How is COVID-19 transforming our offices and our companies?
We have all heard it, we are in a crisis. What you may not have heard is that the root of the word ‘crisis’ actually means decision point. Isn’t that a much more empowering way to look at the situation we are in? When it comes the our workplaces, what decision(s) do we need to take now in order to create a future of work that is healthy, compelling and successful?
In the world of work, decades ago, the question was one of utility: “what do employees need to work”. This became a question of productivity: “what do employees need to work better and faster”. This then became a question of engagement “How can we make employees happy so they perform better”. More recently – and before the Cover-19 pandemic changed everything -, the question was no more one of engagement, but had become one of experience: “How can we create a company where people want to show up even though they might not need to show up?”1
Now that the Covid-19 pandemic has hit, the question has been changed again. The shock of this crisis jolted us back to the basics and the question is once more one of utility, with a special emphasis on safety: “what do employees need to work safely?”. This applies both to working from home and working from the office, when we start going back.
The question is once again one of utility, with an emphasis on safety: “what do employees need to work safely?”
Redefining the workplace
The workplace is not the equivalent of the office space. The workplace was never about the office alone. It has always been about the full experience. In any organisation, and ever since organisations started forming, the workplace experience has been the result of three environments.
1. The physical environment. This is the space in which employees actually work, our surroundings, including the closed offices or open floor plans employees sit in, the furniture, the art on the walls, the catered meals the organisation offers…etc. Now that most of us are working from home, this physical environment has been redefined.
2. The technological environment. This comprises the tools that we use to communicate, collaborate and actually get our work done. This includes hardware, software, user interface and design. This too has been redefined since the pandemic started and we have been working remotely. People have discovered that what we thought was nearly impossible actually works, and we have all developed love or hate relationships with numerous videoconferencing softwares and platforms.
3. The cultural environment. This is the environment you may not be able to touch or see but you can definitely feel. It is the vibe of your organisation, wether created intentionally or not. The culture of your organisation is what determines how employees are treated and how they behave, their values, unspoken rules and even how they do their work. This is also, without a doubt been redefined in light of the unprecedented times we are living through.
The workplace was never about the office alone. It has always been about the full experience. Workplace experience is made of three environments. And as each of the three undergo a transformation, the workplace experience is now being fundamentally redefined. With the hit of the pandemic, we have deserted our offices. The office is an empty shell. We have gone from a contained office, to a network of people, facilities, and documents. Of course, this is not the first time that a company works digitally. In fact, there are numerous decentralised companies out there that already function as a network. What is new is that we are now forced to take those learnings and apply them at an unprecedented scale and to an unprecedented extent.
The workplace experience is now being fundamentally redefined.
From a box to a network
A network is made of nodes and connections. Think of the nodes as the people, the spaces (our homes in this instance), the softwares, the hardware…etc. A lot has already been said about the nodes and how to optimise them. While the nodes are very important, we also need to ask: how do you nurture the connections and interactions in between? Without the walls containing the network, the connections become more important than ever. So let’s zoom in onto one of these connections. Each one of the connections linking two nodes in a network is a relationship. When nurtured, put into action, activated, a relationship becomes an interaction. An interaction is a living relationship.
So the question is how do we, as workplace professionals (whether HR, FM, CRE or architects and designers for that matter) foster and nurture these interactions? That’s what the question has always been, or at least should have been even before the pandemic.
Now consider this: every interaction happens in a context. The context is physical or digital, visible or intangible, intentional or unconscious. So the question now becomes: how do we, as workplace professionals, nurture interactions without the help of the container? The glass is broken, how do you keep the water together? How do we nurture interactions, in contexts that may be unfamiliar, and even invisible from where we stand as workplace professionals (such as someone’s home) and that we can’t influence, or at least haven’t so far?
The new workplace is a network of contexts, that we call the WorkNet.
Suddenly, the scope of every workplace professional out there has now been expanded. We need to acknowledge that the workplace has changed. We now have to operate in a network on contexts. The workplace has become the WorkNet. And in a network of contexts, like any network, the interactions become the most crucial thing.
In the new WorkNet, interactions become more important that ever. The key question therefore becomes: how do you foster the interactions of your employees in a network of contexts?
Based on Winston’s Churchill’s ‘Never waster a good crisis’, I leave you with this question: how will you turn this crisis, this decision point into an opportunity to learn from today and design a tomorrow that is better than yesterday?
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 help you these difficult days? Download here the excerpt of the book The Power of Interactions.