Myrold, welcome! Thank you for joining us on this series of interviews with the world’s best Workplace Experts. 

Martin Grønberg Myrold: Hello, thank you for having me.

Stephanie: I’m excited to have you here. Let’s start with a description of your role in one or two sentences?

Martin: I’m the campus manager for L’Oreal Deutschland GmbH. Our head office is located in Düsseldorf, and my role is to ensure our employees have a good place to work, an efficient place to work and a modern place to work. I’m in charge of looking into how we can always keep improving and how we can create new workspaces for our employees. We have around thousands of employees here in Düsseldorf, so, it’s a lot of stakeholders.

Stephanie: I can imagine! I am curious what is your background? How did you come into this arena? 

Martin: I have a background in business, but I’ve always been interested in project management. And by coincidence, that actually got me into the direction of real estate projects. I was born in Oslo, but I did most of my studies in Germany. So, I have conducted office development projects and relocation projects in Oslo and for three years now, here in Düsseldorf.

Stephanie: And in you current position at L’Oreal Deutschland GmbH, what can you tell us about what is on the organization’s agenda when it comes to employees and talent?

Martin: Well, we are always looking into how we can improve our workspace. We have moved into a new modern building at the end of 2017. But of course, new and modern doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Things change our employees’ needs change and our ways of working change. So, one big topic of the agenda for us is continuous development. I really like the approach we’re taking because we always start from the employees’ side. So, we do a lot of analysis to figure out what we can do to improve the situation for our employees. The second topic, which is very high on the agenda not only for us in Düsseldorf, but for the entire L’Oreal Corporation is sustainability. So, we are actively looking into how we can reduce the footprint of our facilities around the globe

Stephanie: That is fantastic. What is one of the greatest achievements that you are proud of having accomplished, within your role in the organization.

Martin: I think that I would actually like to highlight the way we handle these processes. A big part of our vision for our offices is transparency. On the one hand, our building is completely a glass building, so it’s literally transparent. But more importantly, transparency in the way we are handling our processes. That comes down to how we make our decisions and how we prioritize what type of projects we want to focus on. It is always about the employees, about what they need and how that makes sense in the business context. I’m really proud of how we are able to communicate with our stakeholders and they give us feedback, which allows us to make the proper decisions. It wouldn’t make sense for us to make changes which no one uses.

Stephanie: That’s really interesting. Transparency is something many companies talk about but few incorporate in their daily processes. It is not an easy thing to live by. Could you share any challenges that this vision of transparency and open communication may create along the way?

Martin: Yes, of course. The first big challenge is that you’re never able to satisfy everyone. And of course, by opening up and being transparent, you get a lot of different type of feedback. So we need to be able to manage the expectations of people because being transparent doesn’t mean that we can do everything. It doesn’t mean that we are actually able to make everyone happy. That’s a big challenge. We address it by incorporating expectation management in the communication we have directly with different stakeholders. We need to be strategic about how we communicate around each topic. And of course, we need to find the compromises which work and which give the employer and the employees the biggest benefits. That is a huge challenge that comes with transparency. But it is a challenge that I believe is worth taking on for the benefits that transparency can create.

Stephanie: Definitely, I completely agree! You mentioned earlier, that you’re coming from the real estate angle of things. And, you also mentioned that your goal is to create better workplaces for people. Could you tell us more about how you define your responsibilities from the real estate angle when it comes to employees well-being or happiness? Do you measure that in any way and how do you break that down?

Martin: Yes of course. On a yearly basis, we check to the temperature of the situation regarding the happiness of our people, so we’re able to compare the development year to year. We also dive into the details of other specific topics. For us, creating a good workplace is not only about having the proper workstation or different types of workstations where you can do different types of work. It is also about everything around it, including having proper facilities for healthy eating and good quality food or being able to exercise appropriately, enabling people to leave their car at home, come by bike and shower at the office. So, we aim to take the holistic approach to what is actually a workplace. This also means, we don’t consider the workplace just being when you enter the building, but it starts when you’re actually leaving home on your way to the office and back. We need to look at the context in which people are. For example, in Düsseldorf, as in most large cities, traffic is an issue and we need to see how we can make that transfer from home to the office as positive as possible for people.

Stephanie: I have to say, in the majority of organisations, real estate is still very much about the traditional brick and mortar. You have completely turned it around and started with people and their happiness. While that makes a lot of common sense, it is not obvious and not to be taken for granted. What has been really interesting about this series of experts’ interviews, is I have been having the privilege of talking to the best in the world, the most avant-garde people in front-runner organizations that have been reinventing what the workplace means and how the different departments of real estate, human resources, facility management and even IT in some instances actually come together to create a holistic employee experience. So, I am curious about your view on that. What challenges and tips can you share with us, about bringing those different departments together? Do you have any experience with that and any tips to give to others that may be struggling with that integration?

Martin: Well, I think it all starts with being open, being open for change, being open for new ideas, and also being open for this collaboration between the departments you’re mentioning. Indeed, if everyone is working in their own silo, we will not able to get the best out of anyone. The most important driver for all departments should be listening to our employees. They are the ones who will give us the results business-wise, so focusing on understanding what makes them happier, and more productive will benefit the entire organization in the end. So I want to get back to this transparency topic and how important it is. As you mentioned, unfortunately, there are still a lot of organizations who, for a variety of reasons, don’t value, don’t want to or maybe don’t know how to handle these processes in a transparent way. I think many of them will get experience over the next couple of years where they actually realize that it is definitely a better approach, even with the challenges it may bring. I mean, that’s just my opinion, but I do think we are already seeing the trends on this quite clearly. Of course, that is not to say that all organizations should do the same thing. Every organization is different and that fact is not to be underestimated. Every company has its own specifics and its own culture. Of course, you have a lot of similarities and you have a lot of processes and routines, which can be transferred. But you always need to translate those processes to suit what is specific about your organization and what works for you.

Stephanie: Very good point. I think that is one of the things that have been a risk over the last few years. We have seen many companies copy what was visibly done in other successful companies. Often what is visible if the workplace design and that has been copied more than once. There is an expression in French which says “L’habit ne fait pas le moine”, which basically translates as “The clothes do not make the man”, and I believe the same goes for the workplace, the design does not make the experience.

Martin: Yes, I totally agree.

Stephanie: You mentioned that you moved into a new building at the end of 2017 and that you are working on continuous development. I’m curious if you could share two or three things that you are working on improving?

Martin: We are launching a large project now, which has been part of the strategy for this office since its development started. We are moving into a fully flexible activity-based working concept. This move is based on the feedback we received from our employees. They need other spaces, they want spaces which enable them to work differently, especially when it comes to project and teamwork. They also need the possibility to retreat and focus on their individual work. While both are very important, it’s usually hard to create spaces where people can do both. So that is one of the main challenges we are working on now as we continue to develop this new workplace concept.

Stephanie: Interesting, very interesting. Let’s zoom out now and take a look at the big picture. When you imagine the future of work and where we might be going, what would you say are the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity?

Martin: Well I actually see this both as a challenge and an opportunity. For me, I think flexibility in the way we work, where we work and how we work, is going to be the biggest driver in shaping the future of work. I think that is going to keep increasing in importance because people want and need more and more flexibility in their lives, as work-life balance continues to grow in importance.

Covid-19 Note:
While the above interview was conducted before the pandemic happened, Martin and his colleague Marcus Born, Head of EHS and Facility Management, were kind enough to supplement the conversation with their most recent thoughts and insights related to Covid-19 and the future of work and the workplace, towards the end of the interview.

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

Martin: The impact on our business processes and procedures on to our workspaces and facilities has been immense and complex. For us like for everyone else, we need to rethink a lot what we are doing.

Marcus: Employee health and safety is fundamental to L’Oréal, and all our measures regarding handling Covid-19 orientate itself from that. Hence, we have responded through numerous temporary as well as rather permanent measures to ensure the health and safety of our employees. For example, we divided the employees into groups and created a system combining presence in the office with the home office to reduce the number of employees in the office and potential contact points. We have assigned separate staircases for going up or down in the building, are requiring everybody to wear masks, using labels to mark which seats and workstations can be used and which need to stay vacant to ensure the minimum safety distance. Further, we automatically measure the body temperature via camera at the main entrance, and we have adjusted our gastronomic concept.

Martin: We try to implement measures that are easy to follow and interfere as little as possible with the daily business. These are easier for our employees to adapt to and then usable in the long term. 

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 organizations?

Marcus: The most important thing is as always to ensure that our employees have a safe workplace. The expectations on how to achieve this though is very diverse. ‘The new normal’ will surely be very different from what we are used to. We believe open communication, transparency, caution and flexibility on all sides are keywords for the current situation.

Stephanie: Well, Martin and Marcus, this conversation has been very inspiring, you’ve given us a lot of food for thought. I want to thank you for the time and the wonderful insights you shared with us today.

Martin: I enjoyed it too. Thank you very much for having me on the series.

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 do you revitalise employee engagement in times of social distancing and increased remote working?

The many measures our governments, societies and workplaces across the world have taken in response to Covid-19 may have been different from country to country or company to company. However, one thing remains the same; social distancing is a recurrent measure every community and every workplace is requiring. Along with social distancing, working from home has also increased, at least for the industries and the professionals who are able to. For most of us, we find ourselves working from home more and being apart from our colleagues more. Even when we do work from the office, a few days a week, for example, we have to keep the 1.5m or 6feet distance from the few colleagues we can encounter. While these measures are important and necessary, we need to anticipate and compensate for their consequences and negative effects on teams’ bonding and employee’s engagement.

Whether we are working from home or from the office, we are all recently experiencing more distance from our colleagues, figuratively and literally. And if you are on the HR team, Facilities Management team, Real Estate team or any other workplace and community team, you must be wondering about the possible negative consequences of such distancing on your teams’ social wellbeing, professional performance and engagement.

When it comes to employee engagement, you as a Workplace Professional know, that face to face interactions play a vital role. Or at least they have, until now.

“Face to face involvement is the premier communication tool. Unmatched for subtlety and efficiency but also a present of a wasteland of mysterious inhibitions and limitations, it requires revitalisation.”

According to Propst, white face to face interactions are priceless, they can definitely be improved upon. So how do you revitalise face to face interactions in times of social distancing?

Boosting employee engagement and strengthening team bonding when we can barely meet each other, let alone be close and shake hands, is challenging to say the least. However, in light of recent events, it is now more important than ever to have your employees engaged so they can remain proactive, effective, energetic, healthy and happy.

Through some of our recent workplace projects here at AKKA, I learned one of the most important yet counter-intuitive insights. As you may know, as part of our architectural approach, we engage people – employees as well as management team and other stakeholders – in a thorough participatory process. Through the questions, we ask and the insights they uncover, we realised one fundamental notion. In these challenging times, if you want to really boost your employees’ engagement, stop thinking of them as individuals and start thinking of them as individuals in context. It is not enough to consider people people as stand-alone individuals, we need to also consider them as people in groups, people in teams. Let me elaborate.

Throughout the day, the week or the months, all employees engage in an array of different interactions. They alternate between working alone, having one-on-one conversations, going into small brainstorms, attending larger meetings…etc. All these are different team configurations, remember to include the one-person team set up when someone is working individually. Think of it like a dance being performed by all your employees, with some parts choreographed and some more improvised. Employees will flow from one configuration to another, from one ‘pose’ to another, including solo pieces.

When you take inventory of these different configurations happening, you will be able to have a better insight into the needs of your employees during but also in-between these different configurations. With the different configurations in mind, the dynamics that people are going through become clear. And you can then look into how to boost engagement and support people in these specific configurations. That shift of thinking has created tremendous clarity for many of our clients in HR and Facility Management lately.

Do not think of your employees as isolated individuals but rather as individuals in context, individuals in different team configurations.

As you take inventory of the different configurations your employees engage in on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, you need to keep in mind a number of differentiating factors. Here are the four most important ones to look for:

1. Scale of configurations: as I previously mentioned, the team configurations come in different sizes. Make sure you include the one-person configuration as much as the company-wide 5.000 people configuration (for some companies) that may only happen once a year or even less frequently.

2. Character of configurations: in addition to differences in size, different teams have different characters. A team of programmers may interact differently than a team of accountants, and differently than a team of designers. The differences in character are not only due to different fields and work processes but also to different management styles. Are the teams structured and micro-managed or are they improvising and playing off each other like a jazz band?

3. Mix of personalities: taking into account the types of personalities and how they are mixed within the configurations will help your inventory be of better quality. How many of the people in a certain team configuration are introvert or extrovert? are they planners or rather spontaneous? Get to know, not only the individuals but also how they come together. Get to know your teams.

4. Nature of configurations: another differentiating factor to keep in mind is the nature of the configuration. Is it a formal gathering or an informal one, was it planned or did it just happen serendipitously? Is it face to face or virtual? It goes without saying that digital meetings hold a larger and larger share of our daily interactions and should be considered as seriously as more traditional forms of meeting and interactions.

If you aim to improve employee engagement in this time of remote working and social distancing, you first need to shift your thinking. Do not think of your employees as individuals but rather as individuals in context, individuals in different team configurations.

Consider the different configurations your employees engage in throughout the day, the week and the month. How do your people flow from a one-person band, a solo to a duo to an entire band? Are they a well-rehearsed orchestra or an improvising jazz band? Take inventory of all the different configurations, their scale, character, personalities mix and natures. Then ask yourself how you can make these configurations, these dynamics and interactions more engaging for your people.

“In the long run, all businesses and business leaders will be judged not by their profits or their products but by their impact on humanity.”

When it comes to your employees’ engagement, to make real progress, you need a real breakthrough. The notion that employees are unique individuals is the correct one. The misunderstanding it sometimes creates is the notion that we, therefore, need to consider employees as stand-alone individuals. As John Donne would tell you, ‘No man is an inland’ – no women either by the way. What this means is even if you, as a Workplace Professional did the honorable and well-intentioned thing to get to know your employees one by one, your job is not done. Your blind spot may be that, while you now know your employees, you may know them as stand-alone people, and not as people in context. By nature, people adapt to each other and behave differently in different contexts, surrounded by different people. We all play off each other. In essence, we are all Jazz players at heart. 

Discover here your top 3 ways to improve your employees’ engagement and interactions right now. And the best part is, they are based on your input and therefore are tailored to the situation in your very own company!

Three ways to improve your employees' engagement and interactions right now.

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