Can a hybrid model blend workplace strategy with culture?

Studies show that employees are unhappy when they have ‘ghost days’ in virtually empty offices. A new research project is seeking to explore links between workplace strategy and culture to raise collaborative performance

Workplace strategy and culture are inextricably intertwined. They are interdependent. Each provides insight into the other and these insights allow actions to be developed, implemented and have impact. Changes in both can be measured.

Aligning data sets from assessments (how people feel – the qualitative) and data from productivity tools and building applications (what people do – the quantitative) provides unique insights into behaviour and use of space. This process allows for strategies to be developed which will result in much more effective use of space and increased productivity and performance, all while igniting increased collaboration.

‘There is more to the future of work than going remote or becoming more digitally literate…’

Many were quick to announce that work from home in the pandemic triggered a huge shift towards the future of work. People learned to work remotely and digitally too. At first glance, there are strong indicators for this new direction. However, there is more to the future of work than going remote or becoming more digitally literate.

Other parts of the future of work include: first, becoming more interdependent and less independent; second, breaking down the silos and working more ‘cross-functionally’; and third, working less within the hierarchy and developing dynamic, cross-functional networks.

Again, research has shown that while working from home, there was a trend to work more independently and less cross-functionally. As a result, networks stagnated. In many cases these shifts actually outweighed any perceived positive moves. The objective is therefore to provide both a culture and environment to increase the collaborative energy while working.

Taking action

So what actions can organisations take to become more effective?

Measure space effectiveness’ as opposed to ‘space utilisation’: Office space is intended to bring together people to interact, exchange information, communicate, enable chance serendipitous meetings, and collaborate. How many people are in the space is only a first level of understanding. What happens in the space is the higher-level measure of value and utilisation. This in turn, is a function of both who uses the space as well as its design. Tracking space effectiveness, based on the interactions and exchanges which take place within the space, will provide further insights and understanding.

Office timing: Past work has shown that in most cases, only around a quarter of all interactions take place within a group or department. These groups and departments typically were close pre-pandemic and did a good job of maintaining relationships while working from home. So going back to the office does not bring much additional value. It is the interactions with people in other groups and departments which bring value. Most organisations, as part of their hybrid strategies, have designated specific days for all group or department members to be in the office. By measuring the strength of the relationships between groups and departments, one can develop designated days for different groups and departments to be in the office at the same time, bringing much more value when in the office.

Adjacencies: Who shares space with whom? Proximity drives interactions and increases collaboration. Assess your spaces and establish whether or not the right people are sharing space. See which groups get the least value from being in the space they are in and determine where they would get higher value. Tools now allow you to drag and drop groups into different spaces to test scenarios and assure additional value. Similarly, when planning new space, optimise adjacencies to assure the right  groups and departments are sharing  space.

‘Today, many are frustrated because they arrive in the office only to discover others are not in…’

Data-driven design: Design can only be optimised by understanding the needs and work behaviours of those using it. In order to do so, there has to be a good understanding of the mix of different ‘personas’ in the space. Personas are groups of people with similar behaviour patterns and needs. These can easily be determined by different attributes, such as collaborative networks, nature of their work and other criteria. Space with a high number of individual contributors looks very different from a design perspective than space for a group of highly collaborative people. This method can not only be used for designing new space, but also to assess whether or not existing configurations meet the needs of those using it.

Visibility:  Pre Covid-19, with most people in the office most of the time, and many still working in assigned spaces, it required little effort to establish who was in the office. Today, many are frustrated because they arrive in the office only to discover others are not in. Each individual has a unique network of primary collaborators, those with whom they work. Within a system with de-identified data, and an opt-in option, an individual can quickly establish which of their primary collaborators is actually in the office.

Peter Smit is the founder of Collabogence, a Toronto-based analytics company which uses data to build an agile workplace strategy in response to Covid-19. In partnership with John King (author of Tribal Leadership, the New York Times #1 best seller), Wayne Clancy, founder of The MindSuite ( the world’s first human science GPS) and WORKTECH Academy, Collabogence is launching a research initiative to share insights on the links between workplace strategy and culture. Learn more about the research and complete the assessment here.
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