Suddenly it landed – a new bomb – how to maintain collaboration and uphold business in continuous change?

Just when we were daring to believe that life at the workplace was beginning to settle, we were forced to take a step back. In this second blog Ruusa Kokkonen discusses where companies should focus their efforts in this challenging situation.

The tightened restrictions for meetings and the working from home recommendations exposes the need of companies to adapt to changing working conditions. Working from the office or from home will still be gathering their bearings for a long time to come. Therefore, it is important to ensure that employees get the needed support from their work community. Compared to previous times when restrictions were tightened, many now this time reacted with an ironic touch we already know how to do this.

But do we really?

It is significantly easier to adopt to hybrid working mode in a company where the guidelines for hybrid work and the spatial design support the ways of working of the work community and business goals, than where they don’t. In my previous blog I looked at the risks and possibilities of hybrid work. In this post I will give some examples of

  1. what good hybrid work skills can mean in practice,
  2. the meaning of a multichannel work approach for the company and different personalities,
  3. what should be considered when designing hybrid workspaces.

In other words, how can we take care of each other and benefit from the different situations?

Virtual coffees and other new phenomena of hybrid times

Hybrid work has shown us that even better organization is required from work communities. The first and most crucial step is to define under what boundary conditions employees can share their work between the office and the home. In addition to this, several new rules and practices are also needed to ensure that work progresses, responsibilities are clear, and information is exchanged, reaching all the necessary people.

In hybrid work, in addition to project and working meetings, changing information requires booking calendar appointments for the chit chat that would otherwise take place naturally in front of the coffee machine. There is a genuine risk that when returning to the office two groups will gradually form in the workplace: the remote and present group; Those who bond spontaneously in the workplace and those who miss the “silent information” and will be left outside of the group. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a genuine phenomenon of hybrid work that deserves attention.

The new rules of play should not be implemented by restricting the spontaneous interaction of the present group, but by ensuring that also the remote group can participate regularly in the casual get-togethers. In practice this could mean scheduled informal meetings or in advance planned evening get-togethers so people coming to the office from different locations can plan their attendance beforehand. In terms of building team spirit and trust we should make it a habit to ask our colleague at the beginning of a short sparring session “Hey, how are you really doing”, as this can have a tremendously positive effect. By genuinely stopping for a few minutes to answer this question, we also support each other.

At Miltton, the team leaders send weekly questions to their teams by email at the end of the week, assessing the mood of the past week and the amount of workload for the coming week. Weekly questions also invite the respondent to send gratitude or compliments to some of their colleagues. The thank-you and compliments are shared in the whole company´s Slack- channel, and nothing feels better than reading compliments that you have deserved. What makes it natural (and not awkward) to answer the weekly questions is that they are sent out by a genuinely caring team leader who has made dialogue and interactivity their mission.

The importance of making others feel heard and seen should not be underestimated when building good work communities and attractive workplaces. It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that employees are taken care of. The company’s management, in turn, is responsible for helping managers finding new ways of working and communicating.

In practice, this can be achieved through training or for example by creating an internal peer network to support managers.

Hybrid work also partly shapes the traditional work community dynamics in a positive direction. A good example of this is brainstorming through the chat, where introverts get to naturally fire off the most to the point comments.

Spatial flexibility = insurance

There has been talk about spatial flexibility for more than 10 years. It has been a key concept of interior layout and flirted with in every architecture and interior design project, which I have been following from the sidelines. The real economic value of spatial flexibility (€) has not been internalized before the first wave of corona proved that it could be a valuable insurance. Now every real estate developer and landlords who were investing on spatial flexibility, can tap themselves on the back.

When the demand suddenly changes, for the tenant of the premises flexibility means minimal renovation and moving disturbance, or in the best case that the space lives alongside the changing needs by just refurnishing. For companies that have committed to a long-term rental agreement, the spatial flexibility can also mean for example possibility to delimit part of the space for the use of subtenant and save on costs (€) when the company’s own need of space varies. For the owner of the premises the spatial flexibility enables redoing the premises with reasonable actions (€) to respond to new demands.

In practice the most important space issues caused by hybrid work concerns are structural solutions: Is it possible to connect new meeting rooms and phone booths to existing air conditioning without comprehensive change and renovation? Can the walls be torn down in a way that the office building will still stay standing? Can we get natural light for the office space if it is placed somewhere else than as originally planned?

The need for space will change during the lifespan of the company. In this moment it is possible to define what kind of spaces best support the company’s business during the current pandemic and with the chosen hybrid strategy. We still can´t know, how for example the company’s number of employees will vary in the next 10 years. That is why spatial flexibility is good basic pilar for the space strategy in every situation: It goes beyond only the first needs of change when a company grows.

Business premise is the invincible user interface

Contrary to what is usually believed, for most companies the meaning of an office has not due to the pandemic unequivocally diminished even though it has changed. The meaning of a symbolic home nest can in the future be even more important for the employees, also for customer work.

There can be two opposite strategies: where employers in countryside municipalities lure office workers with their remote work promises, city focused companies try to compete with their inspiring spaces, everyday benefits and with their corporate culture.

Therefore, companies should not see their business premises as only square meters, but as spaces for encounters that enrichen everyday life. The physical space is still a unique interface. When well designed, it not only shows you how to use which space, but also creates spontaneous interactions better than anything else. Cohesive and attractive facilities and their equipment can support innovation, flourishing work communities, information flow and work efficiencies as well as charm the customers. Poor spaces, whether at home or in the office, can be a barrier to work, concentration and creativity.

When creating a strategy for our premises, the premises should be evaluated from the point of view of the business, teams, tasks, employee and customer experience as well as from the point of view of the company image. What is the role of our office premises as part of our business? How do our spaces work best with the hybrid model we have chosen? How could our spaces for internal and client work support our performance and business with the best the best input-output ratio?

Multichannel as global collaboration enabler

The digital environment offers new opportunities for interactions and company visibility, also for creating new business and acquiring new customers. Because of corona every continent simultaneously took a digital leap. Many countries that used to lag behind the Nordic countries in the use of digital tools are now at the same level. When everyone around the world is used to working remotely with their colleagues, suddenly it is not that big of a deal to work with other companies, operating thousands of kilometers away. Also, in online-events you can reach participants from as far away as California, Bombay and Frankfurt in addition to those from your local partner network. Therefore, a small investment in online facilitation expertise or the professional implementation of online events can create new business opportunities.

A multichannel approach offers the opportunity to swim between networks, communities, digital tools and physical spaces in a new way. It is essential to identify which channel, interface and network provides the best combination for any given situation.

Hybrid strategy

Hybrid work is both a threat and opportunity. It depends on the company’s management which way the hybrid work will turn for each company. Hybrid work is not only an organizational issue, but also a space strategic, location-orientated issue, as hybrid work moves between the home, the workplace and the digital environment. Each of these three has its strengths in terms of optimal workflow and business.

When the employee´s skills, tools and workspaces are finetuned in relation to the employee´s tasks, the new hybrid work reality can be the key to improved employee well-being and satisfaction, create the desired buzz in the employee market, and increase the expertise and efficient performance of the entire company. Of course, good performance impacts customer experience and commitment- and ultimately also the bottom line That´s why, in the darkest days of the year, I encourage every business leader to grab that bull by the horns and dedicate some thought to their own company´s hybrid strategy. The sun surely hides behind the horizon, waiting to shine light on the potential of the working communities currently hiding confused in the dusk.

We are here to support you in shining some light on your company’s hybrid work opportunities.

Ruusa Kokkonen is a user experience and brand development advisor who has her educational background in architecture. She’s well attuned with matters such as working environment, urbanism, construction industry and property development and completely fed up with working from home.

At Miltton, among our + 350 experts, we have work life coaches and trainers, change leaders, communication professionals, researchers, service designers and an architect. That´s why we have packaged a turnkey solution where dialogue between scenarios and employees create a clear operating model and space layout, supported by internal communication and a solid hybrid skills training package. The solutions can also be customized according to the customer´s specific needs.