Community conversations: What are the biggest challenges for the workplace and how can we overcome them during COVID-19?

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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