As you put together your plans for post-COVID working it is worth reflecting on what makes a successful workplace.
According to global architects Gensler a great working environment, that delivers high levels of employee engagement, must satisfy four work modes:
Focusing – Carrying out individual work involving concentration on a particular task.
Collaborating – Working with team members, either in person, via technology or a combination of both, to achieve a goal.
Learning – Acquiring knowledge of a subject or skill through education or experience.
Socialising – Spending informal time with colleagues that creates trust, collective identity and a sense of camaraderie.
As we move to a hybrid workplace model, in which employees balance time in the office and working remotely, we need to recognise that some activities are more suited to a physical environment and others to a virtual one; brainstorming works best face-to-face around a table whereas concentrating on a report can be more effective at home than in an open-plan office. Socialising feels more natural in person, while having short, to-the-point meetings can be just as efficient on a video conference. The challenge is: can we make physical and remote offices equally good for all modes of working or should there be a choice of workplace based on the task at hand?
The biggest challenge, both in the office and at home, is focus. It is the most significant factor in business effectiveness and traditionally the workplace’s least supported activity. One recent study found that on average employees in the UK believed that they were truly productive for less than three hours a day and another found that, after a distraction, it takes 25 minutes to get back to a state of focussed working. Innovative solutions are emerging to address this problem both at home and in the office; smart devices are available for the at-home market, such as TimeChi, a desk-top productivity tool that helps workers block notifications and manage their time more effectively. Google and MIT have developed drop-down cubicles that create private work areas in open space and at The Argyll Club private booths with doors have proven very successful as an aide to concentration. But focus is not just about work, it’s also about wellbeing and trials are underway on the development of wellness workspaces.
When it comes to collaboration, despite Microsoft Teams’ latest feature which allows users to escape the grid format of a video conference, unlocking creativity and innovation remains easier with the right mix of people face-to-face. However technology is moving fast and new products, including augmented reality and haptic screens, will in time improve virtual collaboration between colleagues in the office and those working from home and for entirely remote teams.
The other two work modes, learning and socialising, are more of a challenge for remote working advocates. While new skills can be learnt online, with a plethora of free courses and tutorials available, this is no substitute for listening to, watching or shadowing experienced colleagues in action. And when it comes to bonding with teammates, which would you prefer, the office Zoom quiz or sharing coffee, lunch or after-work drinks with colleagues face-to-face?
The bottom line is you need to build a workplace strategy for your business which optimises peoples’ ability to focus, collaborate, learn and socialise and, until the next generation of technology is in place, a hybrid model, combining physical and remote working depending on the task at hand, is the best solution.